Tales of the Cocktail Foundation presents The Great Bar Race sponsored by GREY GOOSE® celebrates the often unrecognized acts of service and the industry professionals who execute them in a competition that puts their skills and teamwork to the test. For more information on how to enter and to attend a live event, see the Great Bar Race site.
“I wanted to put together a team of hospitality assassins,” says Kristina Magro, general manager of Chicago’s Lone Wolf, an upscale tavern on the West Loop. After seeing an advertisement around town for Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s The Great Bar Race presented by Grey Goose, Magro knew she needed Scott LoBianco, Amy Probasco, and Danielle Lewis. Held in five cities across the U.S., The Great Bar Race pits teams of four against one another in physical challenges inspired by actual bar work—free-pouring from great heights, prepping ingredients with agility, and getting cocktails out from behind the bar at a clip. The event is meant to reveal the source of a bar’s excellence, which is to say: teamwork. But, to Magro, excellence is also about the attitude.
“Great service means creating a healthy and sustainable work environment for your staff that translates to your guest,” she says. In keeping with this philosophy, Magro, realized athleticism would only take a team so far. Rather, she decided to surround herself with friends who could approach the challenges with positive energy. With only 12 teams of four members each selected in Chicago, Magro used her opportunity to curate a troika of highly-skilled bartenders from establishments around the city. The thing they all had in common was having worked on bar teams together before.
Behind the Team
First, Magro looked for a reliably quick worker, which she found in Scott LoBianco. LoBianco, the beverage manager for Cindy’s at the Chicago Athletic Association, honed his skills as the former head bartender and service well anchor at Broken Shaker where he was famous for his hustle and ability to maintain an atmosphere of fun. He brought an ethos of “fast work with a smile” to the competition. During “barback in a haystack,” a race against the clock in which teams were challenged to source the proper ingredients for a specific cocktail, LoBianco crushed, claiming that his early days as a barback prepared him for the task. For LoBianco, hustle is integral to hospitality; it frees up time to not just get the job done, but to focus efforts on the customer. “Great service is about being able to deliver a bespoke experience to the guest,” he says. “Not every day or every guest is the same.”
Next, Magro needed to find the motivator, which fellow bartender and teammate Amy Probasco, delivered. “My biggest skill is as a cheerleader,” says Probasco. Known for inciting a dance party wherever she goes, she helps to keep stress levels low. Two decades into the cocktail renaissance, Probasco recognizes that just about anyone can make a great cocktail and get it out quickly—but creating a space where everybody feels welcome and connected is a lot more difficult. “I am the enthusiasm and the ‘team spirit’ glue that holds people together,” she says.
Lastly, Magro sought a strategist, which she found in Danielle Lewis, of tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash. Brought on for her overall strategic ability and critical thinking, Lewis feels she performed best when it came time to analyze which challenge each member would excel at. She was also good at getting her teammates to sub in for one another when struggling at certain tasks. “Anywhere I maybe struggled at times, Amy, Scott, or Kristina picked up the slack. And vice versa,” explains Lewis.
Designating themselves The Dream Team, Magro, LoBianco, Probasco and Lewis fulfilled the motto of “One team, one dream,” besting the city’s 11 other line-ups. Ultimately though, the four friends are most proud of all the fun they had together—Magro laughs recalling how skillfully Amy collected the water squirted at her during Soda Blast and Lewis’s remarkable pinpoint accuracy tossing water balloons during the Funky Cosmo challenge. “It sounds cheesy,” says Magro, “but I think collectively our best skill was team work and keeping the positive vibes and the experience of competing in such an important competition.”
Scenes from the Competition