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Bars show off best drinks, fare during martini competition; Event draws visitors to downtown Cape

By Staff | Mar 31, 2008

Despite one vendor dropping out and one of the city’s most popular annual concerts taking place just down the road, Saturday’s martini tasting competition in downtown Cape Coral began to establish its own tradition as an attraction.

Organizers said they sold out all 1,000 tickets to the event. The jam packed trolleys bringing eventgoers to various establishments to taste martinis and appetizers spoke volumes about Cape Coral’s ability to host simultaneous events and still bring in a crowd.

Just a few blocks from downtown, more than 2,500 people visited Jaycee Park to attend the 19th Annual Sounds of Jazz and Blues. Helen Ramey, marketing director for the Community Redevelopment Agency, which sponsored the martini tasting, said she was never concerned about a possible schedule conflict. She believes the city has gotten big enough to handle multiple events happening at the same time.

“Not everybody likes martinis and not everyone likes jazz,” Ramey said. “So there’s something for everyone in Cape Coral.”

More events like the martini tasting could start to change the usual flow of Cape residents traveling to Fort Myers for big events, shopping and dining to the phenomena happening in reverse.

Amanda and Dennis Usberghi of Fort Myers both said sampling wares from 10 restaurants Saturday night has convinced them to come back for full meals in the near future.

“It’s kind of cool getting to see all of these different places,” said Dennis. “We’re definitely coming back to some of them.”

The pair especially liked the Tiki Hut, and while Cape residents know the restaurant as one of the most famous in the city’s history, the Usberghis did not even know it existed. That kind of publicity is exactly what the vendors were hoping for.

“It’s been wonderful as you can see,” said Melanie Durpo, who along with her husband Chip, own 850 Lafayette.

The high end restaurant stylizes itself as “the Cape’s most tasteful address,” and the long lines leading into the establishment, which opened up last December, certainly proved that. Guests tasted mahi mahi in a mango sauce along with three different martinis — the clear cosmo, blood orange and key lime. All received rave reviews.

“You’ve found the best place,” said Howard Young, who was visiting from Michigan.

The Twisted Conch, which has participated in similar events help in the past, once again got high marks for its organization and its featured martini — Grape Sensation. Monica McGratch, the ‘master’ bartender, swelled with pride while she described her concoction, which is made with white grape vodka, blue curacao and a splash of cranberry juice. She also adds in purple grapes with a special touch.

“I’ve had them sitting in a jug of vodka all week long,” McGratch said. “That’s my secret weapon.”

Everyone in attendance appeared jovial throughout the night, sharing drinks and conversation.

“You get to meet a lot of different people every time you get on the bus,” said Kenny Rivard, a 40-year native of Fort Myers.

Like many others at the event, Rivard said Saturday was the first time he visited the Cape for a tour of local establishments.

The crowd appeared to be quite mixed, McGratch noticed, as many younger people hit the trolleys and blended with the usual crowd. Rivard said it was fascinating to see the younger and older groups come together for the tasting.

“They all love our food and drinks,” said Claudi Garcia, owner of the Monkey Bar and Steakhouse.