The Reluctant Partygoer: Liz Clayton And The Nightlife Of SCAA 2015

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If there’s one thing the annual Specialty Coffee Association of America Event brings out—besides days of stimulating panels and conversations, and a host of innovations revealed on the show floor—it’s the party animal in coffee people. Combine that with the pan-continental draw of the World Barista Championship and, well, heck—you’ve got yourself a party calendar that’s spilling over like a poorly-closed AeroPress.

But what’s a photographer, coffee writer, and party reporter to do at the end of the day when there are so many options? I know you understand: asking me to choose between the SCAA Opening Ceremonies or the SCAA Block Party, or between the Roasters Guild Party and the Marco Party, or between the Nuova Simonelli cocktail hour and Tote Fest, is an impossible task. It would be like choosing between one’s children, if one had children, and saw them, instead of going to coffee conventions. But without further ado, here’s my annual breakdown of the night-life, after-hours, pre-party, party, and post-party scene at SCAA.

Thursday Night

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Once one’s spent a day on the floor of the Washington State Convention center witnessing a couple dozen of the globe’s finest baristi, where would one most want to go? Options were scattered around town: the Block Party just uphill from the convention played host to leagues of wandering coffee-ers, with pizza on tap from Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie outlet located within (and this night, outside) the Starbucks Reserve megacafe at Pike and Minor. For others, a smaller occasion—like perhaps chips and guacamole with one’s cousin—might be more their speed. You know, I don’t presume to speak for others. This reporter, however, could think of no better nite-cap after a day of competition-watching than to make the trek down to SoDo for more competition-watching. After all, I was probably great at it by that point in the day.

I rambled down to the WithinSoDo event space for the long-awaited World AeroPress Championship, an officially unofficial and unofficially uncouth gathering of national AeroPress champs along with a star-studded, spinny-wheel-selected, cast of (coffee-) famous judges. Larger, louder, and more dynamic than last year’s competition at Stumptown 12th and Madison, this AeroPress competition was a multi-roomed affair, which, owing to the aforementioned loud volume, could be clearly heard from any room in the building if not all of CenturyLink Field. One room hosted the competition itself, replete with sunglass-wearing judges, inverted innovation, and a smattering of showmanly male chauvinism, all set out on stage for a crowd of mostly confused, cool-kid-seeking international attendees to behold. In another room, drinkers of beer gathered quietly, and in yet another, people who couldn’t choose ate food truck offerings on the floor and gazed upon an incredibly large fish tank. Upstairs, in the Green Room, I was offered one sip of wine described as “wet dog”, which promptly gave me a crippling, debilitating headache. Party.

Friday Night

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For me, Friday night meant an ongoing debilitating headache paired with many parties to choose from. Cleaning powder magnate Urnex was hosting something with “casual apps”. Water magnate Marco was hosting a gathering at an Irish pub. At Stumptown 12th, an unofficial cup tasting was going to blow the hell up right at 7pm. I wouldn’t make it past 5:30, though, when my eye-blinding headache necessitated an emergency brownie stop. Funny thing, did you know you can’t find a brownie at the Central Co-Op that contains both gluten and animal products? It’s true.

I went to bed at 6:00pm, because in bed, there lies darkness. Party intentions for later that night scuttled by the oppressive sound of cold, pounding rain, and the already maximum level of partying by Capitol Hill crazy people right outside my window. Sometimes you gotta save up your strength for the next party, you know?

Saturday Night

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By Saturday night, a couple of twirls around the convention floor and the mounting suspense of the WBC made partying appropriately all that much more crucial. Would it be the Nuova Simonelli/Victoria Arduino fête at Palace Kitchen? Last year’s charcuterie array hosted by same, with James Hoffmann and Colin Harmon Power Points as backdrops, was sure good. Then there was the “elevated coffee” experience at Trichome, which, sure. I decided to gather my thoughts first at Starbucks Reserve, which, though impressive, was impressive on the kind of on the scale that the Mall of America is impressive, and quickly I felt my headache trying to sneak back in, perhaps responding to the dozens of coffee service areas contained within this cafe, to say nothing of its many individual coffee concierges, flickering around me in the dappled light of decorative metalwork and limited-edition thermii.

But as is often the case, my partying was further slowed down by petty concerns like dropping off all my photography equipment, then a waylayment by a roving band of Canadian artisan roasters and bakers. Suddenly—how?—it was 11pm and I hadn’t partied in a group of people larger than four at a time. Fearful of losing my edge, I quickly hailed a cab—no wait! With the sudden tumbleweeding of MadCap‘s Ryan Knapp, we hailed *two* cabs to the Roaster’s Guild party taking place at World Sports Grille.

Or was it? This deja-vu-like experience, an attempt to recreate the same overfilled, booze-depleted, wet, sticky, sports-themed gathering as last year’s Roaster’s Guild party was supposedly at the same two-decker, immeasurably large establishment. But according to Yelp, World Sports Grille on Westlake Avenue was closed, and according to online sources, the address was somewhere else entirely. And according to our printed invitation…oh shit, the printed invitation was in the other cab with Leesha and Cliff. So we drove to Closed-World-Sports-Grille anyway, only to see that while it did, in fact, appear to be closed, and was now, in fact, only named Grille, it had risen like a phoenix from a sticky pool hall floor and reopened for this night, to allow us to relive last year’s precisely identical party experience.

Much as in 2014, the scene was chaotic. Entering, we passed Aida Batlle standing outside anxiously looking for an escape taxi. Inside, I quickly relived last year in sweaty flashes. Anyone with beer was immediately questioned: where, no, how, did you get that drink? Lines at the bar were stacked up like Wrigley Field’s bathrooms on opening day, and more than one person admitted to either stealing or “compiling” a drink from found alcohol leftovers.

My options were limited here. There was the dance floor, where a Latin band played hits to a crowd with much better moves than I possess, and where Mike Phillips was singlehandedly raising humidity levels. There was the game room, the upstairs room, and a scary, almost completely empty room with a baby grand piano and two pool tables. And there was Phil Beattie jammed up against a fire door. That seemed best, though Beattie’s efforts to derail my journalism by knocking my the pen out of my hand and onto the sticky ground seemed to echo all of our deep-seated emotions. How on earth were we back at this bar? How were we EVER at this bar? And how did that guy over there get a drink?

I decide to get a taxi out of there before the entire party tries to leave at once, and suddenly realize I’m feeling better than I have in days. Everyone else, however, has decided to go home. It’s Saturday, it’s midnight, I’ve finally got my second wind, and even Steve Mierisch isn’t answering my texts.

Sunday Night

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The only thing more mindbending than attending last year’s Saturday night party at [World Sports] Grille again could be attending last year’s Sunday night party at Trinity Nightclub. Rather than actually have to go there again, let’s just relive my experience from last year:

Traditionally, the Sunday night party is hosted by the Barista Guild of America, and as these parties often have the chaotic energy of the fete I’d just attended at World Sports Grille, it was hard to imagine how the BGA might top this night. But as I pulled back the curtains to enter Trinity nightclub, I knew they’d pulled it off. From the moment those migraine-triggering strobe lights hit my corneas to the magic sound of the DJ playing an ear-blasting song whose lyrics seemed only to be “SHOTS! SHOTS! SHOTS! SHOTS!”, I knew I was in the right place.

There’s always a chance the second time around can be just as good, but who was I kidding? I ate a cheeseburger and went home to Derek‘s place to watch an Atari documentary. If you’re wondering what happens, they dig up all the cartridges. Hope you poured one out for me on the dance floor.

Until the next party…

Liz Clayton is Sprudge.com’s associate editor and reluctant party correspondent. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge

More reluctant party coverage from Liz Clayton:

SCAA 2012 Portland Party Coverage: Part 1 | Part 2

SCAA 2013 Boston Party Coverage

SCAA 2014 Seattle Party Coverage