We Chat with Aaron Polsky of 'Cripple Creek,' a Traveling Cocktail Collective

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What if we took the craft cocktail experience out of a bar—and dropped it into something closer to a concert? Drinks as one part of a stage show, traveling between cities? That's what Aaron Polsky (Amor y Amargo, Neta, Manon) and Damon Boelte (Prime Meats) are going for with their traveling cocktail collective, Cripple Creek. We chatted with Polsky about his plans for Cripple Creek, the talent involved, and what exactly a "live multi-sensory cocktail experience" means.

Okay. What is Cripple Creek? You did two pop-up cocktail events late last year; how is this different? Basically we evolved from an idea of a pop-up bar into the idea of taking it on the road. Rather than having people only be able to experience our drinks in our respective bars, we want to bring the experience to them.

You reach more people that way. The idea of craft cocktails is something with broad appeal, that reaches people who don't live where we are, or have access to great drinks. It's not materially harder than going on tour with music. We also want to see drinking removed from a bar or dining setting, that's really interesting to us.

And hey, it's exciting, it's fun, we love doing the traveling road show bit.

What's actually going on in these shows? Well, it's a live multi-sensory cocktail experience—for example, everybody will get a drink, and we'll incorporate a scent over the audience to match the drink. Similar things with lighting and sound. A drink, like a plate of food, is more than just taste—it's memory, it evokes other ideas, and we think we can do more than put it in a glass. There's a reason cocktails have names, you know? Reasons for presentations. There's context.

And this will be a full-on stage show, with drinks as one aspect, but everybody gets their cocktail at the same time. It brings the immediacy of a concert or show to the experience. What distinguishes a good band from a great band is not only how well they play their songs, but the show they put on—you know, the extreme is Pink Floyd putting on The Wall, crazy stage shows with props and theatrics. We're not doing that, but the idea is there.

One of the things that makes a show great is that you're sharing experience of each song with everyone else in the room—there's something magical in that sense that you're watching and feeling the same things. We're going for synchronous experiences.

The first Cripple Creek pop-ups were you and Damon; who's involved now? There's Mayur Subbarao—one of the creative forces behind Dram, Cienfuegos, and Amor y Amargo. And he's also one of the three people behind Bittermens Spirits. He's the most technically proficient person I know. You call him with an obscure question, and he doesn't get back to you after looking it up—it's right at the top of his head.

And there's Michael O'Rourke, who's the drummer in Damon [Boelte]'s band, Brothers, and a DJ.

You're calling this your first North American tour; where are you headed? Webster Hall is our first date, and there's a lot in the works that's not locked down yet. But we're going to be hitting Albany next, and New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail.

Cripple Creek will be at The Studio at Webster Hall in NYC on Friday, May 31 (tickets available here). $40 includes admission and all cocktails.