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Bartender conference gives city a chance to show off 

"We showed them the best time we could show them."

Last week, more than 60 bartenders and liquor-brand representatives visited Pittsburgh for the United States Bartenders' Guild (USBG) northeastern regional conference. The USBG is a national organization dedicated to empowering bartenders through workshops, mentorship and camaraderie. This year, the guild decided to host four regional conferences to help build bonds between nearby cities ... and Pittsburgh chapter president Rob Hirst lobbied to host the first one.

"If we in Pittsburgh can host so many people who work in hospitality for a living and do a good job of it," he says, "that is a really big deal."

Over the marathon three-day event, bartenders from six USBG chapters (Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., Rhode Island, Philadelphia and Connecticut) were immersed in Pittsburgh cocktail culture. Volunteers shuttled attendees around town on two yellow school buses, conducting tours of the Boyd & Blair and Wigle distilleries and tastings at Acacia, Tender and Kaya. Other events included: dinner at Rivertowne and Olive or Twist; lunch at Legume and Soba; a cocktail competition at Bar Marco; and late-night parties at Grit & Grace and Butcher and the Rye.

In addition to the fun and games, the bartenders hit the books: Conference sponsors Stoli, Diageo World Class, Rhum Clement, Jim Beam and Bacardi supported a day of advanced bartending seminars at the University of Pittsburgh.

"It's been an amazing experience. Any time that you can have the opportunity to network with some of the best bartenders and beverage professionals is fantastic," says Frank Martucci, USBG national vice president and head of the Rhode Island chapter. "It was a terrific showcase for the city of Pittsburgh."

That's something that Hirst — who organized both the conference and his team of USBG Pittsburgh volunteers over the course of six frantic weeks — is proud of.

"We showed them the best time we could show them," he says. "We wanted to be the best hosts that we could be. Pittsburgh is a huge, emerging market, and we're doing great things here."

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