Oak at Fourteenth owner Bryan Dayton heads to third national cocktail competition of the year

In the months since a massive fire consumed Boulder's Oak at Fourteenth, requiring a remodel that would strip the property to its studs, owner Bryan Dayton hasn't exactly been idling. The former president of the Colorado Bartenders' Guild has kept up with staff trainings, continued his involvement with the state's cocktail scene, and won a few contests along the way -- like this week's Bombay Sapphire competition, which, for the third time this year, will send him to compete with bartenders across the nation.

At this point, after 2011's Don Q and 42 Below competitions, Dayton says he's getting competing at the national level down pat. "They're all a little different, but they're looking for presence, product knowledge and technique as well as the drink itself. They want to see that you don't pick up the fruit with your fingers -- that you use tongs."

And that, notes Dayton, has also vastly improved his technical skills behind his own bar. "I'm a lot more refined," he says. "Once you get it down, it's like second nature. And it looks a lot better."

That's something he hopes to instill in the Colorado bartending scene, too. Though he stepped down as president in January to concentrate on Oak, Dayton says he remains very involved with the Colorado Bartenders' Guild, and he's toyed with doing competition seminars to prepare local bartenders to battle it out nationally. Because not only will that help more Coloradans get to the national level, it will also raise the bar behind the bar at home.

And once his restaurant reopens, Dayton will take a breather from competing himself to get things up and running again.

"I can't wait to get back behind the bar at Oak," he says.

With a hard push, he's hoping that will happen sometime in the early fall.

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