"It really does feel surreal," says Mary Allison Wright, who learned on June 20 that Yacht Club
, the bar she founded with McClain Hedges, is one of four U.S. finalists for Best New U.S. Cocktail Bar at the 2022 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards
She and Hedges were told to keep the news under wraps until the public announcement the next day. "I am so bad at keeping secrets," Wright admits. "I just had to stay at home. It was a tortured experience, but with a big payout when we were able to share it with our staff."
Their reaction? "Literally just over the moon," she recalls. "We all love each other so much, having this nomination is incredibly special. It's massive to get something like this for something you just really enjoy doing."
The duo opened Yacht Club at 3701 Williams Street, next door to Brasserie Brixton, last December. They'd previously run an iteration of the bar inside the Source, but it closed in 2019. In the time between, they took on several other projects, including some Yacht Club teaser pop-ups, but they stayed focused on getting a new, permanent spot. And now that effort is being recognized on a national scale.
"We wanted to build a space for everyone," Wright says. "Why do we have to choose between a dive bar, a cocktail bar, a wine bar?"
The Hollywood Frank at Yacht Club.
At Yacht Club, which serves a fabulous selection of wine and interesting cocktails alongside beer-and-shot combos and hot dogs
, you don't have to. "It's a clubhouse for all," Wright explains. "You don't have to fit into a mold here. It's like a warm hug."
And she's feeling warm about the Tales of the Cocktail awards ceremony in New Orleans on July 28. "We're going as a staff, we're counting down the days," she says.
Sean Kenyon is nominated for Best U.S. Bar Mentor.
Yacht Club isn't the only Denver finalist this year. Sean Kenyon, who won Best American Bartender of the Year at the awards in 2014 and whose Williams & Graham nabbed Best American Bar of the Year in 2015 (he's also a master at responding to one-star Yelp reviews
), is a finalist this year in the Best U.S. Bar Mentor category.
"It's so special that Sean's a finalist this year, too," Wright says. Before officially making the move to Denver a decade ago, she and Hedges spent "hours and hours" at the original Squeaky Bean, where Kenyon worked at the time. "It was a life-changing night," Wright recalls. "We went home and packed our stuff and moved to Denver. Sean's been such a big part of welcoming us. This nomination really speaks to who he is."
The nods to both Yacht Club and Kenyon are especially impactful as the hospitality industry continues to face pandemic-related challenges. "Having little moments of joy and little moments of celebration is huge," Wright concludes.
We'll certainly toast to that!