LINNEA COVINGTON /MAY 11, 2023 /10:25AM
After a four-year hiatus (thanks, COVID), the Secret Sauce restaurant group’s fundraiser Wings & Whiskey is back on May 21 at Ace Eat Serve in Uptown.
According to the organizers, the event will be epic, and based on the six Wings & Whiskey extravaganzas before, we won’t argue. Guests can expect to fill up on really good chicken wings and sip equally tasty whiskey libations. Plus, all the proceeds go to charity.
Wings & Whiskey started as a way to dial in the philanthropic aspect of Ace Eat Serve, which opened in 2012. At the time, says Secret Sauce COO Emily Biederman, the group’s other eateries had longstanding fundraising events — the Steuben’s Toy Drive and Plates for the Peak at the now-shuttered Vesta. Biederman and Randy Laymen, who was Ace’s bar manager at the time, were constantly brainstorming ideas for various specials, events and promotions, she adds.
“Knowing that Ace was known for our tiger wings, using wings as the food component seemed like a natural fit — and, well, whiskey starts with a ‘w,’ so it had a nice ring to it,” Biederman explains. The team brought in event coordinator and “logistical mastermind” Jessie Secord to help. “We had to take advantage of the size of Ace and the killer patio, of course, and we also loved the idea of a daytime event with live music to really dig into ‘Sunday fun day,'” Biederman adds.
With that, Wings & Whiskey was born. This comeback marks the seventh edition of the fundraiser, which is slated to be even better than the previous ones. I should know: I got to judge the wings during the last event in 2019, and I’ll be back ticking boxes and using all the napkins this year as eight restaurants square off with their best wing submissions. But it’s not just about what the judges like; there’s a peoples’ choice award, too, further motivating guests to try all the wings.
New competitors this year include Hop Alley, Bodega, Rooted Craft Kitchen, Apple Blossom/Coperta and Walters303. The original contestants making a comeback include Fire on the Mountain, Steuben’s/Ace Eat Serve and Osage Cafe, which this event helps support. Osage is owned and operated by the Denver Housing Authority Youth Employment Academy and is used for hospitality and culinary training in order to prepare students for jobs in the industry. It’s also a place of employment for residents in its communities, and a great place to get breakfast and lunch in the Mariposa District.
“As a company, we have always liked supporting organizations that are connected to the hospitality industry in some way or support youth in the community, and the Denver Housing Authority Youth Employment Academy does a bit of both,” says Biederman. “Their mission of breaking the cycle of generational poverty through training and education supports the youth in our community, and the fact that they have a program dedicated specifically to culinary and hospitality training made the connection even more natural.”
Because of the pandemic, the Secret Sauce team decided to forgo Wings & Whiskey the last three years owing to the social nature of the event, says Biederman. “That’s why we shifted to the Ace Peking Duck House for a couple years. We still wanted to give back, but needed to do it in a different way,” she adds. “While the Ace Peking Duck House was a huge success and raised a ton of money for the organization, we always had the energy and the vibe of Wings & Whiskey the last three years owing to the social nature of the event, says Biederman. “That’s why we shifted to the Ace Peking Duck House for a couple years. We still wanted to give back, but needed to do it in a different way,” she adds. “While the Ace Peking Duck House was a huge success and raised a ton of money for the organization, we always had the energy and the vibe of Wings & Whiskey in our minds as an event that had to return when the timing was right.”
On the whiskey side, expect drams from Suntory, Woody Creek, Elijah Craig, Howler Head and Redemption along with cocktails made with the spirit.
Each ticket includes unlimited wings and two drinks, but more cocktails can be purchased at the bar. New this year is a competition where each bartender at Ace has been paired with a whiskey brand and will be making a signature cocktail with it. Guests can vote by buying additional drinks, and the cocktail with the highest sales will earn a slot on the permanent menu at Ace. Bonus: The proceeds will also go to the cause, and the winning whiskey brand will make an extra donation to the charity.
There will also be table games, beer from Great Divide, a whiskey-tasting booth and live music by the Buffalo Wingmen, featuring Bill McKay (Derek Trucks Band, Leftover Salmon, Steely Dead), Todd Smallie (Derek Trucks Band and JJGrey) and Mark Levy (Lake Street Dive, Circles Around the Sun).
Those who want even more wing goodness can join the wing-eating contest. It’s $20 to enter, and contestants can sign up the day of the event. This year’s prize is still being determined, but skis and grills have been given out in the past.
Aside from getting a ticket to the general admission event (VIP is sold out), you can support the cause even further by entering auctions for a Stand Up Paddle Board from YoColorado, a custom golf bag, Icelantic skis and four tickets to any Red Rocks Show this season.
Wings & Whiskey will take place at Ace Eat Serve, 501 East 17th Avenue, at 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 21. Tickets are $65 each and can be purchased online.
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