Code Word: I’m Going to the Bootlegger

Dancing to the music from the band.

By Hannah Flynn

At 5 p.m. on July 16, a warm summer night, The Bootlegger, presented by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, kicked off at the Fire Island Lighthouse. For the first annual cocktail competition, many guests dressed in casual cocktail attire, though some took it a bit further and dressed to match the Prohibition era.

A fundraiser for the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, the purchase of a ticket granted guests access to the cocktail tasting, along with oysters from Tall Motha Shucka and dinner from Royal Elite BBQ. Though the Lighthouse is a short walk from Robert Moses Field 5 parking lot, guests also received a complimentary ride to the Lighthouse from Fire Island Pedicab, one of the sponsors of the event.

In keeping with the Prohibition theme, guests shared a code word with the Pedicab to secure the ride – I’m going to The Bootlegger. In a few minutes, guests found themselves at the base of the Lighthouse, ready to enter into a night of craft cocktail tasting, live music and a bit of competition.

The event was the brainchild of the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society and The Seas Collective, a company co-founded by Chelsea Buonaiuto and Corey Stanton, that works closely with non-profit organizations and aims to engage the community.

Looking for a new event to raise money for the Preservation Society, the idea for The Bootlegger was sparked by the history of bootlegging on Fire Island.

“We kind of dove into the history there and learned how some of the towns actually had these casinos during Prohibition times where they’d sneak alcohol in through the Inlet, bring it into the community in Fire Island, and people would go out there and hang out,” said Stanton.

The Fire Island Inlet played a big role in Prohibition, as rumrunners would deliver alcohol, not only to communities on Fire Island, but also to towns on Long Island, like Bay Shore and Babylon.

Stephen and Mike from The Better Man Distilling Co.

“We wanted to piggyback off of that fun side of history in our local area and showcase it a little bit through this event,” said Stanton. Attendees had the opportunity to taste various cocktails from local businesses, such as Coastal Kitchen & Daiquiri Bar in Bay Shore, Great South Bar in Patchogue, Sayville Bait & Tackle, and The Better Man Distilling Co. In Patchogue, to name a few. The Better Man Distilling Co., one of the sponsors of the event, supplied the spirits to all vendors for the night.

Code Word: Tony Sent Me

On theme once more, VIP ticket holders gained access to the speakeasy in the basement of the lighthouse with another code word – Tony sent me. Down the staircase, through the hallway, and around the corner opened into the room, where cocktails from The Better Man Distilling Co. were poured for guests to enjoy under the lights strung across the ceiling.

Denice & Peter enjoying the event.

Denice Lugten, a member of the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, got VIP passes and memorized the code word for the speakeasy, where she enjoyed her favorite cocktail – The Black Panther from The Better Man Distilling Co.

Lugten and her husband, Peter, heard about the event via email from the Lighthouse and dressed for the occasion. “My husband and I planned about a month in advance, at least, to come here because they have extravagant events and we love being outside and under the lighthouse,” she said.

Maryann Genovese, sister-in-law to Denice, also attended with her husband, Ron Raspa. “We love to go to charity events, and we liked the theme, so we wanted to get dressed up for it,” she said.

Mindy and James Hovanec heard about the event from Mindy’s mother, Laura Pfaffe, and they also decided to dress to the theme.

Maryann and Ron in the speakeasy.

Maryann and Ron in the speakeasy.

Mindy & James, dressed for the ‘20s!

Mindy & James, dressed for the ‘20s!

“They stopped doing the Barefoot Black Tie and we miss it,” said Mindy. “We wanted to do something with the family at the Lighthouse, and here we are.” At that point in the night, Mindy’s favorite cocktail was the Saturn by Coastal Kitchen & Daiquiri Bar, though she had not voted yet.

Sayville Bait and Tackle: winners of the first annual Bootlegger!

Each station presented two cocktails and guests had the opportunity to taste each drink but were limited to one vote for the entire night. At around 7:50 p.m., Sayville Bait & Tackle’s cocktail, Purple Rain, won the competition.

As the event came to an end, guests received gift bags containing a rocks glass, various items from some other sponsors, like Chonky Cookies, Motion Supply Co. and Sail Away, and a Pedicab Pass for the season, which gives riders a one-dollar discount per ride.