Bartender wearing apron with bright red hair and holding a glass of rose wine in front of the barback.

First Sip Debuts in Boulder

BY Amy Antonation


First Sip Debuts in Boulder

Dek goes here…

Jessica Benjamin remembers exactly when the idea for First Sip arose: “Ironically, it was dreamed up about two years ago,” says the owner and executive producer of First Bite, Boulder’s restaurant week-esque dining event. “It was one of the last meet-your-girlfriend-at-the-bar nights before the pandemic.” Over drinks, Benjamin and buddy Rachael Caraluzzi (who is now First Bite’s marketing director), thought, ” We should do [First Bite] with drinks, and maybe we’ll do it someday with desserts.”

Two years and an infinite number of pivots later, First Sip launches in Boulder on Thursday, April 28 and runs through Sunday, May 1. It mimics the setup of First Bite: Over a long weekend, 33 bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and tea houses will offer discounts, special beverage flights, and brand-new cocktails, none of which require reservations or tickets. There are also a handful of ticketed events that spin the whiskey flavor wheel ($55), recreate that summer backpacking tour across Europe—with better beer ($30)—and spotlight both red and white Tuscan wines ($40).

Benjamin thinks First Sip is bound to draw some of the same customers as First Bite does, but she’s anticipating the new event will be even more local. “First Bite does attract a large tourist crowd,” she acknowledges, noting that its fall time frame inevitably overlaps with people visiting Boulder for football games and other seasonal events. “I think this will draw a newer crowd because 40 percent of the participants are new.” She continues: “We have a lot of unique participants this year, not just restaurants and bars.”

She points out R Gallery and Wine Bar, where visitors will be able to sip a wine flight while strolling past photographs and fine art from local artists, and Ku Cha House of Tea, which is offering free mint-matcha iced tea and matcha lattes. Several newcomers on the food and drink scene are participating, too: Farow and Gemini are less than a year old. Of course, there are stalwarts and crowdpleasers, too: Ash’Kara is mixing a 64-ounce (that’s a gallon, kids) cocktail for six tableside; Supermoon is challenges you to a game of Truth or Dare? (take the dare and get 10 percent off the bartender’s choice); and Mojo Taqueria is giving deep discounts on different cocktails every night.

Hand pouring Strongwater mixer Signature Sparkling tonic into large cocktail glass garnished with cucumber, dill, and lemon.
Dagabi Cucina is one of over 30 First Sip participants. / Branded Beet

The variety in participants and specials is music to Benjamin’s ears. “So much creativity came from the pandemic,” she says when asked why First Bite was branching out into booze. “‘[Beverages are] an area where they are publicly experimenting every day. With food, experimentation is behind the scenes.”

First Sip is in addition to First Bite, which will happen this fall. Benjamin notes she’s been trying to move First Bite away from the “restaurant week” label since she took over the operation in 2019 (the event has been running since 2005). “I want to move past the concept of restaurant week ,” she says, “with people coming in who weren’t engaged and were just looking for a deal. It’s hard on the kitchen. And diners weren’t having a great time either. It was no longer meeting the point of originality.” She hopes First Sip will give establishments the opportunity to showcase that creativity, and the nudge to get customers off their couches and onto a barstool.

Visit First Sip’s website for a list of participants, offerings, and ticketed events.

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Amy Antonation