Gin Week St. Louis Plans for an Uncertain Future


Gin Week may be canceled this year, but Natasha Bahrami vows the festival will go on. - MABEL SUEN
  • Gin Week may be canceled this year, but Natasha Bahrami vows the festival will go on.

Sunday, April 26, would have been Gin Festival St. Louis, the culmination of the sixth annual Gin Week St. Louis which celebrates the spirit and draws enthusiasts and cocktail professionals from around the globe for its series of events, socials and educational opportunities. This year, founder Natasha Bahrami had no choice but to cancel the festivities because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But when she looked out her window, she couldn't help but chuckle.

"Sunday was supposed to be the final day — the culmination of the week," Bahrami says. "Every year, it threatened to rain. This was the one year when it was gorgeous outside."

Despite the pleasant weather, the outlook for the city's food and beverage community has been gloomy these days. Since the pandemic turned the industry on its head this March, hospitality professionals have watched their livelihoods disappear as businesses such as restaurants, bars, event spaces and hotels were forced to close out of concern for the health and safety of their employees and customers. With dining-room closure orders in effect for St. Louis city and county, businesses' revenues have drastically declined, even as many remain open and work harder than ever to navigate the new reality of curbside, takeout and delivery services.

As Bahrami explains, events like Gin Week St. Louis have been hit hard, too. With gatherings restricted to small numbers of people, festival goers are prohibited from attending events. Once the restrictions are lifted, she wonders if they will even want to.

"I'm nervous for these large venues, because how do you survive when no one is doing events?" Bahrami wonders. "The whole world is going to change a little bit. We have to take all the positives we can get right now, but some of these events like Gin Week or 4 Hands' Lupulin Carnival have to be canceled right now, because we can't be the social beings we want to be anymore. It used to be that people would walk by a bar and look in a window. If it wasn't busy, they'd say, 'No, I'm not going in.' Now, they're going to look in the windows and hope it's not busy so they can go in."

However, Bahrami remains optimistic for the future of Gin Week St. Louis and her Ginworld brand, which produces gin festivals around the country. She sees this year as a temporary pause, not an end, and is confident that the festivals will continue as soon as it's safe to do so.

Much of her optimism has to do with the outpouring of support. Though she'd sold hundreds of tickets to the Gin Festival, including $110 VIP tickets, not one person reached out to her for a refund in advance of the decision — and when she did cancel and begin processing refunds, many asked her if they could donate their money to Ginworld instead as a way to ensure its longevity.

"I told them, take your money and go buy a bottle of gin," Bahrami says. "We don't get to have this experience this year, but we will next year. We have six years of this relationship with people, and what I didn't expect was, not only the people who come from St. Louis, but the people who come in globally to have such a connection — how much they were looking forward to it and how sad they were that they can't do that. Everyone is excited to be a part of this next year."

Bahrami knows that she faces much uncertainty when it comes to putting on events in the near — and possibly long-term — future. The festival draws 600 people, so she is bracing for the possibility of having to rethink the format. Already, she had changed this year's Gin Week events to be smaller in scale, and she is considering the idea of having the festival outside next year, something the venue has already said it can accommodate. She's even taken some of the educational and social activities online, such as a gin release and accompanying cocktail demonstration by the Gin Room (3200 South Grand Boulevard, 314-771-3411) bartender Dale Kyd.

Whatever it takes, she is determined to make sure that Gin Week and Gin Festival live on.

"This industry is nothing if it's not where people figure things out, so we're going to figure it out," Bahrami says. "This is not just a festival. It's a family. We didn't get to do it this year, but we will come back stronger than ever next year."

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