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Bottoms up for charity

(Published July 3, 2000)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

If it hadnít been for a friendís sick dog, Cocktail Charities would probably never have been born.

Last year, Adams Morgan resident and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Andy Miscuk asked his friend, the owner of Pollyís on U Street NW, if he could tend bar one night just for old timeís sake. When Miscuk, an itinerant bartender in his younger days, found out another friendís dog Cornbread had fallen seriously ill, he decided to donate all his tips from the night Ė more than $200 Ė to help pay for the poochís vet bills.

And thus was born one of the Districtís most unique charity fundraising programs. A little over a year later, Cocktail Charities has raised more than $15,000 for various causes throughout the area. Miscukís efforts have been so successful that he is in the process of incorporating a foundation and applying for nonprofit status in order to expand his operations. He plans to call his organization the Cornbread Foundation, in honor of the friendís dog that inspired the idea.

Miscuk has been organizing events throughout Adams Morgan and U Street since last July. His popular fundraisers used to be regular events on Sundays but they eventually switched to Thursdays.

Miscuk gets bartenders to volunteer their time and bar owners to volunteer their bars for his fundraisers. Whatever tips the bartenders make by the end of their shift go to a local good cause. So far, heís held events at more than a dozen bars and has recruited over 40 bartenders to help raise money.

Miscuk said he likes to choose charities that work within the community and are relatively small. Heís raised money for organizations like Marthaís Table, Urban Rangers, Neighborhood Safety Net and Josephís House, an AIDS hospice in Adams Morgan.

"When I do something for a big organization, I tell them ĎGive me one of your small niche programs where $400 makes a difference,í" Miscuk said. "If I do an event for the American Heart Association and raise $500, Iíve paid for their paper clips for a week."

Miscuk said he has no problem recruiting bartenders to help and they frequently use gimmicks, such as setting up kissing booths and giving away door prizes, to help push up their total take for the night.

"A lot of people in my field wouldnít normally volunteer for a charity because itís not really part of their daily lives," bartender Kayti Didriksen said. She said Cocktail Charities makes it easy and fun for people in the service industry to help out for charity. Didriksen was decked out in a grass skirt, bikini top and lei and had decorated the Pharmacy Bar in a tropical motif to try to garner more tips.

The charity drive has become a friendly competition among bar owners and bartenders in Adams Morgan to see who can raise the most tips for the charities. The current record holder is Councilman David Catania, R-At Large, who raised $998 in May as a "celebrity" bartender.

"I am the king of the Cocktail Charities universe," a gloating Catania proclaimed. "If anyone threatens that, I will have to come back and defend my title."

Catania proudly recounted how he beat the previous record Ė held by Toledo Lounge owners Stephanie and Mary Abbajay Ė by more than $300. The Abbajay sisters will have their shot at reclaiming their title July 20 when they host an event on their home turf. Catania said he is planning on attending and tipping heavily. Catania said he hopes they will break his record so he will have the chance to come back and reclaim his title. He said the competition is good because it helps the charities.

Catania said his bartending stint at the Duplex Diner was his first time behind a bar and that he found the experience enlightening.

"I learned how to make a couple of drinks and I learned how to use the tap, so that when I leave the council Iíll have less problems finding another job," he joked. "Thereís not a lot of difference between being a politician and being a bartender. You serve people and listen to their concerns Ė except on the council I serve up legislation, not drinks."

Miscuk said he likes to use working bartenders for his events, but he is in the process of trying to book other celebrity bartenders for some events. His first celebrity was Councilman Jim Graham, D-Ward 1. Miscuk declined to discuss whom he is wooing, citing the delicate nature of the negotiations.

Miscuk said about 85 percent of all the donations come in the form of tips and the bars that host events donate the rest. However, he said he never asks the bar owners to donate anything so that thereís no pressure to sell more liquor.

"I never hit up the establishment for money or ask them to donate 10 percent of their sales for the night or something," he said. "I donít like to tie it to the sales. Itís a very passive fundraiser."

Miscuk said that of the money he collects, 90 percent goes directly to the charities. The rest is used for photocopying and postage for publicizing the fundraisers.

Catania, Didriksen and Miscuk all said they had people come to their events who just wanted to donate money, rather than drink. They said patrons generally respond positively and generously when they know that their tips are going to a good cause.

"Iíll do it whenever he asks me to," Didriksen said. "Itís good karma and it works out for everybody.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator