What makes a hero? Comic books and Hollywood films lean heavily on brightly costumed crime fighters, each on a selfless mission to save mankind from the evil plans of a countless list of cackling villains, while the local news’ definition often points to brave policemen and firefighters who risk their own lives to ensure the safety and well-being of local citizens. Any of these certainly qualify, but for Bill Elliot some of the most important heroes are the regular folks who make it their mission to help put a stop to drunk driving.
Bill and the rest of the Elliott family are the folks behind the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers, a nonprofit that was created to raise awareness of and eliminate drunk driving accidents. Their son, John R. Elliot, was a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy when he was killed in July 2000 by a drunk driver.
Making its triumphant return as part of the HERO Campaign is the HEROtini Mocktail Challenge. This promotion, which has been running all summer, features more than 30 South Jersey restaurants and bars, each of which have created their very own signature “mocktails,” using everything from fresh fruit juices to spices, in order to create the most unique and refreshing non-alcoholic cocktail. The competition is fierce, as each bar hopes to take home the coveted HEROtini Cup at this year’s culmination — the HEROtini Happening Mocktail Challenge Awards, which take place 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, at Linwood Country Club. The evening will crown the winner based on who has raised the most money via votes and donations and will also include an official group of judges, who will pick their winners as well, based on taste and the best name.
“We first launched the HEROtini Challenge two years ago,” says Bill Elliott. “This was all a creation of my wife Muriel who got the idea when were in Florida one winter and saw a lot of mocktails on the menus ... and she thought that we should promote the concept of mocktails (as a smart choice for designated drivers).”
In the original HEROtini Challenge back in 2017, more than 370,000 votes were tallied. Once the Elliotts discovered this, they decided to come up with a way to have the votes themselves directly benefit the cause. So for 2019, in order to vote for your favorite mocktail, voters are required to submit a donation, which will go toward the Holiday HEROES Safe Ride Program, a partnership between the HERO Campaign and Uber that will offer free rides (up to $20) to local bar patrons.
“We decided to take the money donated through the votes and dedicate it to a fund that will provide free rides home from all the participating bars over the holiday season. We are expecting to raise $30,000 to the Safe Ride fund,” Elliott says.
Who’s mixing what?
Each of the bars participating in the HEROtini Challenge were faced with the task of creating an original mocktail from scratch. But what makes a great mocktail anyway? As the trend has gotten hotter, ingredients have gotten more complex. According to a November 2018 article in Forbes Magazine on mocktail trends: “(In 2019) there will be more creative use of house-made syrups and tonics, fermented ingredients and non-alcoholic spirits such as Seedlip.” But what about taste? “It needs to be refreshing,” says Renee Bancheri, a bartender at Tailgaters Pub in Galloway, who created the Berry Safe Sangria. “You should feel as though you are enjoying a traditional cocktail, and you should barely notice the alcohol is not in it.”
Here is the full list of participating bars and restaurants:
Anchorage Tavern, Somers Point Drink: Homerun Harper
Bocca Coal Fired Bistro, Margate Drink: The Bocca Bulldozer
Charlie’s Bar & Restaurant, Somers Point Drink: The Shamless Sunrise
The Crab Trap, Somers Point Drink: The Crabby Jack HEROtini
Dock’s Oyster House, Atlantic City Drink: Cuddles on the Beach
Ducktown Tavern, Atlantic City Drink: Your Alibi
Gregory’s Restaurant & Bar, Somers Point Drink: The Safe-Tea Driver
Harbor Pines Golf Club, Egg Harbor Township Drink: The Harbor Pines Mulligan
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, Atlantic City Drink: Red, White & Blue
Harry’s Oyster Bar, Atlantic City Drink: Don’t Shuck-n-Drive
Hi Point Pub, Absecon Drink: Sober Summer Margarita
Josie Kelly’s Public House, Somers Point Drink: Window Dresser Shandy
Knife & Fork Inn, Atlantic City Drink: The Pineapple Express
Linwood Country Club, Linwood Drink: The Designated Driver
MADE Chocolate, Atlantic City Drink: Chocolate Fauxhito
Maynard’s Café, Margate Drink: The Spicy Mock-Arita
Pitney Pub, Galloway Drink: The Pitney Punch
Resorts Casino Hotel, Atlantic City Drink: Baby Sharkatini
Rhythm & Spirits, Atlantic City Drink: Blueberry Sage Lemonade
Sofia, Margate Drink: Get Your Ass Home Safe
St. George’s Pub, Brigantine Drink: The Meh-Hull Hero
Steel Pier Pub, Atlantic City Drink: Wheelie Safe Ride
Steve & Cookie’s, Margate Drink: Seedlip Summer Kiss
Tailgaters Sports Bar and Grille, Galloway Drink: Berry Safe Sangria
Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall, Atlantic City Drink: The Endless Summer
The Doc’s Place, Somers Point Drink: The Bee’s Knees
Tomatoe’s, Margate Drink: Tee Time
Tropicana, Atlantic City Drink: TROPtini
Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House, Atlantic City Drink: Naked Donkey
Wonder Bar, Atlantic City Drink: The Prickly Mint Cooler
Yesterday’s, Marmora Drink: Mac-A-Rita
The esteemed judges
Pamela Dollak Editor of A.C. Weekly, At the Shore, Taste and Flavor magazines at the Press of Atlantic City.
Michael Bray Well-known entrepreneur, marketing guru and owner of Passion Vines Wine and Spirits stores in Somers Point and Egg Harbor Township. Together with the Jazz Society of Somers Point, he is the founder of the annual Right Notes Wine Tasting fundraiser benefitting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Nancy Adler Popular nutritionist, radio personality, diet guru and the author of Nancy’s Recipes for Life and creator of her own line of nutrition products. A certified nutrition and fitness trainer for children and adults.
Nicole Gaffney A well-known personal chef and TV personality from Brigantine, Gaffney is the owner of the Soulberri smoothie and coffee café. She placed second in the national competition for TV’s Food Network Star.
Leah Kelly From Louisville, Kentucky, Kelly is the Alcohol Responsibility Specialist for Brown-Forman, one of the event’s presenting sponsors, and one of the world’s leading manufacturers of distilled spirits, including Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve.
Whitney Ullman Local social media and TV personality, Whitney brings her killer smile and hosting chops to this year’s event.
Michelle Tomko Atlantic City’s resident funnylady will co-host, providing the Del Griffith to Ullman’s Neil Page — or something like that.
Zach Eberson Zack has made a name for himself recently producing a series of hilarious video interviews shot in his car. His energy and passion for the event is sure to be infectious.