- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

"Kids need money, no matter where it comes from," says Abby Friedman as she sips from a beverage she just bought at one of the numerous bars sprinkled throughout her Northwest neighborhood.
But she can say that because the $5 tip she left will go toward the purchase of new books and pencils for young girls in need.
"These kinds of fund-raisers are good for the D.C. scene. All you have to do is come out and have a good time," says Miss Friedman, who participated in a Cocktail Charities event for the first time in January.
Cocktail Charities is a grass-roots fund-raising group operating in the restaurants and bars in Adams Morgan and U Street-Cardozo neighborhoods in Northwest.
All tips go to charity.
The nonprofit group makes a habit of turning slow nights at watering holes in the area into moneymakers for every cause from battered women's shelters to after-school reading programs.
"Volunteerism is the driving force behind my organization," says Cocktail Charities founder Andrew Miscuk, a resident of Adams Morgan and a member of its Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
Two nights a month, Mr. Miscuk, a former bartender, coerces one of the many drinking establishments in the two neighborhoods to donate its tip money to Cocktail Charities, which in turn gives the cash to a preselected local charity.
The kicker is that Mr. Miscuk convinces a local celebrity, politician or friend to perform as guest bartender, while he hustles to pack the place with familiar faces who hopefully show up with cash-stuffed pockets for big tipping.
"It's very common for young people in Washington to go to a bar," says Bryan Greene, a regular at Cocktail Charities events. "This provides them an opportunity to socialize while also helping out in their neighborhood."
The list of folks who have fetched drinks for Cocktail Charities includes such city big-shots as D.C. Council members David Catania and Carol Schwartz, both at-large Republicans, who teamed up behind the bar at the Duplex Diner in Adams Morgan in September.
"It was really fun," Mrs. Schwartz says of the evening, which collected more than $2,000 in tips for Ophelia's House, a local youth program in Adams Morgan that helps teen-age girls succeed in school. "Even as someone who doesn't drink, I enjoyed being a part of it and I'd do it again because a lot of my friends showed up to see me behind the bar."
That's just the hook that makes Cocktail Charities so successful. Many times, a patron who is the friend of a guest bartender will order just one cocktail but leave a $5, $10 or $20 tip to support that evening's charity.
The tips have added up during the past three years to more than $62,000, and charities such as the Washington Free Clinic, Urban Rangers and Friends of Marie Reed School and Recreation Center have received contributions of up to $3,000 each.
"The best thing about Cocktail Charities is that it's a small organization and they tell you exactly where the money's going," says Liz Murphy, a marketing consultant who offers her services to Cocktail Charities free of charge. Mr. Miscuk has charities fill out a questionnaire indicating specifically how they will spend the tip money.
During a Jan. 31 event at Bedrock Billiards on Columbia Road in Adams Morgan, $1,400 was raised for Good Shepherd Ministries, which provides after-school programs for children living in low-income housing.
Hilary Meek, development director for Good Shepherd, said although it may only appear to be a drop in the bucket to the organization's $480,000 annual budget, "that money really helped us out with little extras that we wouldn't otherwise be able to afford in our budget like a new television for our teen center."
Mr. Miscuk says donations from participating bars also are gladly accepted and many bar owners offer a percentage of their total alcohol sales on the night of a Cocktail Charities event. Sometimes a bar simply donates a keg of beer to Cocktail Charities, putting the revenue from it into the tip jar at the end of the night.
"There is a method to my madness when I plan these events," says Mr. Miscuk, who sends regular e-mail notices about Cocktail Charities events to a growing list of about 1,000 people. "When we pick a bar and we have an event, of course the bar's regulars show up, and we have the regular supporters of Cocktail Charities. But then we get the guest bartenders who tell all their friends to come."
The 36-year-old says he "tripped into" Cocktail Charities one night in May 1999 when he asked the owner of Polly's Cafe in the U Street-Cardozo area if he could guest bartend for fun on a Monday night.
The owner agreed and a date was set. When the date arrived however, Mr. Miscuk was busy offering condolences to a friend whose dog, Cornbread, had fallen ill and needed costly medical attention.
On a whim, he decided all the tips he earned as a guest bartender at Polly's should go toward Cornbread's medical bills. The tips amounted to $200 and gears began turning in Mr. Miscuk's head … if it was so easy to raise cash for a friend's ailing pup, the same could be done promoting local charities.
Hence the birth of Cocktail Charities.
Conrbread has since passed away, but the nonprofit powers on, holding more than 100 fund-raisers at 28 drinking establishments since 1999.
"Cornbread was a great dog, but I never thought she'd be remembered for raising all this charity money," the dog's owner, Matthew Meersman, said at a recent Cocktail Charities event.
Mr. Miscuk says the backbone of Cocktail Charities is the regular bartenders who give up their tips for a night and support guest bartenders who have to learn, on the fly, how to mix complicated drinks.
"There are not a lot of volunteer opportunities for bartenders," he says. "I make it easier for them. When a bartender gives up their hours for a Cocktail Charities event, they're networking, making friends, introducing people, basically doing what they do best and it goes to charity."
Dan Wray, a regular bartender at Bedrock Billiards, says on a good night he makes about $200 in tips.
"I wouldn't want to miss out on an opportunity to donate to charity in this fashion," he says.
Another benefit of Cocktail Charities is connecting the nonprofit charities with the business sector.
"It targets specific charities and it invites locals who live in the neighborhood to the events, so we get a lot of exposure," says Tommy M. Zarembka, development director of Joseph's House on Columbia Road in Adams Morgan.
Joseph's House is a nonprofit medical recovery shelter for homeless men many of whom are dying of AIDS.
"In the last year, Cocktail Charities has raised just under $5,000 for us," Mr. Zarembka says. "It ensures that we don't have to cut costs."
To learn more about Cocktail Charities events, or to join the organization's e-mail list, visit www.cocktailcharities.org.

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