Three Things Pig & Punch Taught Us About Throwing a Party
What began as a smash Tales of the Cocktail hit is now a New Orleans tradition in its own right.
July 18, 2016
Pig & Punch, the party with a heart of gold from San Francisco's The Bon Vivants, is BACK, people. (If your Tales of the Cocktail antennae are tingling, it's probably because of whatever you consumed at last year's P&P throwdown.)
For those uninitiated, Pig & Punch is booze and BBQ for a good cause, the giddy celebration that follows a day of industry folks coming together to help out in the community. Year one, eleven volunteers raised $1600 for a school in need. Six years later, bartenders fill three school buses to the limit on volunteer day, and the party — which also goes by Swig & Swine in select cities — has spread to New York, Portland, Miami, Austin, and back home to San Francisco.
In celebration of another New Orleans volunteer day come and gone (follow along on Instagram!) co-founder Josh Harris considers its humble beginnings.
1. Do What You Want, But Do It for Charity
In the liquor world, the parties are super overproduced. You go to somebody's party and then you go to the next party and the next and you feel like everybody's trying to best each other with the most outrageous, crazy scene. It didn't particularly speak to us. When we thought about how we would to throw a party, Pig & Punch is exactly what it looked like.
It was not a cocktail party. It was not the dark, sultry thing. It wasn't bartenders from all over making the most outrageous creations for wow factor. It's the simple things. The music, the conversation, the layout, the food. The cocktail's important, but that's almost just a facilitator to this larger experience of meeting your neighbors and hanging out with your friends.
The other thing is, so much debauchery comes to New Orleans. People do so much taking from New Orleans, so it felt symbolic to give back to this city that's been super hospitable to our industry. We found out really quickly that we couldn't help out on the oil spill that first year, and Habitat for Humanity wanted to charge us to volunteer. Then, Hands On New Orleans placed us at the oldest high school in New Orleans, which was thrashed in the hurricane. It was becoming a charter school, so they wanted some people to help with that. We ended up coming home after the party and saw something on 60 Minutes about KIPP New Orleans Schools (who we work directly with now), who have a big presence here. Their organization is totally rad.
Bridging the gap between food and drink is also important to us. Food is a great crutch for the drink industry right now. It's an interesting relationship in fundraising especially, because no money is ever raised without the existence of alcohol. But at the same time, the notoriety of the culinary industry and chefs — that is a major, major marketing engine that can attach itself to any number of things it wants to accomplish. The drinks business has not gotten nearly as far as the food industry has.
That relationship between us is very valuable. That can bring more attention, more people, and more money for charity. That's where bringing on chefs has really helped.
2. Just Buy the Fucking T-Shirt (And Other Words on Inspiring Your Peers)
That's literally the way that we raised all of the money. ‘Everything is free and if you don't buy a shirt you're an asshole.’ Precedent has shown that people come and they buy shirts. They buy lots of shirts.
In Portland, one year we got on the microphone and we were just like, "If you do not have a T-shirt in your hand then you're not doing this party right. To offer charity, go buy the fucking T-shirt. If your size is out, buy one for your dog, or your girlfriend, or whatever."
I got an email last night that was really powerful. There's a gentleman who I consider to be the only person who was really a mentor to me, who was part of that first group of eleven people that volunteered. A year ago, he wrote me on volunteer day:
Boys, I'm just looking at pics from your work day in the Bayview. Wonderful — as in I'm full of wonder. Fifteen years ago when I started working in San Francisco, the idea of that many bar folk showing up anywhere together for anything would have been unheard of. Showing up for something that selfless, absolutely not. I know I am removed and distant, following a different path now, but please know that I still keep a San Francisco flag patch on my bag, and you two make me proud.
At the end of the day, Pig & Punch is a party. It is one hundred percent one of the things that are important to us: bringing people together to party in the style that we want them to party, with good food and good music. That also happens to be an awesome platform to leverage to raise money for good people.
Wing It, and People Will Come
That first year, we hired a band that we found on the street, four days before. That's what New Orleans is all about.
We cook the show pig at about ten o'clock the night before the party in front of our house, which is like two blocks away from the park. Somebody stays up all night with it, because it’s a hand-cranked spit. It's a corner turn every fifteen minutes, so somebody's sitting on a flat-bed truck with a bottle of whiskey and an alarm clock and people are falling asleep and taking shifts.
Then, the day of the party, it's this crazy Pied Piper moment that happens every year, with fifty dudes pushing this fucking spit down the street, two blocks down Frenchmen. Then the marching band comes in behind.
The punches are always good. They're just so fun. It may look like we're just making jungle juice, but we have finite recipes. We make it just like we would at Trick Dog, it's the same principle — it's just in a giant trash can. So there we are, just dumping cases of booze and boxes of garnishes into trash cans on the street in the middle of the night, and people are walking by like, "What the fuck are you doing?"