Bottoms up: an evening with the Cocktail Bandits

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“For something that costs 16 bucks, I’m going to sip on its ass for a little while, to get my bang out of the buck!” Boisterous laughter erupts. Glasses clink. Chatter melodically buzzes in the background. For the Cocktail Bandits, it is another night out on the town. For me, it is a peek into a world of curls, community, culture and cocktails that I have yet to explore.

Johnny Caldwell (left) and Taneka Reaves (right). (Photo by Jaquan Leonard)

Cozy in a dimmed corner of Rarebit, Johnny Caldwell and Taneka Reaves, otherwise known as the Cocktail Bandits, reminisce on the start of their blogging journey. Having met on their first day at the College, the vivacious duo became quick friends and were known as the girls who loved to have great time. Caldwell and Reaves explored Charleston’s lively bar scene, but noticed something was lacking.

“We would go out to events all the time that we would see in City Paper or Post and Courier that were free. And we would try and meet people but none of the people were people of color,” Caldwell revealed.

With this in mind, the Cocktail Bandits were born. Three hundred samples of tequila later, Caldwell and Reaves bravely stepped into an industry overwhelmingly whitewashed. Dubbing themselves “curly ladies who talk cocktails daily,” the Bandits charted new territory and provided a unique, Black female perspective on alcohol and nightlife.

“We were like alright, we have to be these people we want to see. We have to be the people who are missing in this community,” Caldwell stated.

Fast forward a few years and thousands of likes, shares, followers, countless events, parties, festivals and appearances later; Caldwell and Reaves are bonafide Charleston socialites. From an exclusive invite to the Patron Mansion in Mexico, to a feature in Essence Magazine, the Bandits’ notoriety is international. Taking not only the streets but the web by storm, the Cocktail Bandits have made a remarkable brand for themselves. With an extensive blog and an Instagram presence that rivals any celeb, these ladies discuss original recipes, host events and educate the masses on all things libations, bearing in mind the importance of Black culture.

Reaves admits that while the venture seemed daunting at first, it was needed and the impact has been beneficial and substantial for the Black community.

“We look at the negatives about Charleston, but there can also be opportunities for people of color. Once booze culture picks up, we will be the leading consultants of this trend. They don’t tell us enough in the Black community to be entrepreneurs.”

Unlike fashion or mommy bloggers, the Bandits have cultivated an untapped market. Businesses are taking note of this– The Bandits are the key perspective needed in any attempts taken by businesses aiming to be more inclusive of minority customers.

“Whenever there is a dope event and they want diversity, they will reach out to us. We’ve earned that,” Reaves proudly declared.

The Bandits are set to be published authors of a coffee table book loaded with cocktails, cuisine and culture. Afterward, the bloggers hope to make their own line of spirits, becoming the first Black women to do so.   

As drinking enthusiasts, the Bandits also want people to understand the etiquette of having a good time.  “Drinking should be a fun thing that adds to your experience– not takes over the experience,” Reaves advised.

(Image courtesy of Cocktail Bandits)

“If someone is making you a craft cocktail, don’t take it all in one sip,” Caldwell agreed.  “Savour it, let it open up. The ice is in there for a reason. Some drinks need the lemon and citrus to mix well with the aromatics. You’re doing yourself a disservice and the maker of that spirit a disservice by chugging it all down and not appreciating it.”

While these girls are serious about their liquor, they are also laid back, fresh and fun. Here’s what happened when the Cocktail Bandits spilled the tea(quila) on relationships:

CisternYard News: Should a guy buy you drinks on the first date?

Reaves and Caldwell: Yes! Absolutely yes!

R: But here’s my thing, it’s all in what you want. Now, if you want someone to take you seriously, you want to feel like the man, then spend that check.

C: If you don’t have a lot of money– y’all are in college I understand– come over with a bottle to enjoy for the evening, if you can’t afford a tab at a bar.

R: Google a really cool cocktail, buy a bottle, and then make the cocktail for her.

R & C: And leave the bottle with her!

CYN: A night out with the girls or night with the guys?

C: I can’t go out with a bunch of girls every weekend. I like going out with a man because going out on the town is part of the experience. I hate going out with females because you have to split the tab. You have to figure out whose drink is whose. Everyone’s drinking the same sweet drink.

R: Women aren’t as versed in booze, so we feel like we’re talking over them. Women drink a bottle of champagne and are happy. Men will ask questions. Men are more open to try more things. Women are more stuck in their ways.

CYN: Online dating?

R: No Tinder! Dating and relationships need to be off social media.

CYN: Sexiest cocktail?

R: A very aged tequila, five to six years old and super dark. You’ll taste history, culture, love, hard work, pressure. When I sip that I just feel like a boss.

C: I like the idea of a man crafting a drink. A sexy drink is meant to be sipped, to let you know that we’re in for some excitement this evening. I don’t want you too drunk cause I want you to have your wits about you. But I do want you to be loose — just a little bit.

*This article first appeared in the February 2017 issue of The Yard.

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