Spike Vodka’s gay team wants to queerify Dallas’ cocktail culture even more

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VODKA’S SOUTH OF THE BORDER PROFILE | Chris Marriott, left, and Carlo Barone say their pricklypear-based vodka mixes like a tequila, especially good with orange. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Contributing Writer
getrichindallas@gmail.com

Gays and cocktails are a match practically made in heaven: Where would we be without happy hour, martini madness or the ever-popular “U-call-it” nights? Bacardi, Absolut and Jose Cuervo may all top the faves list for spirits, but a local company is making headway into the community, putting its vodka where its mouth is.

Spike Vodka — by all accounts, the only gay-owned spirit on the market, and Texas-based at that — wants Dallas gays to know its product isn’t just like all the others. Carlo Barone believed in the product so much, his account rep and marketing firm OneBar joined forces with Nick Spink’s Spike to take over the world one gay bar at a time.

“I have the same gut feeling [with Spike] that [I did with] Ciroc when they targeted the African-American market,” Barone says. “We’ve been ungodly successful in gay bars in New York, California and Illinois. I can’t stress how proud we are.”

Of course, they’ve also made fast strides in the Lone Star State, landing clients in Houston, San Antonio and, of course, Dallas, since the beginning of the year. But in some ways, their sponsorship of last Saturday’s BearDance could be seen as their coming-out party.

“Those guys are just good people and I will do anything they ask me to. I believe so much in what they’re about,” Barone says.

“They have a vested stake in their community and as our primary sponsors, they take an active role in advancing our message of inclusiveness and assisting those most at risk in the LGBT community,” adds Darren Graff, a BearDance board member and longstanding friend of Barone’s.

Many of BearDance’s events will donate proceeds to Youth First Texas, which resonated deeply with Barone, the father of four. While his children are all adults now, Barone believes in mentoring and also wants Spike to even set an example — even as a liquor company.

“We don’t go for silly sex-laced names for our cocktails. We’re not about that,” he says. “Liquor doesn’t have to be abused. Most people are looking for social events and to make attempts to go out and say hello. It’s really about good times and good people and less about drinking abusively.”

With sales, the company has committed to putting percentages back into the community.

Spike intends to take a financial and even physical role in lifting up gay Dallas. So it would happen that his “top-selling rep” Christopher Marriott is something of a redemption story.

Barone took Marriott under his wing and mentored him into joining the company. And Barone would have everyone know, it was his best decision.

“We had met and he was I guess something of a lost soul at the time. I got him involved and he’s the single greatest salesmen, and I’ve been in this business a long time,” Barone says.

“These guys coached me into finding out who I really am,” Marriott says. “I had been self-destructive for so long. Good things started to happen when I met Carlo and then he let me fly with my creativity. Every day has just been a confidence builder.”

The style of Spike also sets it apart, Marriott says. The prickly pear-based spirit may technically be a vodka, but is intended to be enjoyed like a tequila. After Spink perfected his distillation process, the liquor went into production in San Antonio. There, Rachel Price heads the product creation and adds to the unique qualities of Spike.

“There’s a very good chance that we may have the only lesbian master distiller,” Barone declares. “She goes out, whacks the cactus, picks off the needles and creates the vodka. She has a true artisan spirit to the drink.”

The pioneering nature of Spike isn’t lost on Barone, but despite his 33 years in the liquor business, he’s also thrown back by the response. In short, Spike is blowing up and at a rapid pace.

“I’ve never seen anybody make a drink out of prickly pear which is vodka but tastes like tequila,” he says. “And beyond gay bars, Del Frisco’s has reached out to us. We have our product at Sigel’s and Spec’s and PK‘s, who was an early ally. I don’t think anyone ever attempted to target our own bars and now we have trendy mixologists and straight bars picking us up.”

They created eight cocktails specifically for their bear fans, but it goes beyond that, Barone says: “We want [the gay community] to know that the company is them.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 17, 2013.