Lindsey Johnson is Founder and Lead Creative of Lush Life Productions, which advocates for bar professionals through the legendary Portland Cocktail Week and Camp Runamok, enabling bartenders to take their careers to the highest levels. The unofficial “godmother” of the bartending world, Lindsey has devoted her entire professional life to improving the lives of bartenders.
Her groundbreaking educational and networking initiatives, Portland Cocktail Week and Camp Runamok, have touched the lives of 15,000 bartenders, providing the business and life skills necessary to advance their professional development, whether behind the bar, as bar managers or bar owners. Unprecedented in their depth and breadth, the initiatives are offered free of charge to ensure universal access and free of commercial influences to preserve objectivity.
Portland Cocktail Week: Giving Bartenders Vital Career-Boosting Tools
Together with her team, Lindsey founded Portland Cocktail Week in 2009 to focus on the “business of the bar,” rather than product tastings. To date, 12,675 bartenders from across the U.S. have attended. The week-long educational event is aimed at providing bartenders with the tools they need to take the next step in their careers through classroom work, with tracks like Bar Management and Bar Ownership, as well as networking and guided experiences. The program is free and by application only. Last year, there were 3,000 applicants for 384 full-time student spots, with 1,500 bartenders participating in ancillary events.
Bartender Education, Without Cocktails
Portland Cocktail Week broke all precedents by removing beverage alcohol from the classroom and brand sponsorships of classes, which immediately set it apart from other bartender conferences. In addition to ensuring that all educational content is free of any brand biases or agendas, it was a bold statement advocating for the bartending community’s health and wellness, both mental and physical. Portland Cocktail Week also directly addresses social justice issues affecting the hospitality industry, including geographic, gender and racial equity. Looking ahead, there are plans to digitize much of the content delivered at Portland Cocktail Week to eliminate the travel aspect and bring skills and insights directly into the homes of bartenders.
Creating Bonds for Bartenders That Last a Lifetime at Camp Runamok
In 2012, Lindsey and her team launched Camp Runamok, a bartender “summer camp” located in the heart of Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail. The mission is two-fold: first, offer a private setting for bartender networking, free from big city distractions, which encourages attendees to actually get to know one another and, second, help promote American whiskey.
What sets Camp Runamok apart is the sheer insularity of it and the fact that it creates contexts for meeting other bartenders and creating lasting relationships. Attendees also get to sample whiskey with Wild Turkey’s Jimmy Russell, test yeast with Four Roses’ Al Young and Brent Elliott, rub shoulders with Woodford Reserve’s Chris Morris and have American whiskey experiences that cannot be had anywhere else.
While the program is free to ensure universal access, Camp Runamok pioneered an application process for attendees. Applicants are selected based on the quality of their essays, geography, gender and racial equity. Last year, there were 3,500 applicants for 300 spots. To date, 2,125 bartenders have participated in Camp Runamok. In 2020, there are plans to take it international with a camp in Ireland.
Lush Life Productions: From Media Production to Bartender Advocacy
Lush Life Productions began as a media production company to help the nascent craft bartending community build media content around their work, mostly through photography and videography. It has evolved over time to be the only singularly-focused bartender advocacy agency in the U.S. Lindsey had long recognized that bartenders needed support with personal finance, health & wellness and career training, but the first priority was getting them paid well enough to think beyond survival mode.
Connecting Spirits Brands to Bartenders
For spirits brands, Lush Life brings a deep understanding of the spirits, cocktail, wine and luxury space. Over the last decade, Lush Life has advised clients on brand strategy and new market planning, developed and executed cocktail competitions, provided photography and videography services and activated on-trade programs that tap into and electrify its unparalleled network of bartenders from coast to coast.
Lush Life has produced activations for clients ranging from opulent affairs that celebrate the relaunch of a luxury spirits brand to month-long wine-fueled road trips in a shiny Airstream trailer. Each of these events is developed to specifically reflect the brand’s values, while connecting to the ever-growing and influential Millennial consumer. In addition, Lush Life also provides appropriate sponsorship opportunities for brands at Portland Cocktail Week and Camp Runamok.
When Dale DeGroff Called and the Birth of Lush Life Productions
While working as a bartender, Lindsey was also creating videos for Delish.com and MSN.com. She came to see that she enjoyed making content that highlighted bartenders and the work they do. By chance, she learned that Dale DeGroff, the legendary father of today’s Cocktail Renaissance, was seeking a video crew at the last minute for a Woodford Reserve project at the Belmont Stakes. Lindsey jumped at the opportunity and Lush Life Productions was born.
A Stint in Video Production at Delish.com
Lindsey got her start in video production at Delish.com. At age 23, she was in charge of the entire video department, where she could make and post any food or beverage video she saw fit. She was expected to create four videos a month and eventually turned in five to 10 videos a week. Having the resources to create as much content as she wanted allowed Lindsey to hone in on what she was interested in and helped her find her path.
Creating “Man-on-the-Street” Videos at Snippies
Following graduation, Lindsey worked at a small company called Snippies. Given a laptop and no training, she was sent out to shoot, edit and deliver “man on the street” videos to clients at top brands. With no real boss or oversight, Lindsey’s self-sufficiency thrived and she learned that her successes and failures were hers and hers alone. She also “graduated” to drinking at Pegu Club, an iconic New York City bar at the forefront of the Cocktail Renaissance.
Experiencing Bartending First-Hand While Honing Her Journalism Creds
Lindsey worked her way through college through various bartending jobs that included Meehan’s Pub (Huntington, N.Y.), Savino’s Hideaway (Mount Sinai, N.Y.) and Saints & Sinners (Smithtown, N.Y.), as well as waiting tables. She saw first-hand that so many bartenders needed fairer pay and wages, as well as more meaningful attention from spirits brands. She graduated from Stony Brook University on Long Island with a B.A. in English. However, her broadcast journalism career began in high school, when she interned at WFAA-TV in Dallas. She was hired as a full-time producer at age 17.
A Punk Rocker at Age 15
Lindsey’s first immersion into business and social activism was as a 15-year-old punk rocker. She always felt connected to the ideas behind the music, particularly by groups like Riot GRRRL. Everything from equality to fighting the patriarchy, body positivity to labor issues were addressed and she can now bring this aesthetic into her work with the bartending community.
Long Island Born, Louisville Residing, Voracious Reader and Avid Traveler
Born in West Islip on Long Island, Lindsey resides in Louisville, Ky. with her partner, Nickle, a bartender. Their circa 1898 house, a fixer-upper, is in Old Louisville, the largest brick Victorian neighborhood in the world, which was built as part of the Southern Exposition that set architectural trends nationwide and also debuted the electric light bulb for the home. It is also the inspiration for Lindsey’s new bar, Expo.
Growing up, Lindsey also lived in St. Louis, Denver and Dallas, and was fortunate to visit 47 U.S. states, the Caribbean and Mexico, and learned she could have a great time basically anywhere. She later lived in New York City, San Francisco and Portland. Even today, Lindsey travels about 200 days a year, both domestically and abroad.
At home, since she lives with a talented bartender, her drink of choice is a cocktail, but left to her own devices, she sips wine. Her literary tastes embrace Roberto Bolano, Tom Robbins, William Faulkner and James Joyce. As for favorite bar-related books, they include “Cocktail Codex” by Alex Day and Dave Kaplan, “Beta Cocktails” by Kirk Estopinal and Maksym Pazuniak and “The Bar Book” by Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Music-wise, Lindsey still loves punk and hardcore rock ‘n roll, especially music created by women.