Cutty's was one of several bars and restaurants that used parklets to supplement its indoor space post-pandemic closures | Ruta Smith file photo

Pomegranate juice company POM Wonderful hosted a national cocktail contest, asking bartenders across the country to concoct an original cocktail using POM juice. Of more than 50 entries POM Wonderful received, five winners were selected on Oct. 11 — including local bartender and musician Clayton James.

James works as a bartender at Chasing Sage and plays music around Charleston | Photo provided

James opted to mix the pomegranate juice with a simple syrup he made using local hot sauce company Bonfire’s jerk hot sauce to create a spicy, tiki rum drink dubbed “Simian Sling.”

“It’s a really fun drink that’s got some tropical flavors in it,” said James. “I was super honored to have my cocktail be recognized.”

Aside from the recognition, the competition prize was $10,000 to be donated to a local bar of the winner’s choice. POM Wonderful’s intention behind the contest was to award local bars with cash prizes as financial aid following last year’s pandemic closures.

“It was hard for all bartenders and anyone in the industry,” said James. “I lost my job for a little while, so I know what it’s like and that was the whole point of the competition.”

James selected Elliotborough dive Cutty’s to receive the money, an establishment that had a tough time during the pandemic because of its small interior, making it difficult after the closures to welcome back patrons while also implementing social distancing.

Cutty’s was able to curb some of the financial burden by offering outdoor seating as city officials lifted certain restrictions, allowing the business to set up a parklet — an area of on-street parking space converted into an outdoor seating area.

“We’re extremely humbled and honored by Clay’s consideration in nominating Cutty’s, and proud of him for his talent as a bartender and for being able to showcase his craft,” said Cutty’s general manager Sarah Griffith. “The opportunities winning this contest opens up for us as a small business are endless.”

James said he wanted the money to go to Cutty’s because of its reputation as a neighborhood bar with a loyal following. James himself lived in the area for a while and considered it one of his local watering holes.

“They don’t try to do anything super fancy, they’re welcoming to everyone, and I know they have a small space that they’ve wanted to do a lot of developments on recently,” he said. “They were hit hard by COVID, like everybody else, and they’re not a huge, corporate bar. Small, local, really nice people, who I just figured could use the money and do something really nice with the space.”

After using some of the money to take care of the bar’s employees, Griffith says the remainder of the funds will be used to build up the music program by adding a proper stage, a loading area and investing in sound and production.

“Pre-shutdown, we had really just begun to gain a foothold in the scene with our live music program, but the pandemic brought that to a grinding halt,” said Griffith.

“It’s more than just a bar to us. Since reopening, we’ve really embraced our identity as a unapologetically local, community-driven spot in which creatively-minded weirdos like us can feel accepted and supported. And I can’t think of a better, more logical next step for us than to provide another haven for the underground music scene, both local and beyond.”

In honor of the win, James will guest bartend at Cutty’s this Thursday during the Under the Influence: A Dance Party at Cutty’s Bar, where he’ll be slinging his POM cocktail from 9 p.m.- 1 a.m.

According to the event poster, the party will also celebrate a return of live music to “the (Un)holy City’s most underground haunt,” an appropriate nod to their plans for the prize money.

“We are forever grateful to Pom for this gift, and to Clay for making it happen. We can’t wait to give back to the creative community we love so dearly, and who has supported us unconditionally through thick and thin,” said Griffith.

Want to whip up the cocktail for yourself? Check out James’ cocktail recipe featured on pomwonderful.com.