Photo Credit: Ry Smith

Ry Smith, the local artist known for his colorful murals and “hit shingles,” is celebrating winning Fernet Branca’s New England coin design contest with a coin release party at Giusto, where he is also a bartender. 

Smith’s design for the coin, which he submitted to the contest last spring, reimagines Castle Hill Lighthouse as a Fernet-Branca bottle. The contest was open to all artistically inclined members of the hospitality industry working in the region. Smith’s design was selected out of 11 designs submitted by artists across all six New England states.

“I really wanted the design to be an ode to Newport,” Smith said. “This year marks my tenth year of bartending in Newport, and I’ve definitely seen an uptick in Fernet consumption here over the last ten years.”

As an avid fan of the minty Italian digestif, Smith has sought out Fernet-Branca at bars around the world, and his love for his favorite liquor may have something to do with raising its visibility in the City by the Sea. The iconic brand frequently appears in his art, and when asked if Fernet is his favorite drink, Smith replied: “Well, there’s water, there’s coffee…and there’s Fernet.” 

Smith said winning the coin design contest is one of his proudest career achievements.

Explaining the significance and history of the Fernet-Branca coin, Smith said that on rare occasions, the brand releases a small batch of limited edition black nickel coins that commemorate bartender community camaraderie and membership. Possessing one of the coins comes with a set of privileges and rules honored by bartenders worldwide, such as a free Fernet-Branca shot when the coin is placed on a bar counter. “There are different designs from different countries, and even states in the U.S.,” Smith explained, “and you can trade for different editions.”

According to Fernet-Branca’s website, the first Fernet coin was created in 2013 to commemorate a ritual among San Francisco bartenders known as the “bartender handshake,” where a shot of Fernet-Branca would be shared at the changing of a shift. The token’s purpose was to “mark the moment in which bartending duty was passed over to a colleague.”

Despite the global recognition of the coveted coins among the bartender community, they are still hard to come by. In the case of the New England coin, Smith said Fernet-Branca will mint just 200 of them, and only about 100 will be available for all of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. “The only way to get one is at an industry event or by knowing a [brand] rep,” Smith said. “You have to be at the right place at the right time.”  

That right place and time might just be at Giusto at 8pm on Monday night, February 20th, when the coin release party is scheduled. There you’ll have a chance to win one of the limited edition New England coins designed by Smith as well as Fernet-Branca swag such as t-shirts, hats, other merchandise.

Smith said you can also get excited about the snacks. “The Giusto and Fernet-Branca teams are collaborating to create a menu of passed snacks, and all of them will incorporate Fernet-Branca somehow,” he said. All Fernet-Branca craft cocktails will be $5. Additionally, Smith will be showing a gallery of his work and have his own ready-to-purchase merchandise table. 

Though Smith found out he won the contest back in October, he’s been working with the Fernet-Branca team over the past few months to prepare the event for a time when local hospitality workers could use a boost the most. “We wanted to have the party in the dead of winter when nothing else is going on,” he said. “We made sure to pick a date that wasn’t competing with the Super Bowl or Valentine’s Day plans.”

Tickets are $10, and as of this writing, only about 25 out of 100 tickets remain. While the Fernet-Branca-sponsored event will focus on celebrating local hospitality professionals, it’s also open to the public.

So come out on Monday night, February 20th and celebrate Ryan Smith’s 10 years of bartending in Newport, a 10-year tradition of Fernet Branca coins, and the entire Newport hospitality community.

Get tickets here.