Buckle Up, Sweetheart! It’s Tales of the Cocktail: A Short Memoir

Carousel Bar, Hotel Monteleone

When Neyah White tells you to buckle up, it’s TALES OF THE COCKTAIL, you listen. For the last several years, I wanted to go to the popular cocktail week in New Orleans and I finally made it this year just in time for its 10th year anniversary. Tales of the Cocktail (TOTC) or affectionately known as Tales by those in the bar industry, is the biggest cocktail week I know. It was estimated something like 19,000 people attended last year and I’ve heard reports along the lines of anywhere from 21,000 to 40,000 this year. As one of the bright-eyed “youngsters,” I had been prepping my liver for a couple of weeks but really, my journey began last year at Portland Cocktail Week where I then moved on to Arizona Cocktail Week and then Manhattan Cocktail Classic a couple of months ago (ahem, I’m still waiting for a cocktail week in Los Angeles!). With every cocktail week under my belt, I felt pretty confident I was going to survive Tales. But I took B vitamins and milk thistle the week before, during and after.

TOTC was starting on Wednesday, July 25 but I arrived Monday night without a real plan. I found my way to the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, the TOTC headquarters thinking I might run into a few early arrivals. I hadn’t eaten all day due to travel and after having a Ramos Gin Fizz at the Carousel Bar (which revolves much faster than you think), I headed out for a bite to eat. Later I found my way to Arnaud’s French 75 where I ran into a former LA bartender who’s now in North Carolina. We caught up and with some newfound friends, I made my way over to d.b.a. to listen to some live music. Much to my surprise, I found all the cool kids and greeted about 40 bartenders from around the country. And I met Mr. Neyah White who gave me such sage advice. I not only was going to buckle up, I was strapped in and ready to go.

Tuesday morning arrived and I had all these grand plans to explore New Orleans. Due to my travel exhaustion and evening festivities, I was up in time for lunch. I suppose I’ll have to come back to explore the city some other time when I’m not in cocktailian mode. Some pre-TOTC stuff was happening. I took pictures with the Bin 27 girls for a chance to win an iPad, explored the Wines of France, hit the Pisco Porton pool party on the roof of the Monteleone, stepped out to Acme for oysters and Dickie Brennan’s for BBQ shrimp and found some more friends before heading out to Rock N Bowl which had been taken over by LA bar, the Spare Room. It was LA’s night to shine as one of the official events of TOTC.

Wednesday, I jumped in feet first to my first seminar and plunged into a non-stop day and night. After learning about the rise of high proof spirits and having lunch paired with a tequila tasting, I wandered into tasting room after tasting room. I really needed to clone myself to really be at five places at once. The Angostura “Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker” tasting room was like a nightclub with its sensuous flowing chocolate fountain, fruit and candy. Over at George Dickle, I had some of the best cocktails I had that day. I was particularly in love with the watermelon George Dickle drink. I normally would have stuck to my old man drinks but with this hot and humid week, I found myself searching for refreshing and cooling drinks. I don’t think I ever had so many citrus-based drinks in a long time. But you couldn’t have pried the Mandarine Napoleon old fashioned out of my hands when I hopped over to the Napoleon house for the PDT Book signing from Jim Meehan.

After some rest and dinner, I headed out to the Absolut Welcome Party and then to the William Grant Big Birthday Bash. Both were fantastic but I have to say William Grant really outdid themselves.

Thursday saw me getting to the Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey breakfast (slainte!), Barbary Coast vs Boston competition (I heard SF won but am confirming) and the Distillers Dream seminar. That was the first three hours of my day. I had lunch with Angostura before heading to the Altos Olmeca Tasting Room. What I found very interesting was the rise of tequila, pisco, cachaca, baijiu and other international spirits– just as I predicted. 

I also found time to stop in at the Hudson Whiskey tasting room, Pernod Ricard, Truvia before heading over to the True/Untrue Bar Myths seminar. I rested for a tiny bit (and by resting I meant taking my second shower of the day- did I mention it was hot, humid and occasionally stormy the week I was there?).

Thursday night was the night of spirited dinners. Unlike the days, I was committed to my dinner with Disaronno and Tia Maria though I did wish I could have gone on a riverboat cruise or had Creole favorites with Pink Pigeon.

The big party that evening was with the New York bar Employees Only. They did a pop-up version of their bar complete with a tarot card reader, insta-tattoos and burlesque. It was crazy, wonderful and  crowded. It seemed all of NOLA was trying to get inside. I enjoyed the Roselle (gin, hibiscus cordial, lime and grapefruit). However the night was not over yet. I hopped over to see the gals over at Sailor Jerry at R Bar and checked out Bar Tonique.

Friday- god, it’s Friday already? I didn’t quite make it in time for breakfast. It was such a shame as it was sponsored by Fernet Branca. Yes, I know. I am weeping bitterly still. But I found myself in the media room merrily adult trick or treating. I then promptly shipped the 40 pounds of goodies home via UPS. I’ll be doing a goodies giveaway soon so watch LACocktails.com for more posts and contests!

I then enjoyed the Diplomatico Rum tasting room before heading off to an Italian luncheon. I was hypnotized by the smooth voice of Francesco LaFranconi as he crooned about “indie” Italian spirits. I hit up a seminar, Art of Spirits Blending. Then I went over to the newly opened SoBou at the W where I met Bar Chef Abigail. I enjoyed some food and few drinks including the Faubourg Punch before heading over to the wild Battle of the BarSmarters competition. Go West Coast! Unfortunately, East Coast won but still, go West Coast!

It was time for my second shower of the day and then I had some off time from Tales. I relaxed with a Ramos Gin Fizz at the Sazarac Bar (Roosevelt Hotel) reportedly the best some of my friends ever had. It was a’ight. I am guessing I didn’t get the brilliant bartender as everyone else because I think it needed more orange blossom water. It was basically all foam- which is great but it had no flavor. GASP! Ah, such a picky cocktailian I am. I did like their high-end Sazarac though so that’s my recommendation if you try it. There were official TOTC events going on at this time including the Bar Brawl but I didn’t have a ticket  so I made do with going to one of NOLA’s best bars, Cure. I think after going at it non-stop for days, I needed some downtime to myself. Sitting in the quiet, cool room and perusing the menu, I really felt at home.

Saturday was my last full day in New Orleans and I made stops at the Bitters & Book Shop and the Saveur Snack Stand to sample the new Stoli flavors; Hot & Sticki.  Then I made my way up to a Chinese luncheon with Moutai, a traditional Chinese spirit. We toasted and toasted before we jammed over to Pig & Punch with the Bon Vivants. It had rained a bit but cleared up by the time we arrived at the park. One of the things I learned on my first night was if the location was even half a mile away, it was best to take a cab or pedicab because the constant humidity made walking almost unbearable. I averaged three showers and a day and though I cranked my air conditioning down to 60, it was always about 80 degrees in my hotel room.

After crazily running around the Quarter and having drinks with friends- new and old at Chart House and SoBou, I had a really lovely and quiet dinner at Sylvain. Then I headed to Juniperlooza, formerly the Bartenders’ Breakfast event. Spirits (pun intended) were high. Quite a few people had just come from the Spirits Awards and I was celebrating along with everyone else the win of LA’s Varnish Bar for Best American Bar. We had an impromptu celebration at One-Eyed Jack’s.

I can’t believe how quickly the week flew by. I found myself ever a bit melancholy I was going home. I had gotten a bit misty-eyed the night before thinking about it and was in low-energy mode but once I got to the farewell brunch thrown by Mr. & Mrs. Cocktail, Mr. Solerno Swimsuit Competition and Milagro Pool Party, I cheered up a bit. Saying goodbye only means I get to say hello again. Oh yes, I’ll be back to Tales.

Tales of the Cocktail

© The Minty 2012