Tales of the Cocktail—or just Tales, as it’s known to bar industry folk—is the spirits industry’s biggest annual gathering. It runs for about a week in New Orleans, depending on how you count. During that time, an enormous number of bartenders, spirits reps, and plain ol’ cocktail enthusiasts descend upon the city—there were approximately 16,000 attendees in 2015, a number that’s surely grown since—for several days of talking, tasting, networking, learning, drinking, and dancing.
There are a seemingly infinite number of events going on at any hour of the day or night, so any “favorite moments” list from Tales will be inherently subjective. As much as we wish we could’ve been everywhere at once—and believe us, we tried—it’s impossible at a gathering of this scale. That said, here are 15 highlights from our time at this year’s Tales.
Novo Fogo cachaça was kind enough to provide a huge wellness room for Tales attendees on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, offering guided stretching, five-minute massages, and blueberry smoothies (available with or without alcohol), blended via stationary bicycle. It was a perfect way to ease into a busy and boozy day, and ideal for those of us who’d just gotten off an early morning flight.
Tales attendees couldn’t stop talking about this swank invite-only wonderland. Many major liquor brands create “brand houses” during Tales to promote their products, but Absolut Elyx really showed the rest how it’s done. Enter, and you find yourself in a lounge-like room with plush velvet sofas and chairs, and bartenders whipping up concoctions served in whimsically shaped vessels. (When was the last time you drank out of a copper squirrel?)
Go further, and there’s a cart plying boozy popsicles inverted into glasses of Champagne. (No mere prosecco here—only Perrier-Jouët and Mumm will do at a house this luxe.) To the left, there’s Toby Cecchini, the legendary creator of the Cosmopolitan, mixing up drinks under a neon sign announcing “Cecchini Tini Time.”
Walk further in, and there’s more cocktail royalty—Leo Robitschek, Alex Kratena, Simone Caporale—making conceptual cocktails you order from a menu printed with only emoji. The one designated by a tree was, by far, the most delicious thing we tried at Tales, and possibly our favorite cocktail we’ve had all year. According to Leo, it’s made with Elyx infused with a type of wood whose name we’ve forgotten but apparently sells for $10,000 per kilo. Another cocktail arrives in a teacup adorned with a red balloon; yet another is served in a plastic baggie and is delivered to your barstool via a toy train.
And if you can be persuaded to leave your seat, one room further holds hairstylists, makeup artists, and manicurists ready to render you as glamorous as the house itself. We would happily have moved in for the rest of our time at Tales.
Tales can be overwhelming. The antidote? The furry little rabbits at Suite Silencio (another liquor brand house, sponsored by Mezcal El Silencio), which provided a soothing respite and acted as emotional support animals for those who needed a calming moment amid the Tales chaos. (Rabbits relate back to an Aztec mezcal creation myth—it’s a long story.) The bunnies were all white in the ground-floor courtyard, and black in the den of sin on the floor above, where willing attendees apparently were being inked with actual tattoos behind blacked-out windows.
Take a dozen booze journalists, match each with a contender for Bombay Sapphire’s prestigious “Most Imaginative Bartender” competition, and instruct each pair to create a cocktail within a brief time constraint—oh, and the bartender isn’t allowed to touch anything. It’s a recipe for hilarity. (We may or may not have bribed someone to be paired with Eric Jeffus from The Aviary, in Chicago—you may have seen we’re kind of obsessed with its sister bar that just opened in NYC.) Somehow, no one chopped off a finger; no shaker tins went flying; even the cocktails we sampled were, well, not entirely terrible. Even though we didn’t win (our drink was, shall we say, pretty spirit-forward), it was a lot of fun.
“Spirited Dinners” are a Tales highlight for many: multicourse meals at some of New Orleans’ best restaurants, with drinks sponsored by various liquor brands. Fords Gin invited us to join them at Seaworthy, where we saw some of the bar industry’s biggest names—Meghan Dorman and Leo DeGroff were among the attendees. We dined at a large table with Simon Ford, the head of the brand, and tried not to fangirl too hard at Julian Cox, the head bartender at Chicago’s tiki mecca Three Dots and a Dash, next to whom we were seated. Ever had a cocktail served in a baby watermelon? We now have.
The bigger liquor conglomerates are known to put on epic parties at Tales. This year, Bacardi threw an enormous tropical-themed fest with a taco truck, flash-frozen boozy popsicles, a wall of frozen drinks, rum served in coconuts, and chest-thumpingly loud dance tunes.
We didn’t realize who was spinning until we looked up and saw members of Major Lazer manning the decks. And was that Big Freedia who showed up toward the end? It’s unconfirmed, but given how magical New Orleans can be, it was certainly possible.
We stole a moment to sneak off and throw back a tiki concoction (and have a late lunch) at Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, one of the most notable tiki joints in the world. It was a lovely tropical oasis from the madness of Tales, and some rum rejuvenation fortified us for the afternoon ahead. The bar had been number-one on our “must visit” list in New Orleans, and it should be on yours as well.
“Have you gotten your coin yet?” the man standing next to us asked, and pointed toward a woman holding a shallow basket. We’d heard about these tokens, of course. Based on a military coin-challenge tradition, the Fernet-Branca coins are generally given only to elite and influential members of the bar industry, and having one in your possession is a way to signal you’re one of the in-crowd. It turns out, the man who asked was Bret Kragerud, the coins’ creator. So we’ll say we got our coin pretty much straight from the source.
We had the extraordinary good fortune and great pleasure of dining with Ti Martin and Lally Brennan, the charming co-proprietors of the legendary Commander’s Palace. Their restaurant is one of the grandes dames of Creole dining in New Orleans, and we loved having ringside seats to the source of its famed hospitality, hearing the cousins’ sotto voce commands to the chef and sommelier of which tables to visit and where to tread carefully, and which regulars were celebrating an anniversary or going through a scandalous divorce. Dining there is a must-do in the city, and it’s imperative that you order the bread pudding soufflé.
If the queue to enter was anything to go by, The Dogg House, put on by Diageo, was by far the most popular event at Tales. Outside, some hopeful wristband-wearers bided their time with 12-packs of beer. Inside, a crush of people sang along to “Beautiful,” jumped on command as Snoop covered the iconic House of Pain song, and danced as much as the crowded space allowed to “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” By the time Snoop sang “Gin and Juice” while clutching a Tanqueray bottle, seemingly every attendee had posted a photo to Instagram.
Before we even walked in, we were greeted by a bearded, glittering drag queen announcing “Here, there are no rules—dance on the bar if you want!” The front bar was manned by Amor y Amargo’s Sother Teague and Max Green, mixing up Amaro Montenegro cocktails. Further inside, bartenders from a certain award-winning bar team had gotten ahold of a bottle of Monte and were pouring laybacks for everyone within reach, as scantily clad women writhed on a trapeze and a belly dancer gyrated with a massive snake curled around her. It wasn’t entirely debauched—we never did see anyone dancing on the bar or doing anything to shock—but it was a whole lot of mildly risqué fun.
Erin Rose. It’s everything it’s cracked up to be.
It had been threatening to rain for days, and when the first few gentle drops fell during Trash Tiki‘s rooftop pool party at the Ace Hotel on Saturday afternoon, we welcomed an anticipated respite from the July heat. And then a few minutes later the skies opened and lightning cracked overhead, sending everyone scurrying for shelter.
The party continued indoors and downstairs, with music and dancing and tiki cocktails created from ingredients that otherwise would’ve gone to waste (hence the event’s name). It’s never been so much fun to have been rained in.
Just as Guinness is better in Dublin, there’s one best place to drink a French 75, and that’s at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar. The delightful combination of gin, lemon, and sparkling wine has long been one of our very favorite cocktails, and we weren’t going to pass up the chance to get one served from the legendary Chris Hannah at the place named for the cocktail itself. The bar won a James Beard Award this year.
We weren’t given a heads-up about what might go down at the Jägermeister-sponsored party, so it was a great surprise to walk in and see hip-hop legend Grandmaster Flash spinning a high-energy set. “Put your right hand in the air!” he commanded several times as he mixed, sending up a sea of wristbanded arms. And then Kurtis Blow took to the stage, capping off the night. Swoon.
We can’t stop scrolling through Instagram to see everyone else’s memorable moments, also. To induce a massive case of FOMO, check out the #TOTC2017 hashtag.
Were you there? If so, drop us a line—we’d love to hear about your favorite moments, too!