Jeffery Lindenmuth is a full-time writer who has covered wine, spirits and food for Men’s Health, Cooking Light, Food Arts, Women’s Health, Men’s Journal, Time Out New York, Esquire and many others. 2009 will mark his sixth pilgrimage to Tales of the Cocktail.
Whether you consider Tales of the Cocktail the Davos of drinking or the Disneyland, there is no denying this event has quickly emerged as the single most important destination for all things cocktail. I’ve watched “Tales” grow exponentially since its second year, and while a few Tales goers have my attendance record beat, I think I qualify as a veteran, so I’m here to lend a little advice for first-time Talers.
1. Practice Moderation
As I always advise, this is a marathon not a sprint. Your Tales memories will be that much greater if you have Tales memories. Kirsten Amann offers some great advice, and it can’t be overstated that there will be more delectable drinks to come tomorrow… and the next day. No matter how strong the temptation, be sure to make sleep and water a part of your daily regimen.
2. Book the Seminars you want NOW
For me, seminars remain the heart of Tales of the Cocktail. Having participated in the past, and reviewed many seminars for stories, the work and effort that many of these people put into their presentations is amazing. It’s not surprising, then, that many seminars are already sold-out.
My first year I attended four seminars daily, and while it was a great experience, it meant skipping lunch every day, making the three-martini lunch look like child’s play. For me, two to three seminars per day is a manageable number, and enough daily stimulation for even the most dedicated cocktail enthusiast. Often you’ll want to attend several seminars that occur at the same time, so the time to plan your seminars is not when you arrive, but now. The new ticketing system in place this year makes it easy to print your tickets before arrival.
3. Get to the Tasting Room
If you’ve been unable to book all your preferred seminars, or wisely allowed yourself some free time, there is always the tasting room. Here you’ll find many of the same incredibly knowledgeable people that conduct seminars, with a few added Tasting Room advantages. These events are casual. They don’t require reservations. They are free. I’ve just heard that a certain gin will be offering a tasting that takes attendees through the distilling process, from new-make spirit to final product. That sounds like a tasting I’d love to attend.
4. Do Something NOT Cocktail Related
Tales of the Cocktail could easily be conducted in the artificial lighting of a glitzy convention center, yet it continues to embrace the city of New Orleans as its stage. It’s a city that loves cocktails, and offers so much more. Whether you choose to spend a few hours at The National WWII Museum or take a swamp tour, it will be a welcome relief from the fray and may be one of the most memorable parts of your trip. Depending on which route you take from the airport, you may notice that sections of the city are still upturned from “The Storm.” While I have not done this past tour personally, the Gray Line Katrina Tour gets generally great reviews on Trip Advisor. If you want to venture out, but still crave more cocktails, The Museum of the American Cocktail , located in the Southern Food & Beverage Museum at the Riverwalk Marketplace offers a non-drinking experience that is thoroughly steeped in cocktail history.
5. Pack Appropriately
I don’t care if you are on a connecting flight through Hades, this is New Orleans in July — it’s hotter here. If you’ve ever done Bikram yoga at 3 a.m. while drinking a martini, you have a good sense of last year’s Bartender’s Breakfast event. While I’ll refrain from giving too much sartorial advice, linen and seersucker are always a good idea. At Tales 2008, hipster mixlogists appeared to officially declare the straw hat is the new bartender beard. (With so many talented female mixologists in attendance, this is an especially good thing.) Find a little piece of portable shade at Meyer The Hatter. It’s within walking distance of the French Quarter. (You packed comfortable shoes, right?)
6. Meet the Shakers
Back in 1990s New York, I’d lurk around Blue Ribbon at 4 a.m. hoping to catch a glimpse of Mario Batali hanging out at the bar. Had the technology existed, we might have posted a mobile photo to Eater, but we never dared to approach him. However, at Tales of the Cocktail, the people who have revived and shaped our drink culture are everywhere you turn. And, in my experience, they are the most humble, enthusiastic and gracious people you’ll ever meet. The Carousel Bar in The Hotel Monteleone remains the equivalent of the Grand Central Station clock, where strangers meet and evenings are launched. Want to seduce Dave Wondrich, cocktail historian and author of Imbibe!, to stroll to Tujague’s for a Sazerac? Just ask. Or, you may hear firsthand how a Jerry Thomas book and late restaurateur Joe Baum inspired Dale DeGroff, author of The Essential Cocktail, to launch an American drinks Renaissance. As DeGroff recently commented, “I’ll tell my Tales and sing my songs at the drop of a hat!”
With generous spirits like DeGroff in our midst, you can’t help but learn a great deal and thoroughly enjoy yourself at Tales of the Cocktail. It’s an opportunity that comes just once a year, so make the most of every minute.