Finally, the Sazerac-tinged haze has cleared and I can somewhat recall what happened between the dates of July 21-25, 2010, for what was the 8th Annual (and my first) Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. And what tales I have returned with! Although, I'm afraid, dear readers, about half of those tales I will either keep to myself or have simply lost to the foggy grip of intoxication. I was warned not to overschedule myself, and now I know why--I didn't go to anywhere near as many seminars and events as I had planned. I learned a few hard lessons (Drink more water!), and will certainly try to do better next year, but as my friend and hotel roommate Carmen Operetta Carroll said, "You'll never be able to train for Tales." All I can say is, expect the unexpected!
Here are my highlights (and yes, I had to look at my Foursquare history to remember a few things):
- The Beefeater Welcome Party: Not long after landing in Nawlins, I got gussied up and headed straight to the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center for a scene outfitted in British flags, citrus chandeliers and whimsical characters straight out of a Lewis Carroll acid trip. Carmen and I had fun posing in a Queen of Hearts garden-themed photoshoot before the cocktails took over. With some of the best bartenders in the biz behind the stick--Audrey Saunders, Kimberly Patton-Bragg, Kenta Goto, and Erick Castro, to name a few--I knew I was in for some decent gin-bibing.
- The William Grant House Party: Following the Beefeater bash, buses took everyone to the Elms Mansion for this grown-up version of a frat party. The elegant setting maintained a casual feel with a vintage Sailor Jerry Rum photo backdrop, and a sprawling backyard featured a live jazz band and endless cocktails from other spirits within the William Grant portfolio. Thankfully there were buses to take us back to the Monteleone, as I was a little "dizzy" at this point.
- After-hours drinks at d.b.a., Old Absinthe House, and Alibi: Just about every night/early morning during Tales, I could be found knocking back pints at one, two, or all three of these cozy enclaves. Lets just say these were special moments...
- "Summer in Paris" Spirited Lunch: What do Chartreuse, Benedictine, Tennyson Absinthe, Dubbonet, Pierre Ferrand Cognac and Citadelle Gin have in common? Oui, all made in France, and all quite délicieux, I might add. These and other spirits were served in abundance along with a French-Creole meal that ended with flaming Baked Alaska at Antoine's, built in 1840.
- Domaine Select's Classic & Vintage Pool Parlour: Retro pool attire was in order at this sunset bash hosted by Domaine Select's Classic & Vintage portfolio at the Hotel Monteleone rooftop pool. The Tippling Bros. and their startender team turned out refreshments such as the "Lightning Collins" (Death's Door White Whiskey, Dimmi liqueur, lemon juice, simple syrup and club soda) and the "Top Cat" (Averna Amaro, muddled strawberries, lemon juice and Fanta orange soda). I was hoping for a swim-up bar, but I still managed to sip and dip at the same time.
- Unofficial Spirited Dinner at Elizabeth's: While many Tales attendees shelled out $85-$100 a head for the luxury of impeccable dining at some of the most reknowned restaurants in NOLA--with cocktail pairings, natch--I joined a group of about 18 for a layman's version at Elizabeth's. I got to know a bunch of fun Bostonians and had some killer fried chicken paired with beers and shots--all for the cool price of about $40 a head.
- The History, Science and Creativity of Essential Oils and Extracts: Ah yes, the one seminar I managed to attend. Although I had a wretched hangover at this point, I enjoyed learning from Darcy O'Neil and Andrew Nicholls about the chemical breakdown of essential oils and phosphated sodas in cocktails. Be sure to use food-grade essential oils in your cocktails, and use them sparingly, such as a spray of lavender oil, so the aromas don't overpower the drink. Fun fact--Coca-Cola is made with the following essential oils: orange, lemon, nutmeg, cassia, coriander, neroli, lime and lavender.
- Dinner at Cochon: Finger-licking-good! From the fried alligator to the rabbit livers to the cochon with pickled turnips to the forking-tender smoked beef brisket with horseradish potato salad, this place is hog heaven.
- Don Q and Esquire party at Restaurant August: Don Q Rum's mixologists James Menite and Esteban Ordonez kicked off another night of cocktailing with Puerto Rican-themed crowd-pleasers such as the "El Viejo San Juan" (Don Q Anejo, Dolin Dry Vermouth, Luxardo Amaro, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, and orange peel scent). Being an Esquire bash, everyone was smartly dressed with drink in hand.
- French 75s at Arnaud's French 75 Bar: In-between events, I joined a couple of New York imbibers at this classic bar just far enough from the brouhaha of Bourbon Street. We sipped Cognac French 75s, admired the antique decor, and chatted up a local, however, our Ramos Gin Fizz left much to be desired--mainly, citrus.
- Latenight pool party with Belvedere and U'Luvka vodka: I don't want to give away the location of this pool party because I want to stay at this hotel next year at Tales. No photos were taken, but imagine a lush garden scene, throw in a full moon, and let your perverted mind wander from there!
- The Gran Marnier Bar Room Brawl: This massive throwdown at Generations Hall featured teams of bartenders from six of the country's top cocktail bars: Dutch Kills in NYC, Florida Room in Miami, Rickhouse in San Francisco, Drink in Boston, The Drawing Room in Chicago, and Varnish in L.A. Hosted by aka Wine Geek, this was one of the most well-executed competitions I have ever witnessed--with stellar mixology to match. Congrats to Drink for taking home top honors!
- Breakfast at Coop's Place: Nothing like a plate of blackened redfish, a cup of coffee, and a shot of Ardbeg Scotch to get the blood flowing again. It took me about 20 minutes into breakfast to take my sunglasses off--yeah, Tales hangovers are like that.
- Pig & Punch fundraiser at Washington Square Park: Hosted by San Francisco bartenders The Bon Vivants, this perfectly laid-back, free outdoor gathering featured two whole spit-roasted pigs from Cochon, all sorts of fixings such as Cajun cole slaw, barrels of punch, kegs of cold beer, and live jazz from the Smokin Time Jazz Club. T-shirts were sold at the event to raise money for the arts program at a local NOLA high school where a group of bartenders donated their time before Tales began.
- Pre-awards drinks at Don Q's hotel suite: From a balcony at the Royal Sonesta Hotel overlooking Bourbon Street, a handful of friends of Don Q Rum toasted (water and Diet Coke for me) in advance of the glamorous Spirited Awards. I would like to personally thank John Eason for the invite!
- The Spirited Awards: See the winning results below...
- The Plymouth Gin Bartender's Breakfast: Nothing to do with breakfast, everything to do with debauchery. One of the most anticipated--and deservedly so--events at Tales.
- Beignets at Cafe Du Monde: Believe the hype! Even at 7:30 a.m., we had to wait in line for these hot, pillowy doughnuts doused in powdered sugar, with chicory coffee to boot--post-boozing indulgence at its finest.
- Brunch at Brennan's: White tablecloths, Southern hospitality, perfect Bloody Marys, rich eggs Benedict... I'm so glad Emily Cavalier took me here--always trust your food blogger friends.
- Dinner at Bacchanal Wine Bar: The Sunday night gathering spot for all of the bar industry folk left to finish out the weekend, Bacchanal in the Ninth Ward was a purely magical experience. Everyone took over tables in the backyard where bottles of wine flowed under a picturesque moon, a live band played, and food was eaten faster than it could be prepared. T'was a perfectly chill way to close out a wild week.
- After-hours drinks at Cure: Not ones to let a party end early, most everyone moved onto Cure, one of NOLA's premiere cocktail dens. Seasonal- and classic-inspired tipples on par with NYC's made for a smooth liquid transition back to the Big Apple.
2010 Spirited Awards Winners:
World’s Best Drink Selection: Bar Lebensstern in Café Einstein, Berlin
Best American Cocktail Bar: Death & Co., New York City
World’s Best Cocktail Bar: Death & Co., New York City
World’s Best New Cocktail Bar: Mayahuel, New York City
World’s Best Hotel Bar: The Connaught Bar, The Connaught Hotel, London
American Bartender of the Year: Murray Stenson, Zig Zag, Seattle
International Bartender of the Year: Agostino Perrone, The Connaught Bar, The Connaught Hotel, London
Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh
Best Cocktail Writing: CLASS magazine
Best New Product: Celery Bitters, The Bitter Truth
World’s Best Cocktail Menu: Death & Co, New York City
Best Bar Mentor: Dale DeGroff
Best American Brand Ambassador: Charlotte Voisey, William Grant & Sons Portfolio
Best International Brand Ambassador: John Gakuru, Sagatiba
Helen David Lifetime Achievement Award: Brian Rea
For many more photos, be sure to check out The Dizzy Fizz on Facebook. Thanks to Ann Tuennerman and the Tales crew, to my friends old and new, and to the city of New Orleans for being so welcoming--I'll be back!