Words by: Simon Difford
Tales has been through turbulent times but the festival now boasts a Diversity Council to help ensure previous mistakes are not repeated, new folk behind its charitable foundation, and even an updated logo. However, for many, the combination of Tales’ pay-to-play commercialism and its charitable endeavours remains blurred.
Still, as another week of seminars, parties and inadequate Monteleone elevators (lifts) kicks off, I'm wishing Gary Solomon Jr. and Neal Bodenheimer, who've invested their money and souls into saving Tales of the Cocktail, all the best in their endeavours as I once again find myself heading to a sweltery booze and po'boy fuelled New Orleans.
For many years Tales has been an annual pilgrimage, Paloma and I always made a long week of it to properly enjoy and appreciate New Orleans. I've only missed two Tales to date, the first because I didn't even know it was happening and another due to being on crutches and not able to fly. However, bearing all the bad press in mind, back in January when looking at the British Airways sale, we opted to give Tales a miss this year and instead booked our "annual holiday" to New York so we could take in the inaugural BCB Brooklyn Bar Show.
Hence, I didn't expect to find myself writing this at Heathrow en route to New Orleans, but the folk at Disaronno contacted me and asked me to host the following seminar as part of their The Mixing Star Talks. I was persuaded by very much liking the subject matter they'd already got on the Tales seminar schedule, and the fact that they offered to pay my airfare - the first time in all these years that I had the opportunity to attend Tales without having to paying for the privilege. Of course I'd go.
I'm seeking to avoid a staid classroom-like "how to suck eggs" seminar and instead present something contentious - actually numerous contentious issues which I believe worthy of debate.
After all, with the digital age and developments in film and photography enabling the sharing of knowledge via sites like this, I feel seminars should have a different purpose: for opinions amongst peers to be shared and argued. When people with common interests but different opinions gather in a room over cocktails, consensus appears to arise from argument in a way that just doesn't seem to happen on social media, or indeed down the Rose & Crown.
The cocktails being served at this seminar are among my favourites on this site and the subjects I'm presenting - well, best you come along and find out, and hopefully contribute, otherwise there's a danger my opinion will prevail.
My seminar, Cocktail & Spirits Dogmas - for, against and perhaps... is on Friday 20th at 12:30-2pm at Iberville A, Hotel Monteleone. Tickets [click here for tickets] are $65 (see my pay-to-play comment above) but I'll endeavour to deliver value for money and hopefully provoke some changes in thinking - perhaps even my own.
Hopefully I'll also see you out and about in New Orleans. If this is your first visit to Tales, then you may find the following useful.
For the uninitiated, 'Tales of the Cocktail' is a five day culinary and drinks festival built around cocktails. For those of us that truly enter into the spirit of Tales, this consists of five+ days of geeking out at seminars about cocktail recipes, cocktail history and the world of liquor in general, followed by nights of serious imbibing with one's peers. The only downside is that this discerning drinker's extravaganza takes place
during Nola's hot, muggy and thunderous summer season.
The activities centre around the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter. This event has grown exponentially over the years and both hotel rooms and tickets to seminars quickly sell out so book your flights good and early, then visit talesofthecocktail.com for special rates in participating hotels, seminar tickets, 'Spirited Dinners' reservations and the Spirited Awards.
1. Download the Tales of the Cocktail app - there is a bewildering array of events during the week and this app displays these by time and day whilst also allowing you to build your own personal schedule of the seminars you have booked to attend. The app also features maps to guide you to each event.
2. Hotel Monteleone elevators - There are not enough elevators in the hotel to cope with the numbers of people going up to events at the roof top bar, surrounding seminar rooms and suites. So if staying at the hotel ask for a room in the Royal Tower as the elevators servicing this do not go up to the roof so are not as busy. It's also worth knowing there is a connecting fire exit passageway between both sides of the hotel on the 14th floor.
3. Frenchman Street - While at Tales you should spend at least one evening in the jazz bars on Frenchman Street. They all have great jazz but D.B.A. also has great whiskey and beer. Frenchman Street is easy to find, walk up Bourbon Street (away from Canal) until you hit a wide road called Esplanade Avenue. Turn right onto this and follow until you reach Frenchman Street on the left. Walk up this and after a block you'll start to hit the street's bars.
4. Dig deep - It goes without saying that industry folk and fellow bartenders tip well but please don't forget the city's musicians. They live on your tips and without them New Orleans would not be the special city it is.
5. Dive bar hangouts - bartenders are drawn to late night atmospheric dive bars, usually because that's all that's still open when they finish their shift. During Tales the local after hours bartender haunts enjoy a bumper week. Favourites for beer and shots include: Erin Rose Irish bar (Conti St near Bourbon St), St. Lawrence (219 N. Peters St) and Bar Tonique (820 N Rampart St).
6. Pace yourself - a whole week at Tales is a true test of stamina and those 10am seminars prove harder and harder to make as the week goes on - even for some of the speakers. Snatch power naps during the day to save missing out on the action and if wandering from bar to bar, ask for a plastic take-out cup to pour your drink into rather than downing it. (Remember don't drink out of glasses or bottles on the street - only plastic cups are allowed. Please direct questions re sustainability and if they are biodegradable to venue.)
7. The river - be sure to at least walk across and take a look at the Mississippi. Europeans will be amazed at its breadth. It's tempting to sit with a takeaway cup on the large stones lapped by the water. However, the bank teems with rats so the benches higher up are perhaps more romantic a setting after all.
8. One afternoon - you should slope off to the charming Napoleon House (corner of Chartres & St Louis Streets) for a Pimm's Cup then, suitably refreshed, continue the walk up to Tujague's (corner Decatur & Madison Streets) for a milky-minty Grasshopper cocktail. Head back for an early evening Vieux Carré cocktail while slowly revolving around the Carousel Piano Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal Street) before deciding which of the many evening dinners, parties or tastings you are going to rush off to.
9. Vintage barware - Collectors will find plenty of gems in the city's antique shops and Lucullus, a culinary antique shop at 610 Chartres Street is noted for selling absinthe spoons and absinthe paraphernalia. You'll also find a selection of modern day replicas at Gem de France, 729 Royal Street.
10. Gator & oysters - Felix's lies just a block away from the Hotel Monteleone and is a must visit due to its oysters which should be washed down with a glass of Abita Andygator beer (a very special local brew that's rare to see on tap). Grab a seat at the bar and ponder the folk in the line waiting outside Acme Oyster House opposite.
11. Enjoy the city's bar scene - New Orleans has the best music and dive bars in the whole of the United States but it also boasts some great cocktail bars and real cocktail heritage. We are constantly updating our New Orleans city and bar guide with our recommendations.
12. Visit The Museum of the American Cocktail - Founded by Dale DeGroff in 2004, "MOTAC celebrates and preserves a rich aspect of American culture while providing educational resources for professionals and the public." You'll find MOTAC inside the Southern Food & Beverage Museum at 1504 Oretha C. Haley Boulevard, New Orleans. It's closed Tuesday but otherwise open daily 11am to 5:30pm with admission costing $10 per person.