Serious Eats: Drinks

Tales from Tales of the Cocktail: It Begins

Editor's Note: Our barman Michael Neff is reporting from Tales of the Cocktail. What's that? He filled us in here. If you're at Tales and looking for survival tips, start here.

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Hotel Montoleone, Bourbon Street
8:11 p.m.

It's raining in New Orleans and the intensity has begun. Thousands of people attend Tales of the Cocktail, both professionals and appreciators, and they all converge on one place for much of the week.

The official headquarters of Tales of the Cocktail is the Hotel Montoleone—a New Orleans legend and a beautiful space. Many of the seminars take place in the Montoleone, as well as the administration, registration, and tasting rooms, plus it's the hotel where most attendees want to rent rooms, which is where the intensity comes in.

The lobby of the Montoleone is stuffed full of people. It's hard to move in the best of circumstances. It's impossible when people stop every few feet to hug their long-lost friends.

This morning I was on a panel of bar-owners who own more than one joint, and had an interesting conversation with the masterminds behind Clover Club, Experimental Cocktail Club, and The Tippler.

Next up was a seminar entitled "Building a World Class Bar Team," which was sponsored by Tanqueray and run by a man named Sean Finter. I didn't know what to expect walking in; we are at a cocktail conference, after all, and it wasn't clear from the course description whether or not that kind of thing would enter in to it.

What we got was part Tony Robbins, part TGI Fridays, and part "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." If I was looking for general management advice, I suppose I would have gotten more out of it. Yes, a motivated staff who have a stake in delivering quality service is instrumental to making a creating a successful bar, but if I tried to achieve that by "catching my employees doing something good," and creating an annual awards dinner where the staff nominated their fellow employees, they would laugh at me.

After a lunch of red beans and rice at a random restaurant staffed by the nicest people on the planet, I returned for the final seminar of the day, an aged spirits tasting that featured whiskey, rum, tequila, and a number of brandies. I'll post photos and comments to Twitter as soon as my phone is finished charging.

After a brief respite, I am off to the opening parties. Absolut sponors the official opening party, and William Grant & Sons (Glenfiddich, Hudson Whiskey, Hendrick's Gin, etc.) throws a high-concept bash that is very big and decadently theatrical.

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