Five-plus days of tastings and parties in the country's most booze-friendly city. More than 20,000 attendees from all over the world. Thousands of drinks poured. Tales of the Cocktail is a cocktail convention on an epic scale. Just about every high-end cocktail bar and spirits company is represented in New Orleans, where the drinking world convenes every July.
I've heard it asked more than once: How do you survive a five-day boozeathon with vast quantities free liquor, in a crowd of some of the biggest drinkers you'll ever meet? And what's more, how do you enjoy it? My thoughts, below.
1. Learn to say no. "Oh, a rooftop pool party with vodka lemonades! That sounds great!" Yes, it might, particularly on a humid 95° New Orleans afternoon—but there are probably 15 other pool parties still to come. Don't try to attend every event.
2. Prioritize and pace yourself. Amateur mistake: getting four-deep at the first party, which may well be at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Do you really want to be fighting back a pre-hangover before the good events even start? It's a long week, and there are always more cocktails to come.
3. Drink responsibly. Or at least try. I don't need to tell you about eating (do it) and hydrating (do that too), right? For the most part, folks at Tales know how to drink like adults, but there are always those who don't.
4. Draw up a battle plan... It's easy to get sidetracked by streetside Bloody Marys or amaro tastings in the lobby of the Monteleone and miss that small-batch tonic seminar you'd been looking forward to. Especially in an environment when everyone's pulling each other to the next event, losing track of time is inevitable. Draw yourself up a list of can't-miss events, and know where they are.
5. ... and throw away that battle plan, if necessary. Some of the best decisions I made last year: Walking out of a painfully slow dinner and into a group headed to Acme for oyster po' boys. Jumping into a cab with three guys I didn't know, all of whom became close friends I still have today. Walking out of a dull gin seminar and into a fascinating vermouth one. Ruining my Friday morning plans with a haven't-slept-yet beignet and red wine picnic at 7 a.m.
6. Make friends. Bartenders and spirits-industry folks are chatty by nature, even more so when swept up in a five-day booze playground. Introduce yourself. Not only because hey, who doesn't like new friends—but because said friends will help you get the most out of the experience. Some of the best drinks at Tales are sips from a mezcal producer's flask, because the product hasn't gotten into bottle yet. Some of the best events won't appear in an online listing; a last-minute dinner invite I received last year was my favorite experience at Tales. Get to know the folks around you.
7. Don't forget about New Orleans. It's easy to spend your days and nights bouncing between events in the same four hotels, but leave time to get out a bit; you're in one of the best eating and drinking cities in the world. (Plus, it feels really good to escape the fray.)
Any other Tales veterans out there? What's your advice for first-timers?