Tales of the Cocktail 2010, let the madness, sleep deprivation, gluttony, learning, and competitive toasting begin. Technically it wasn’t officially Tales yet. Tuesday is Tales Day -1, but this is when the majority of attendees start to arrive. Arriving on the train that morning from Houston, as soon as we passed into city limits Mindy Kucan, John Hearns, and I all promptly took shot of Fernet Branca to toast our arrival. After all, we must be cliché as bartenders and cocktail geeks and suck down some of the dark stuff.
By the way, there is nothing like train travel, it’s decadent, relaxing, lets you do nothing but kick back, perhaps have a drink or three, sleep, and in general just pause for a little bit because you are not going anywhere else. I absolutely recommend train travel whenever possible.
Stepping into the heat of New Orleans on July for the first time was its usual punch in the face. Seriously, the heat and humidity each time you step into it is like a physical blow. It’s like a hot towel being thrown at your face over and over again. That is my only complaining about the weather for the rest of my Tales coverage. We sped our way to the nearest taxi and made our way to Coop’s Place to meet up with some friends who had been texting and tweeting us that they were already there. No dropping off of luggage, Coop’s is that important to my “I’ve arrived in New Orleans-ness!”
How to describe Coop’s? Imagine your favourite dive bar, ok, now imagine it in New Orleans. Still with me? Now add to it, the feeling of really cold beer and air conditioning after the heat and humidity (not kvetching, simple descriptor) and wonderful, no nonsense, but fun staff that can bartend circles around 90 percent of us. I don’t mean make fancy drinks, I mean take care of an entire roomful of tipsy, hungry, and sweaty people all by their lonesome, and do it all without batting an eye. So, my first Abita Amber of the week and some fried chicken and jambalaya later, I definitely feel like I’ve arrived.
As soon as I check in at the Hotel Monteleone and fill my flask, I’m off to the Carousel Bar. The Carousel Bar deserves it’s own post, and one will be coming. It’s the hub around which the Tales community revolves like the bar itself. On this day, it’s where you go to watch everyone arrive. It’s like the world’s biggest episode of Cheers. Everyone knows someone sitting there, and the longer you sit there, the more of your friends come walking through the door. It’s a great way to see who’s attending this year, to reconnect in person with friends you may not have seen since last year. Luminaries of the industry walk in, heroes, people you admire, and those whose job you want, all rubbing shoulders, and welcoming each other, like a giant collective greeting line. Introductions are made, drinks are bought and Tales is underway, no matter what day it is officially.
Since you are in New Orleans you would be remiss not to partake of lots of the fantastic food. Needless to say, that was not something I would be at all willing to let happen. That night, we hit up one of my favourite places to eat anywhere, Cochon. I have to love any place that just names their restaurant, Pig. Cochon opened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Kind of a statement that good food was here to stay, that it would continue to grow, and a sort of middle finger to the universe, there would be no displacing or keeping down the people and restaurants of New Orleans.
Jim Romdall and I ordered for our table, some had eaten with us before, and for the others it was time to show them the wonder and glory of ordering Jim and Rocky style. Restraint mostly goes out the window, anything that sounds good is fair game, and will almost certainly be ordered, health is not a concern. The only thing that matters is how good it sounds, exotic meats are a must, offal will not go by quietly, and the embodiment that nothing succeeds like excess.
Piles of food later, we dashed off to my first official party of the week, burlesque show featuring Dita von Teese put on by the fine folks at Cointreau.
I do love how burlesque has made a comeback in recent years, with a restoration of its image of classy, yet titillating fun. A lot of that can be attributed to the efforts of von Teese, she definitely helps to keep the focus on the glamorous and exotic aspects of the art. I was fortunate enough to be able to gain access to the VIP lounge where yet more of my friends were already hanging out and partaking of beverages featuring Cointreau and if I had shown up earlier would have a chance to speak with the diva herself. Oh well, dinner was definitely worth missing out on that.
From there it was time to roll on to various other parties, sponsored by the likes of Drambuie, Grey Goose, and Bacardi. Yes, it’s still unofficially not Tales yet, but it sure acts like it. Of course no night is complete without a trip to the Old Absinthe House, where like salmon returning to spawn, we all seem to congregate each night, having beers, absinthe frappes, and slushy regret from the various dispensaries of frozen sickly sweet and highly alcoholic concoctions. It’s like a semi-spontaneous block party at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville, and everyone you know is there. Welcome to Tales of the Cocktail, whatever the calendar says.