Tales of the Cocktail 2010 Day Three, at least I’m pretty sure it’s day three. It’s starting to blur together. This morning is my turn to be a bit lost to the world. I am in a bit of a towel induced fugue, I miss a tasting room or two, maybe it was three, who knows anymore. I slowly pry myself out of bed and sit in the shower for a good 15 minutes, very thankful that I have a stock of water, Gatorade, and 5-Hour Energy in my room. I fortify myself, grab a slug of rum and then make my way to Antoine’s for a lunch hosted by Bulleit Bourbon. Into my haze comes the bright whirlwind of awesome called Hollis Bulleit. Remember the song Jump in the Line made famous by Harry Belafonte in Bettlejuice? She’s definitely a hurricane in all kinds of weather, she sweeps into a room and instantly the energy level is turned up to eleven.
On sitting down at our table, the first words out of her mouth in that incredible drawl of hers were, “ I know you! I saw your picture on the internet last night! How’s it going Towelie?!” That’s a way to person’s heart if ever there were one and good for the soul. Antoine’s embodies all of the old school service traditions of New Orleans. Al of them are pros, they have personalities, and they’ve been working at it their whole lives. Some of these servers are multi-generational, sons following fathers, siblings and cousins joining their other family members, you realise that there is at least one city left in America where service and the professional wait staff are well respected and will continue to live on.
This year Jeffrey Morgenthaler didn’t make the trip, he was struck down by pneumonia in Portland. Morgenthaler was one of the first working bartenders to really start blogging and sharing information, bring more awareness of the craft end of the bartending spectrum to more people and sharing innovative ways of making ingredients usually without oo much effort because Morgenthaler is a very practically lazy man. He also makes the occasional good drink. All that though, is nothing like the hole that his non-presence brings to Tales. He’s a dynamo of drinking, bad ideas, and sheer Tales stamina like no one else’s business. He also is the champion pool lounger of all of us.
All of this is very nice, but what he has also started is a tradition of the unsanctioned swag off. A little gathering and competition, where messages go out on the appointed day, we all assemble in Morgenthaler’s hotel room, bearing the free booze, tools, sauces, and assorted random odds and ends we’ve been collecting for several days. Names are drawn out of a hat to pick judges and contestants, the clock starts and the contestants start assembling their drink from what is assembled before them. The results are always inventive, usually drinkable, and the best of them all embrace the spirit of the contest and offer some really off the wall cocktail.
With Morgenthaler out of action, Jim Romdall and I decided to host the Swag Off in our room. We assembled an impressive array of swag, messages were sent, and at the appointed hour, we packed the room to capacity and went about it. This year’s winner was Thomas Bondesson of Seattle’s Little Red Bistro with a drink that involved whiskey, barbecue sauce, and a pillow chocolate, it hit all of the elements of the Swag Off, it was inventive, made use of oddball ingredients, and it was also good. The barbecue sauce especially played well with the smokiness of the whiskey used.
After that we all broke for the various activities of the night. Some went off to Spirited Dinners, I went off to dinner at the Green Goddess with a very convivial group of friends. Green Goddess is located on Exchange Alley in the French Quarter, it’s not hard to find, but it’s not in plain sight either. Run by the inimitable Chris DeBarre, the menu ranges far and wide, the only guarantee is that it will be delicious, and in combinations that will probably be unexpected. The flavours of the night range from those familiar to New Orleans, to India, France, Vietnam, Spain, and points in between. It’s not all pretty and fussily presented either, some of the best tasting dishes frankly look kind of thrown together, but when you put a bite in your mouth, oh man it explodes in a symphony of flavours and textures. My favourite on the night was a banh xeo in a nod to the Vietnamese fishing population that has grown and flourished in the area. It was stuffed with crab and surrounded by a most perfect crispy crepe. More than anything else though, the company at dinner exemplified why we come to Tales. We were sharing good food, good drink, and conversation with friends and peers who we don’t necessarily get to see very often. At the table were friends from Seattle, Portland, Birmingham, New York, San Francisco, and Minneapolis.
After dinner, I had every intention of taking it easy for the night, maybe a drink or six and then calling it easy. Best laid plans and whatnot, a message came from some friends who had been carving ice balls in the bowels of the Monteleone for a few days ahead of the Spirited Awards. The clock was ticking down and there were still 400 pounds of ice to go. So, off to carve ice balls, with chainsaws, sabered champagne bottles, and the company of more friends. Anu Apte, Andrew Bohrer, and Jamie Boudreau had been slaving away for days carving over 1200 pounds of ice balls, but more were called for.
So Bondesson, Romdall, and I joined in the fun drinking bubbles and playing with power tools and knife type objects. All in all, a great way to end the day, booze, friends, and pointy objects, what more could you ask for.