Just a few weeks shy of celebrating my first year as a bartender, I embarked upon what's considered a rite of passage for anyone in, around, and connected to the alcohol and spirits community: Tales of the Cocktail.
The event is a raucous mash-up of education, parties, and drinking--and not necessarily in that order. Distillers, ambassadors, and other industry experts converge upon New Orleans and they hail from across the globe (and the back bar). I sipped espresso and discussed passion and legacy with Matteo Luxardo (yes, like Luxardo maraschino); toasted Peru with Johnny "Pisco" Schuler of Pisco Porton and Lizzie Asher of Macchu Pisco; and had a drink prepared for me by Jim Meehan, author of the PDT Cocktail Book. Oh, and lest I forget, I met Aisha Tyler at the 86 Company's Bar Fight Club.
It was pretty easy to get "barstruck" by all of the star power that was matter-of-factly milling around the French Quarter. But as a native New Yorker, I'm proud to say I kept my cool, smiled, chatted, and told them how much I enjoy their work. Inside I was screaming, though.
My days were meticulously scheduled between tasting rooms, private house invites, lunches, dinners, and parties. In order to fully understand the magnitude of the events I attended, check out #TOTC2015 on Instagram and Twitter. It's an event that's open to the public, so even if you're not a bartender (or press) it's worth experiencing if you're a fan of booze. But with that comes a few much needed survival tips (some of which were imparted upon me by Tales veterans).
Go in with a plan. I knew from my convention days in corporate not to commit to anything before 10:30 a.m. and it remained a good practice. The seminars at Tales are 90 minutes long and can eat up a lot of your day (and your budget when you're booking) so be discerning about where you will spend your time. Due to the sheer volume of people that are in town for the event, many events conflict. The Tales Sched will become your best friend when planning.
If there's food, eat it. If there's water, drink it. There is a lot of alcohol at Tales. A LOT--and that's not even considering the fact that New Orleans is a city where booze flows 24-hours a day. Every tasting room/experience/party will have multiple libations and you need, I repeat, need to stay hydrated and feed your liquor.
You don't need to finish that drink. My friend and I shared just about all of our drinks, even the small ones. We wanted to sample lots of things, but several half-ounce shots of straight spirit will have you feeling loopy before lunch time. Many times we didn't even finish the cocktails we shared. A few sips, then abandonment. The drinks are free and there will always be more. Always.
Safety first. Too often people get caught up in the revelry of Tales and forget that New Orleans is a major tourist city and the hustlers are out. Think about it, if you were a criminal, wouldn't a week-long festival of people drunk out of their minds seem like shooting fish in a barrel? Exactly. Travel in groups, don't flash money, and stay in well-lit areas. In other words, exercise common sense.
Leave time for down time. Partying in New Orleans is a lot like Vegas insomuch that the first day is awesome, the second day is amazing, and by the third day you probably want to go home. At any given time during Tales, someone somewhere is having a party or meeting at a bar. Don't let FOMO (fear of missing out) ruin your trip. If you're tired (or drunk), call it a night and go to bed. There is more fun to be had tomorrow, promise. And if you wake up, body sore, no longer wanting to go to any of the things--like I did on day three, there's no shame in taking it easy. I easily spent two hours at the Omni pool before I roused myself to get back into things. I also got a solid six hours of sleep each night.
I had an amazing time at Tales of the Cocktail and I'm proud to say my three and a half years on the affiliate marketing convention circuit totally prepared me for it. I rocked my first Tales.