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Alcohol & Spirits

Tales of the Cocktail: A Report from New Orleans

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Wed, Jul 27, 2011 at 11:00 AM

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It's Sunday morning, I am at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, and I am scraping up the pieces of the week like a crumber on a tablecloth. (Tales, as I will heretofore call it, is the grand annual gathering of the nation's cocktailians, and as such is not for the weak.) Debris from last night's impromptu can-crush contest is strewn around the ballroom. It is very cocktail chic. I drink deeply from the stale michelada that fellow Varnish bartender Chris Bostick and I had made for Bartender's Breakfast the night before, and I groan.

Is Tales a bartender's paradise? It may not be. New Orleans is hot, wet and muggy at the height of summer. It is hard to make drinks at a really high level at Tales' jerry-rigged impromptu bars. We run from pool parties to seminars, from grand events to shots shared in the street. But most of us have had good drinks, and we're really here to toast one another; our community is dedicated to the weekend art of hedonism, the inability to say ``No'' at the end of the evening - especialy at this, our Cocktailpalooza. These are our friends, so let's suck every moment dry. There may not be another opportunity until next year.

Our East Coast brothers and sisters took home the best-bar awards this year, but L.A. cocktailians repped hard. We could give the Romans a run for their money, I am certain.

Notes from a wet cocktail napkin:

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Our digs are in the Marigny district, 10 minutes from the Monteleone, the hotel that hosts Tales. Marigny is thick with great music and late-night bars - No Bar & DBA - that exert a gravitational pull on the Liquorati. I am staying with a college buddy whose place is equipped with a balcony perfect for contemplating a cold Miller High Life and watching the drunks dribble by. Tip: Make sure you have access to a pool in which to rinse away the yesterday's hangover.

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Headed to our first drink, at the Diageo Happy Hour: a cocktail, made by bar-consultant ninja Steve Olson, with Tanqueray Ten, Crema de Mezcal, chocolate bitters and grapefruit peel. Thirty bartenders pour on three floors of The Calbido, the Jackson Square building where the Louisiana Purchase was formalized in 1803.

Happiness is a warm gun: Now a pre dinner oyster fix at Felix's...

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Old Absinthe House is the Tale's late night cocktailian dive bar. Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde once drank there, but not together.

Headed to the seafood restaurant GW Fins to be a part of an East Coast-meets-West Coast dinner brawl. Bartenders from opposing sides of the country go head to head, course by course, cocktail by cocktail. When Richie Boccato of NYC's Dutch Kills wins his heat he celebrates with an on-the-spot tattoo.

Some of us live for our post-bender visits to Cafe Du Monde. Fried dough covered in sugar. Beignets! The chicory coffee is good, we theorize, cause it tastes as if they haven't cleaned out the coffee machine in years.

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A relentless brand-rep hands me a bottle in the street. The liberal open-container law here is quite civilized....

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To the cocktailian mind, some of the best food in NOLA is at the pork-intensive restaurant Cochon. We are at a luncheon sponsored by Krug Champagne.

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Carousel Bar at The Monty: It rotates. I'm dizzy. This is the mothership bar in the headquarters hotel. After hitting a seminar, registration or the swag shop you unwind with a Vieux Carre.

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They have blocked off the street in front of The Monteleone for a Petanque tournament! The past time of elderly Frenchmen in their town squares. We compete. We drink pastis. We finish with two wins , one loss, and heads full of liquid sunshine.

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Let's put our whiskey shots to work. Pigs on spits and Krug-spiked punch ladled out of lined trash cans. Josh Harris, from the Bon Vivants in San Francisco, is one of the founders of this annual event that raises money for NOLA schools. The horn section of the party is local and off the charts!

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PS: if you have it in your schedule, stay an extra day and go fishing.

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Eric Alperin is a co-owner of The Varnish.

[Editor's note: this post has been modified since it's original publication, to add a few more cool pictures. Why not.]

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