Tales of the Cocktail, now in its 12th year, has a reputation for being the drunken bacchanal to end all parties. Held in New Orleans every July, the five-day event brings tens of thousands of bartenders and drinking enthusiasts to a city that already delights in excess. It's a recipe for many things that are very bad for your health. And while, for many young bartenders, Tales is still mainly an excuse to get blotto for days on end, a definite trend emerged this year and the message was clear: When it comes to your health, the party can't last forever.

This movement comes from the fact that, as the craft cocktail revolution enters its second decade, many of the original bartenders who lead the charge are now witnessing firsthand what ten years or more of standing behind a bar can do to your body. That, plus the effects of a life steeped in alcohol, leaves many bartenders with a host of physical and psychological issues. This year at Tales, amidst the parties and tastings, a real focus on health and wellness could be seen cropping up in seminars and special events. 
One such seminar was lead by the Varnish's Eric Alperin, along with his fellow Los Angeles bartender Marcos Tello, and Simon Ford, a 20-year veteran of the bar industry and maker of Ford's Gin. Titled The Physiology of Shake, the seminar chronicled the types of common injuries sustained by bartenders, as well as remedies for those injuries.

“Bartending is a highly athletic endeavor, yet as bartenders we don't spend enough time caring for the health of our bodies,” Alperin says. “The craft of bartending involves a lot of repetitive and static movements that cause stress on the muscles. If we don't stretch, rest and hydrate, our muscles heal incorrectly causing chronic injuries.”

Pamphlet handed out at a Tales of the Cocktail seminar on wellness for bartenders.; Credit: B. Rodell

Pamphlet handed out at a Tales of the Cocktail seminar on wellness for bartenders.; Credit: B. Rodell

During the packed seminar, Alperin demonstrated exercises and stretches, and played a video presentation of L.A. chiropractor Tarek Adra identifying and treating common physical issues caused by different shaking and stirring methods, and standing for hours on end.

Tello went over a list of supplements helpful for bartender health, including more healthful alternatives for getting to sleep after a long shift than alcohol. “After a long shift, your body hurts,” Tello said. “And too often the solution for that is too many drinks. Then you sleep badly on your injured body.” 

But this wasn't the only instance during the conference of bartenders turning away from the party to focus on health. For three days in the mornings a complimentary series, called Keeping it Real: Mind, Body and Spirits, offered yoga, meditation, and talks on topics like “How stress can make you sick and what you can do about it,” and “Be your best self,” a discussion of the benefits of nutritional therapy, adequate sleep, hydration, probiotics and positivity.

These are not topics you would have seen discussed even three years ago at Tales. And a room full of bartenders doing yoga at 8:30 a.m.? Unthinkable. 

Alperin, Tello and Ford hope to take their Physiology of Shake seminar on the road, and they also hope to bring along Adra, the chiropractor, to assess and help folks in the bar industry. At the end of the session during question time, many bartenders in the room had questions about their own health that the panelists couldn't answer. “We probably shouldn't be doing this seminar,” Tello said. “We're bartenders, not doctors. But we want to teach what we've learned, what's helped us.”

“We're just a bunch of old farts,” Ford said, “who want you guys to avoid the mistakes we made.”

Four tips for bartender health:

4. Take micro breaks.
Even if your shift is long and intense, find a few seconds to step away and do simple, restorative exercises. 

3. Buy a foam roller.
“This is the best $30 you'll ever spend,” Tello said. “I used to laugh at the gym at guys using these things. Now I'm old and I'm one of those guys.” You can use the foam roller to help massage tired legs and hips after a long night. 

2. Use magnesium instead of alcohol to wind down.
Magnesium helps relax your muscles and get you to sleep, and it's a lot more healthful than drinking too much to wind down. Take it 1-2 hours before bed.

1. Adjust your shake.
Every bartender has their own signature shake, but the constant repetitive motion can cause real problems. Adra, the chiropractor, recommends trying to imagine your shoulder blades sinking down into your back pockets as you shake. Also, only grip the shaker enough so it doesn't fly out of your hand, rather than a tense death grip. And consider moving slightly back and forth to distribute your weight evenly. 

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