Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What I'll do on my Summer Vacation

Tales of the Cocktail is one of the coolest parties of the year, and like the other ones (Royal Ascot, for instance) the sheer numbers of the thing astound. Last year in the big old Monteleone, all white and gold and aggressively air conditioned, well over 12,000 attendees went through 6,000 pounds of ice,  8085 mint leaves, 61 cases of Limes, and 23 pounds of Cucumbers. (The year before they used 800 watermelon cubes and 560 gin soaked dried cherries: You could follow trends in the cocktail world by watching these numbers change.)

At Tales, the public gets a great show, some wonderful opportunities, and many tasty cocktails. but while it is a good festival, it must be noted that the drinks crowd  — the writers, importers, distillers, reps, bar owners, mixologists, and retailers — dominates the scene. (At one point in a seminar last year a young woman prefaced her comment with “I don’t work in the industry, I actually pay for my drinks.” This was met with thunderous applause.) Strange celebrities of the world of intoxicants hustle through the halls, doing the West Wing walk-and-talk like besotted advisors to some mad campaign.  You can’t throw an ice cube without hitting a smartly dressed woman wobbling on high heels and shilling for a new liqueur. And everywhere, the best bartenders in the nation, looking exhausted, dirty, and hungover, shaking up drinks for us. (How exhausted, dirty, and hungover can a bartender be? Ask Patrick DeWitt.)

Throughout the hotel, liquor companies sponsor suites and offer tastings of their products and their signature cocktails. The ballrooms are converted to tasting arcades, with expectant bartenders working the tables like craft fair merchants, their offerings laid out before them. Last year was heavy on the cucumber and St. Germaine. 
    In the midnight hours, more suites, invitation only after-parties and after-after parties that roll on until everyone finally falls down.
    Tales starts Wednesday, and as of that moment every serious bar in the nation will be run by the third string. If you’re looking to get more than a Gin and Tonic or a shot and beer, you better come down to New Orleans to get it.
    I plan to post to the Ocean quite a bit while I'm there — even if I have to cover an eye to see straight. Wish me luck.