I had the incredible opportunity to travel to New Orleans in 2015 for Tales of the Cocktail with a handful of my co-workers. We had heard about the cocktail festival, but only one of us had been there before. Combine the intel from my co-worker with tons of online research and the incredible AirBnB we scored, and we were ready to go. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer magnitude of expertise, knowledge and cocktails we were all about to consume.
Tales is unlike anything I have ever experienced. One trip to the festival and I was sold. I was enamored with what it was, what it stood for, and was instantly looking forward to the next year.
Then, there were the CAPS (Cocktail Apprentice Program). I remember seeing these people in various colored coats run around with orange Home Depot buckets and trays of cocktails with a look that spoke volumes of both their excitement and the severity in each task. I wasn't entirely sure what their responsibilities were, or even how to get involved, but I knew I wanted to get there.
2016 was the year I applied to CAP. I figured there would be no way I would be accepted, but I put it all out there in my application. Fast forward months later, I received an email after dinner and literally screamed. The line, "you read that correctly - you're in!" will stick with me for the rest of my days. In time, I found I knew only a handful of people accepted, and my excitement turned to nervous energy as we neared July. I was assigned my roommate (from Hong Kong) and my squad mate (from Edinburgh) and began asking anyone I knew who had been in the program for advice. Most all of it was the same: "work hard, take care of yourself, and take care of the people around you. It will be one of the most difficult weeks of your life, but you will leave with a new family."
Upon arriving, it became instantly understood that my sentiments were echoed by every other red coat in the anxious hotel lobby. Many of us knew the gist of what we were there to do, but mostly we were a ball of nerves.
When I first sat down to write this article, I was planning to detail my tasks and the experience -- I even recorded recaps daily so I could better remember and describe the experience. By the end of the week (and in the month since), I wanted to write about the program to a different end -- what the program does to you, or what I am calling the CAP Effect.
In a week's time, I got closer to these individuals than I have with friends I have known for years. I found a support group in strangers who I now consider my family. I realized that the company the CAP program surrounded themselves with is that of truly genuine, talented, and humble individuals. I don't know how the selection process happens, but what I do know is that they found the most incredible people -- people I feel so fortunate to have gotten to know. So often we can get discouraged in this industry when we find ourselves faced with people lacking a certain level of hospitality. We feel beat down for feeling like the only people to truly care doing menial tasks behind the bar -- the things we consider to be the bare minimum requirements for our job. This program re-inspired me and made me realize that when you feel discouraged, there are so many people there for you to cheer you on and bring you back up.
The week of Tales was one of the most challenging weeks of my career. The days were long, the nights were longer and the lack of sleep can make anyone start to lose their grip on reality. The coolest thing about this experience, however, was just that. For one week, the Hotel Monteleone was our reality. We often wouldn't see the outside of the hotel until 9 or 10pm. We were lost wandering the halls on day one, and day 4, you could give a tour with our eyes closed. This experience is a test of composure, professionalism, and ability to persevere in an insanely chaotic environment. This is it. This is working with and for the best of the industry. This is what inspires us to continue. This is what we take home to our bars, to our cities, to our friends. This is the CAP Effect. The level of respect and compassion is palpable among everyone involved. As with every good organization, this is inspired by and trickles down from the top. Ann and Paul Tunnerman (the founders of Tales) were present and encouraging us every step of the way. I expected to meet them, but I didn't expect the kind of genuine interactions I had (and still have) with these incredible people.
Having had the chance to experience Tales as a guest my first year and a CAP my second year -- I can tell you -- it is two entirely different festivals, each with their own benefits. In closing, it is no surprise that I urge all of you to attend Tales and to apply for this program if you are serious about your career and your passion.
It's tough, but so worth it.