In a few short days, I will be departing for New Orleans for my sixth expedition to Tales of the Cocktail, and hopefully many of you will be joining me. For my first trip back in 2009, I was unsure what to expect and merely booked a round-trip flight and a room and bought tickets to five talks and two events for me and my wife. (Actually, when I booked them, she was not my wife yet, for we had planned to elope in the Big Easy that Wednesday of Tales.) Besides that, I had a short list of museums and bars to go to that I had scoured off the web. Luckily, the bartenders and drink enthusiasts from here in Boston helped us find our way, snuck us into parties using Jedi mind tricks, and pointed us towards new places to visit across town.
Even as a Tales veteran, the event can be disorienting and overwhelming. Unlike events such as Camp Runamok--where the choice is to go to the pool party or just stay in your cabin and sleep--at Tales, there are lots of events, talks, seminars, parties, and tasting rooms all going on simultaneously as well as bars, restaurants, museums, concerts, and dips in the pool across town that are sometimes available around the clock.
So, like last year, I felt that I ought to provide advice on how to navigate the opportunity: for not just fun, but career advancement... and to avoid some perils along the way.
1. Safety first
Two things I would like to warn you about are: hydration and crime... before we get into the fun stuff.
Between all of the drinking that might go on, as well as the near-tropical heat, stay hydrated!
Everything is working against you to keep water in your body. Indeed, all week long, there will be more opportunities to drink alcohol than the body can physically handle, so consider passing on rounds or seeking low or no alcohol alternatives here and there. While I’m on the topic of ingestion, remember to eat along the way. While you should definitely take time to visit the fine dining establishments across town, do not neglect Poboys and other quick foods to fortify you before or during carousing adventures.
New Orleans has the highs of culture all mingled in with the lows of violent crime. Keep alert. And please travel in groups, taxis, or Ubers if you are less citywise. Or even if you are citywise. And do not let anyone bet you as to where you got your shoes. I’ll save you $20 and tell you that they’re on the street.
2. Improve yourself and your career
Besides being a great zone of fun and frivolity, Tales of the Cocktail is a great place to improve yourself and your career.
In terms of education, seek out a talk or three in regard to technique, history, culture, and team building to advance your way of thinking about your job and to improve your guests’ and co-workers’ experiences at your bar. Education occurs even outside of the seminars such as in the tasting rooms where you can learn about new products and discuss the history and production of the spirits. Moreover, all along the way, there are peers and mentors to discover who love talking about their experiences and problem solving your concerns.
3. Remember to network!
This week is a great time to make connections all across the country (and even in different countries), whether to set up guest bartending shifts, discover new Instagrams and blogs to follow, or find new destinations for getaways. Some of the networking can be more immediate, such as how my wife, in 2010, was on a quest to learn about old New England Rum... which led her from Wayne Curtis to Beachbum Berry to receiving an invitation to a private tasting at rum collector Steve Remsberg’s house a few days after Tales was over. Other networking has been more long-term, such as getting my drinks and techniques written up by authors and journalists later on.
The bottom line is: do not be shy about approaching people, even if they are your idols.
While some famous people enjoy the praise, others are more humble about it. In one case, I approached a bartender and told him that I loved making his drink recipes at home, and he made me pause and asked that we restart this introduction on more neutral terms so that we could be peers. Likewise, you might be recognized by cocktail enthusiasts, writers, or bartenders, so remember some humility when the tables are reversed and look to make their moment a pleasant one.
4. Do not overlook business cards
With the world of mobile devices upon us, adding people to your LinkedIn or Facebook on the fly is rather helpful, but it is not necessarily appropriate for all situations. Do not overlook the old school world of business cards, and I recommend getting some printed up if there is still time. Since the week is often filled with much distraction and moments of unclarity, consider writing a few words on the card to help trigger a memory of who this person was and what the conversation was about in case you made plans to reach out to them in the future. Some of these mnemonic devices have stuck with me, such as the PR person in 2009 who has been quite valuable over the years. was the “lady in purple dress” (when I brought that up a few years ago, she expressed her love of that garment).
Finally, consider following up with a thank you email to reconnect when things are calmer.
5. Thursday Night Tradition (aka TNT)
As for meeting up with other USBG members, one solid tradition is the sponsored Midnight Toast on Thursday Night.
While there is a street level gathering on Bourbon Street outside the Old Absinthe House, there is an invitation-only related event across the street that is worth seeing--if you can score a wristband.
6. Act with dignity
Pretend that your potential future employers, employees, and guests are watching.
You represent your current establishment everywhere you go, so act with dignity. This does not mean that you should not enjoy yourself a bit at the appropriate times, but keep things positive. Treat others at the event including the establishments you visit with kindness, for how you behave shows a window not only into your soul, but it projects the sense of hospitality one can expect in your bar or restaurant. Moreover, treat the hospitality workers in New Orleans with respect. This is their home and their jobs, and as a member of the Bartenders’ Guild, this should make perfect sense.
7. Diversify your adventures in New Orleans
I highly recommend diversifying your adventures in the city between Tales events and what New Orleans has to offer (unless you can make it down again during the other 51 weeks of the year). Use Tales events as a springboard for a spontaneous trip to a great dive bar, like the Erin Rose. Or a sketchy one, like the Dungeon. Or perhaps one with music, such as DBA. Or use it as a way to plan adventures to great drinking destinations like the Cure or Bacchanal. These adventures took me to places that I had never heard about, and introduced me to adventure-mates that I have kept in contact with since. One of them from last year introduced me to the wonders of the Frozen “Daiquiri” (that never seems to melt).
8. No more FOMO
With so much going on, there is definitely a fear of missing out. Each of my five trips to Tales has been very different, and any of them could have been played out a hundred different ways. Even if social media images or word-of-mouth of missed opportunities are all around you, do not fret. If your week is full and otherwise pleasurable, do not over-think what could have been. Moreover, do not try to overplan or pack more adventure than your body can handle. The whole week itself is a marathon (not a sprint), so find your rhythm and find your pace. It is essential that you listen to your body and still get enough sleep, food, and non-boozy liquids to keep yourself from getting sick. Fear of missing out is real if you are not there though; in that case, consider saving up money, asking for time off, and planning on going to Tales next year. And there are also other great events for bartenders and enthusiasts throughout the year, so you can still have your chance later at a different venue.
9. Pack your bags
In the few days prior to departure (besides getting business cards printed), consider planning out your packing list.
Some things I recommend are:
[ ] Umbrella
[ ] Portable cell phone battery charger
[ ] Moleskin and pen for notes
[ ] Sensible shoes
[ ] Sun hat
[ ] Bathing suit (for pool parties)
[ ] Advil (or your own favorite hangover cures, although there is a CVS right near the Monteleone)
If you are buying a lot of Pedialyte at CVS, the store clerk might wish your son or daughter well, and you can decide whether or not to tell them that your child is called the hangover. Furthermore, the Tales of the Cocktail app is useful to download so you can plan your week out appropriately, and then receive reminders. Moreover, try to check in with Tales of the Cocktail at the Monteleone to get your wristband and other materials as soon as you can on Tuesday. Many try to check in on Wednesday so that they can go to their first talk only to meet a line stretching down the hall and through the lobby.
Fred’s New Orleans favorites:
- Avenue Pub: A 24-hour craft beer bar that has one of the most informative beer menus that I have seen.
- Courtyard Brewing: A great brewery taproom for a relaxing pint or two. Food trucks park out in front.
- Sidney’s on Decatur: My favorite package store to get local craft brews to enjoy as legal street beers (remember that cans are your friends and bottles are frowned upon).
- Surrey’s on Magazine: My favorite breakfast spot
- Erin Rose: My favorite beat-the-heat spot for frozen Irish Coffees! The sandwiches from Killer Poboys in the back half of the space are worth checking out too.
- Craft cocktail destinations: the Cure, Cane & Table, Bar Tonique, and Arnaud’s French 75.
- Latitude 29: a world class Tiki bar run by Tiki historian Beachbum Berry. Careful how much you drink there as getting up off of the barstool can often be an adventure.
- Late night hangs: Barrel Proof for whiskey and beer, Bar Tonique, and the Black Penny.
- Best neighborhoods for sightseeing outside of the Quarter: Marigny for the colorful architecture meeting nature, and the Garden District for opulence.
- Subway on Royal Street: favorite for getting quick food and running back to the Monteleone. I used to make fun of writer Camper English for partaking of chain-food in NOLA when the city has so many offerings, but it comes in handy when the other option was not eating or missing a seminar or other event. Also, it is great to support a company that was founded in my hometown of Milford, CT.