I spent five days last week stumbling my way through the tenth annual Tales of the Cocktail event in New Orleans and came away with some new friends, blisters on my feet, tons of new booze knowledge, and a pretty wicked hangover. I've also got memories that will last a lifetime and a renewed enthusiasm for drinking in general. (As if I needed any help on that front.) This was my first year at Tales.
I'll undoubtedly be headed back next year to do it all over again--only this time I'll be armed with a little bit more knowledge and experience to help me conquer the the Big Easy and all it has to offer.
- You will be plied with free alcohol everywhere. Under no circumstances should you finish every drink that is offered to you. (And make sure you eat breakfast.) Particularly in the seminars, where you're actually supposed to be, you know, learning stuff. I went to a beer cocktails seminar at 1pm on an empty stomach. They were handing out small cups of beer and cocktail pairs, intended to be tasted separately and then mixed together and drunk. Cut to me being mostly shitfaced at 2:30, scarfing down a po'boy on the walk back to my hotel and then passing out for a 3 hour nap. Cheers!
- RSVP to everything. You will almost certainly change your mind about what events you want to attend once you get there, or meet new people you will want to tag along with. It's way easier to get in to events if you're already on the list. (Barring that, a media pass and a friendly demeanor toward the door girl is really helpful.)
- Skip the famous Bourbon Street daiquiris. (If you're drink-savvy enough to be going to Tales in the first place you should know this already, but it bears repeating.) They're light on the booze and heavy on the sugar, and are the quickest way to a killer hangover. Better to save room for all the free drinks you can acquire out front of and inside the Hotel Monteleone, where various liquor reps will set up shop mixing beverages for passers-by.
- Drink a Ramos Gin Fizz. A delicious classic drink that's relatively hard to find here in D-town, it's widely available in New Orleans and you should seize the opportunity to enjoy one in its native land. (It was invented there in 1888 and popularized in the 1930s by Louisiana governor and eventual U.S. Senator Huey P. Long.) Your bartender will hate you because it's a pain in the ass to make, but order it anyway. The concoction of gin, lemon and lime juices, egg white, sugar or simple syrup, cream, orange flower water, and soda water makes for a creamy, dreamy, adult milkshake-esque libation that you need to try at least once. Any good bar will be using fresh shell eggs and separating them to order. Tip your bartender generously, and don't order one when the bar is totally packed.
- You will walk far, and you will walk constantly, and you will be drunk. Don't bother bringing shoes that aren't comfortable for such endeavors. I thought I'd be fancy and wear heels to a dinner, since the venue appeared to be only three or four blocks from my hotel. Wrong. I was running late, and it ended up being more like 8 blocks. I hobble-ran all the way there and no amount of alcohol could quell my throbbing toes. Stupid. (All those girls you see wearing stilettos on Bourbon Street are idiots. Or strippers, in which case they know what they're doing.)
- Talk to the locals. (Except not the barefoot ones with the crazed look in their eye.) They'll undoubtedly have some recommendations on where to go and what to eat that are a bit off the tourist-beaten path. Yes, you could stand in line for forty minutes to eat at Acme Oyster House with the rest of the out-of-towners, but then again you could also wander down an alleyway to the cozy Green Goddess and nosh on duck confit-boudin hash with sweet potato biscuits and foie gras butter. I recommend the latter.
- Late night gyros are a fantastic way of soaking up the evil alcohol mixtures that will inevitably form in one's belly by the time 4am rolls around. Juicy meat, lettuce and tomato and creamy, garlicky sauce wrapped up in a soft, fluffy flatbread (that could double as a foil-wrapped pillow if I happened to fall asleep whilst sitting on the floor eating it outside my hotel room so as not to disturb my sleeping travelmates)? Breath-wrecking perfection, I say. There's a late night spot on Bourbon Street, plus a truck that tends to hover around the big convention hotels on Canal. You'll feel a hell of a lot better in the morning if you eat one of these and guzzle a large bottle of water before passing out.