”It’s like Comic Con for bartenders”, he said. And he couldn’t have been more right.
My first day at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans was like the first day of school and I was a freshman. I wandered the halls with my schedule in hand, sheepishly asked directions to the Bonnet Carre Room with my backpack in tow. As I stood in queue waiting for the class to begin, I tugged nervously on my lone wristband. A voice nearby asked if the line I was in was for the Monongahela Whiskey class. I looked up to be greeted by a familiar face excited to see me, a friend-in-booze.
That’s how it went all week. Around every corner there was a fellow booze traveler. I chatted with bloggers, got to know hometown enthusiasts and solidified online friendships. Suddenly Tales of the Cocktail wasn’t so scary, it was like coming home. Where had I been?
Much of my memory of day one is a blur thanks to one too many tasting rooms. On day two I learned my lesson. Water was my new best friend and I shoveled every morsel of free food I could find into my face. By day three, I was an old hat at this. I zipped from my seminars to tasting rooms to cocktails with friends and back again. I made it to bed by 1am and found fondness in 20 minute naps.
Try as I might, I may never manage to put the allure of cocktails into proper words, but at Tales of the Cocktail I didn’t need to. Those of us that have accepted this calling (bartenders, distillers, writers and enthusiasts), we just get IT and with that, we get each other. There is a love there that instantly makes us family. The best example is when I met up with fellow instagramers. We had never met nor spoken before, but the connection was instant. We eased into friendship naturally, brought together by our mutual passion for the world of alcohol.
On the last day, I walked into Hotel Monteleone to be greeted for the first time to an empty lobby; the bookstore all packed away. The market was nowhere to be found, no pop up shops or coffee stands. The Carousel bar turned quietly. It was enough to make me question, “Did it all really happen?”
In the five days of Tales I learned a lot, both about cocktails and myself. I learned that I do have a voice and more courage than I ever gave myself credit for. I learned that I will sing 80’s music at the top of my lungs and dance unapologetically wherever I go. I learned that there are others out there that love spirits and cocktails as much, if not more, than I do.
I left Tales with a bigger heart, lofty goals, and a hangover that will take weeks to shake. I don’t know what the upcoming year will bring; I only have hopes. What I can say, is that if I fail to return next year, it will be with the greatest of reluctance.