It’s not difficult to find a party at Tales of the Cocktail, but not all of them are full-on bashes, with thousands in attendance. I was lucky enough to attend a few, each with a unique character, vibe, and purpose.
On Friday night, The Moët Hennessy USA’s Bar Room Brawl pitted six of the country’s best bars against each other in head-to-head combat, vying for a shot to become the favorite of the judges or to win the people’s choice award. Seattle’s Rob Roy represented the Northwest, San Francisco’s Beretta, the West Coast, Manifesto from Kansas City, the Midwest, Employees Only from New York City, the East Coast, Houston’s Anvil Bar & Refuge, the Southwest, and D.C.’s Passenger/Columbia Room repped the Southeast. In addition to bringing their talented bartenders, who created cocktails using 10 Cane Rum, Belvedere Vodka, Grand Marnier, and Hennessy, each bar brought elements of their home bar, providing a feel for those who haven’t yet had a chance to visit. Throngs of party-goers packed in to Generations Hall, sampling cocktails, placing their votes, and dancing until the judges reached their verdict and tallied the votes. In the end, the judges’ crowned Beretta as the Bar Room Brawl Champions, but Employees Only took people’s choice. Both bars have bragging rights until next year, when new champions will be crowned.
Saturday’s 3rd annual Pig & Punch, hosted by the Bon Vivants, has become one of the highlights of Tales, despite the fact that this year was its first as an official event. Each year, the Bon Vivants round up a group of bartenders and others to come down to NOLA a bit early to do some community service — this year they painted at the local KIPP school, who were also the benefactors of all proceeds raised from t-shirt sales at Saturday’s party. This all-day, low-key affair in Washington Square Park is always open to the community, and many locals happily joined in the festivities, feasting on the nine pigs and full-on accompanying picnic spread. No fancy cocktails here — just enormous garbage cans full of punch, keg beer, and shots of rye whiskey. As the brass band started playing, people danced or sat around in small groups on the lawn chatting, eating and drinking away the afternoon, all for a good cause.
The annual follow-up to Saturday night’s Spirited Awards and grand finale of the week, The Bartenders’ Breakfast, was rebooted this year as Juniperlooza, bringing with it a vast new space, notable barkeeps and gin galore. Over forty bartenders served up Plymouth Gin, Beefeater Dry and Beefeater 24 cocktails at the Sugar Mill, which provided ample space for a historically crowded bash. Inside, Aloe Blacc and DJ Nick Van Tiel kept revelers dancing, while outside, party-goers noshed on snacks from local food trucks, and tapped their toes to The Crooners. Everywhere you turned there was a refreshing gin cocktail to fight off the summer heat, be it a classic gin and tonic, an elaborate punch, or a simple martini. Revelers partied until the wee hours then ambled back to the French Quarter to wrap up yet another successful Tales.