Tales of the Cocktail, the spirits industry’s top trade conference, convention and festival, kicks off in New Orleans later this month, celebrating its 20th anniversary from Monday, July 25 through Friday, July 29. The networking event and cocktail festival welcomes first-time attendees as well as industry vets, and Another Round Another Rally staff, board and advisory council members who’ve attended in the past are offering up some insight about how festival newbies might make the most of the experience.
So, before taking that first sip, learn from the pros how to stay safe, avoid over-imbibing and otherwise maximize your takeaway at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail celebration.
Tip 1: Exercise restraint
Travis Nass notes that while you can (and should!) sample everything possible during Tales of the Cocktail, there’s a difference between trying something and downing it. “No one is going to have hurt feelings if you don’t finish the drink in your hand,” he notes. While there’s no shortage of booze at Tales of the Cocktail, water and snacks are sometimes harder to come by, so be sure to get your fill whenever you find them.
Tip 2: Stay Aware of Your Surroundings
“Homie it up – especially at night,” says Amanda Gunderson, of the importance of using the buddy system and maintaining situational awareness throughout Tales, particularly after dark. She also advises attendees to travel in pairs and keep a close eye on their drinks throughout the festivities – and to avoid taking shots, which can make you more susceptible to danger.
Tip 3: Don’t buy into FOMO
It’s easy to get caught up in everything going on during Tales of the Cocktail, but avoid falling victim to FOMO, says Misty Kalkofen. Instead, create a game plan that prioritizes your interests and allows time for not only meals, but resting and recharging, too, so that you can have some staying power throughout the week-long event. Misty also recommends striking a careful balance between having a great time and maintaining a sense of professionalism to avoid any potential “morning after” regrets or embarrassment.
Tip 4: Have a plan in place
Lindsay Johnson, a 12-time Tales of the Cocktail attendee, says her most successful and enjoyable event experience occurred after she made a solid plan for the week and stuck to it. “If you sign up for a class, go to it. If you want to attend a specific event, prioritize that,” she said. “Going with the flow might be more fun in the moment, but it will often leave you regretting that class you skipped.”
Tip 5: Nap. Hydrate. Nap. Repeat.
Jackie Summers advises Tales of the Cocktail attendees to explore New Orleans beyond the French Quarter – and to nap, hydrate and nap again throughout the festivities. “No matter how many business cards you need, bring more,” he also notes. “And support the seminars – a LOT of work went into them.”
Tip 6: Stock Up on Snacks on the Way Out the Door
“Stock up on fruit and granola bars in your hotel room,” advises Kiowa Brown. She notes that, while New Orleans has some of the best food in the world, a lot of it is fried or sodium-heavy, so it’s wise to get a healthy, nutrient- and fiber-rich start first thing in the morning.
Tip 7: Talk to Your Mentors
Alli Torres recommends seizing the opportunity to meet mentors face-to-face. “This is an exciting week of meeting people IRL; ask questions!” she says. “It’s as exciting for them as it is for you!”
Tip 8: Make Decisions With a Clear Head
Alcohol and decision-making aren’t always the best mix, so before heading out, Cameron Shaw recommends asking yourself the following questions.
- “Do I have the social and emotional energy to attend this event in light of what I have on my schedule tomorrow (and subsequent days)?
- How much alcohol can I consume while still feeling up to what I need to do tomorrow?
- Do I feel confident I will be able to stick to my planned consumption limit?
- Do I have a buddy who will leave with me or encourage me to leave at a particular time or after a certain number of drinks if I need that support?
Tip 9: Wear Comfy Walking Shoes – and Watch Your Behavior
Pack your most comfortable walking or work shoes, says Geoffrey Wilson, because you’ll spend a whole lot of time on your feet. He also stresses the importance of showing respect for everyone you encounter. “Lots of people from lots of backgrounds and demographics go to Tales, and NOLA generally,” he notes. “Don’t act like a jackass.”
Tip 10: Buddy Up
New Orleans is lively from dusk ‘til dawn, but using the buddy system can help you avoid anyone who might be trying to take advantage of out-of-towners who might be under the influence – especially after dark. “Look out for each other, and if someone needs to go home, walk them back to their room,” says Eric Job. “Tales is not a time to be selfish – be a good friend.” Jim Ryan doubles down on this assertion, offering up an additional tip a New Orleans bartender once told him. “At night, walk in the middle of the street. Sidewalks are for dummies who wanna get mugged.”
Tip 11: Travel by Bike
Travel by bicycle between events and bar visits, advises Eric Alerpin. “You work off the last drink you had.”
Tip 12: Embrace the Unexpected
Jay Zimmerman notes that part of the fun of Tales is the opportunity to try something new. “I went to my first Tales alone and not knowing a soul. The bon Vivants invited me to sit with them at dinner ‘cause I was sitting alone,” he said. I have an entire city I count as really good friends because that happened.”
Tip 13: Set Realistic Expectations About Drinking
Plenty of attendees go into Tales not planning to drink, but even the best-laid plans don’t always work out as intended. If abstaining from drinking is unrealistic at a spirits industry event, advises Tess Mix, try a .5-oz. pour with soda so you can still keep your wits about you.
Tip 14: Break a Sweat Before Imbibing
Chris Hannah recommends finding at least one day to exercise during Tales, and if you can do so outdoors, so much the better. Find a place to do some yoga, or jog the trail along the river at Crescent Park that starts at the edge of the Quarter.
Tip 15: Enjoy Everything the City Has to Offer – and Get Out & See More of It!
Don’t feel pressured to attend every last event during Tales – instead, give yourself a chance to make some memories beyond the event’s borders. Lynnette Marrero advises event first-timers to take a trip to the Mardi Gras Museum or the Museum of the American Cocktail, while Amanda Gunderson recommends a visit to the Backstreet Cultural Museum to learn more about Mardigras Indians and other NOLA Black culture.
Travis Nass and Geoffrey Wilson endorse making a stop at the Whitney Plantation to get a sense of what Chattel slavery was like, while Misty Kalkofen recommends checking out the Livewire Music Calendar on the WWOZ website to see what musical acts you can catch during your stay.
While these tips should help first-timers get the most out of Tales, they’re also helpful for anyone attending the spirit’s industry’s largest annual celebration. So, this time around, be sure to hydrate, stay safe and pace yourself so you can enjoy every moment of the event – and, ideally, remember the experience!