Behind the Bar The Business of the Bar

15 Essential Tips for Tales of the Cocktail First-Timers

Now in its 14th year, Tales of the Cocktail has proven itself to be a lot of things: the foremost cocktail conference in the country, one of the best places to make drinks-world connections, and home to some of the smartest seminars about tippling in the world.

If it’s your first year, though, things can seem a little daunting—and that’s not counting the other 16,999 people vying for space at bars across the city.

First, there are the seminars, and it can be hard to decide what’s really ideal to attend. There are the parties—and a lot of parties—that tumble into the wee small hours of the morning. Of course, the hangovers (naturally) catch up with you. By the time the Bartenders Breakfast rolls around on late Saturday night, you’re probably too exhausted to have another drink.

But we can help. There are plenty of seasoned veterans ready to help you make the smartest decisions possible to ensure you learn and enjoy as much as possible during your first time at the rodeo. Here, five Tales old-timers share how to make the most of your inaugural trip. Just think, next year you’ll be able to hand out some stellar advice of your own.

Prairie Rose

Erick Castro (Polite Provisions, San Diego)

“One of the things that’s important for first-timers is to make sure you’re prioritizing what you really have to do, because it can be overwhelming. The best way to do this is to put your priorities in tiers: stacking them in order of three ‘must-do’ events, then three ‘really want to do’ events and then three ‘if I have time’ events. That will make it so much more manageable. I think if people go with the mindset that they can do everything they’re going to end up missing the thing that they really want to do. You’re not going to hit every event. My first year, I thought that I could be Superman and do that, and I don’t even think I went to a single seminar.

“Everyone’s going to tell you this, but Gatorade and ibuprofen are your best friends.

“Make your reservations for restaurants in advance. If you’re [in New Orleans] and want to go to a place like Cochon and try to make reservations then, it’ll probably be too late. Plan ahead on that.”

Ivy Mix (Leyenda, Brooklyn)

“Don’t have FOMO. Everyone is drunk and probably won’t notice or care if you’re at this party or that party or not. So go home and sleep. I think most of the problems people fall into at Tales are due to lack of sleep. Get it!

“Leave the French Quarter! Don’t just get wrapped up in the parties and stuff; just go see New Orleans. New Orleans is beautiful, and few people at Tales get to really experience it.”

Arpad Benedek

Ezra Star (Drink, Boston)

“The most important thing to remember when visiting Tales for the first time is to make friends with everyone, because you never know who is staying in a hotel with a great pool.”

Bobby Heugel (Anvil, Houston)

“Consider renting a bike. Getting from one Tales event to another, when events can be strewn about the city in several different neighborhoods, can be hard. Finding a taxi can be especially challenging when a thousand people get out of the same event at once. Just be sure to leave that bike alone when you’ve had enough to drink.

“Speaking of drinking too much, take at least one whole day off from drinking at Tales, preferably during the middle of the week. Your body needs to recover, and personally, I have a better time when I feel fresh, not perpetually hungover. If you don’t think it’s possible, I went the entire week last year without a single sip of alcohol.

“Sit in the front row at seminars, and use a voice recorder. Some of the seminars at Tales are literally the only chance you’re going to get to hear these individuals discuss some of these topics. Taking notes is great but hard when tired (or hungover).

Brothers Fried Chicken will save your life! Is it the best chicken in New Orleans? Hell, no! But it’s open all night and one block east of Canal and Bourbon Streets. Finding late-night food can be surprisingly difficult, but you can always count on Brothers to save you at night (and maybe punish you in the morning, but desperate times call for desperate chicken measures).”

Bobby Heugel advises renting a bike because events can be scattered throughout the city and getting a taxi can be difficult. Peeter Viisimaa

“Try to find an event to work. Tales is a huge undertaking with lots of people working behind the scenes. Be one of them! Help a friend with an event if possible. You’ll meet new people, drink less and get to see how other people work professionally. My best memories at Tales are working events with others, not drinking at 3 a.m. at Old Absinthe House.”

Franky Marshall (Le Boudoir, Brooklyn)

“Try to get out of the French Quarter to see other parts of the city. I usually spend the Monday after Tales strolling along Magazine Street checking out the stores.

“Seeing live music is a must, and yes, you should be dancing! Try the bars along Frenchmen Street or Fritzel’s [on Bourbon Street] for more classic New Orleans–style jazz.

“Get to know Verti Marte. You’ll be thankful you did when you’re craving a snack at 4 a.m. And you don’t need to hang out at The Alibi until 6 a.m. every morning. You just don’t.

“Don’t forget to stay hydrated. Drink that water!”