This year’s Tales of the Cocktail conference, the first one under its new now-for-real non-profit leadership, seemed a smaller affair than usual, but more purposeful. The seminars, my main focus at Tales, only took place in the Hotel Monteleone this year, when in the past they’ve also included some large rooms at the nearby Royal Sonesta. The seminars that took place seemed as well-attended as usual, in that they were mostly sold out and the seats were mostly full. (There tends to be some no-shows due to New Orleans-related morning issues.)
The quality of content too was equal to that of past years, as the complex and often frustrating process of applying for and giving a seminar did not change from years past, and this process ensures (most) seminar moderators are not merely phoning in the work.
The lobby of the Monteleone can often feel as crowded as a nightclub during Tales, impossible to walk across without difficulty and never in a straight line. This wasn’t the case this year, and while the lobby was busy it wasn’t usually packed. That was as huge relief and a thing nearly everyone I spoke with commented on.
Many old-school regulars who attend Tales every year decided to take this year off, which didn’t make for a dearth of knowledge or talent, but seemed to open up the opportunity for new voices. I met more young touring bartenders than I have in the past- just in line for events and walking around- as well as more highly engaged enthusiasts. Rather than just trying to push through the crowds from one place to the next, you could actually chat with people as you walk.
Tales added new health and wellness programming programming this year, including seminars and special events focused on mental health, inclusivity, and free testing for Hepatitis and HIV. (Physical exercise programs and ergonomics have been added to programming a few years back.)
Those seminars/sessions, along with the alcohol-free party thrown by William Grant this year, had some industry veterans saying the programming looked a bit “preachy,” but there was no obligation to attend these events and there are plenty of alternative events and venues in which to get tipsy. As a journalist and educator with my own specialty topics of interest, I didn’t attend any of these events but they didn’t impact my experience. I'm glad they're there even if I didn't take advantage of them. I hope other people did.
Furthermore, the new organization’s good faith move of giving away $250,000 worth of grants (disclaimer: I got one) plus a $10,000 gift to the son of recently-departed bartender John Lermayer (so recently after purchasing Tales and without taking in money yet as far as I know) makes a strong statement that they’re in it for right reasons and for the long haul.
While we can’t count on the event continuing to be as compact and breezy as it was in this important transitional year, it does seem like the new Tales management is thoughtfully and carefully steering the event in the right direction. Well done.