A BEVY of Boston bartenders — including Corey Bunnewith of Citizen Public House — descended on
New Orleans last month for the annual Tales of the Cocktail convention.
In a way, Tales of the Cocktail, a drinks convention held every July in New Orleans, is the bar industry's ultimate professional-development event. There are seminars, PowerPoint presentations, and annotated handouts. It's an Alice in Wonderland–esque pastiche of you-had-to-be-there moments. There were high-tech rotovap machines that deconstructed Scotch, and a 30-gallon Negroni, allegedly the world's largest serving of the classic Italian cocktail. There was a wedding, a funeral (for the Long Island Iced Tea), fried alligator, mechanical bulls, and Ron Jeremy on harmonica.
Boston bartenders, who were there in full force, can attest to all of it. I ran into a number of the local attendees amid the sodden madness of tasting rooms, and at parties that seemed directed by the Coen brothers and Tim Burton. And I caught them in pensive moments far from the madding crowd. Here are a few things they were up to while they shouldered the burden of high-proof.
12:16 The Pisco Pavilion is a showcase of no less than 30 brands and styles of the Peruvian brandy. Naomi Levy and Jackson Cannon, a bartender and bar director, respectively, at Eastern Standard, were hydrating Latin-style, having just arrived from a 30-hour drive in a rented van loaded with bar equipment and furniture. The props are for the Bar Room Brawl, which pits high-end bars from around the country against one another in competition. Naomi is satiated with the boiled peanuts they had at an Alabama diner, and shaken by seeing the devastation of the April tornados in Tuscaloosa.
23:36 The National World War II Museum was the backdrop for a 1940s-themed welcome party, complete with a USO-style quartet. Toro's Kirsten Amann had led a seminar that afternoon dubbed "Occupational Hazards," wherein she advised bartenders how to avoid injury. "It was a hybrid of cocktails and yoga, so I was worried people wouldn't be into it."
01:43 Chad Arnholt of Woodward at Ames looks shell-shocked staggering up to the Old Absinthe House, a 19th-century dive and Tales revelers' late, late night HQ. His white T-shirt is grenadine-splattered. "I was put to work last minute — making two rum drinks," he says of the party. "I got destroyed."
16:23 Aaron Sanders of Deep Ellum is being schooled in ancient Greek philosophy at the "What Would Aristotle Drink?" seminar. He confirms the rumor that Deep Ellum is opening a taco joint next door to their Allston bar.
17:15 There's commotion in the packed room — camera flashes aimed at mustachioed men pouring bottles of gin, Campari, and vermouth into a huge vessel made of ice.
20:42 Temple Bar's Alex Homas texts to notify me he's on the move. "Horse-drawn carriage ride to a spirited Disaronno dinner. Good way to start the evening."
23:15 On a street along the Ohio River, carriage drivers groom their animals. One top-hat-sporting guide says to another, "Hey, did you know Ron Jeremy is in town?"