Tales of the Cocktail is a week-long festival for all things spirited that occurs each July in New Orleans. It brings in thousands of bar industry professionals and cocktail enthusiasts from all over the world, and ensures they’ve got plenty to drink, with hundreds of seminars, tasting rooms, parties, and other events.
It’s a damn good time, but it can also be overwhelming if you’re not prepared. Fortunately, you’re going to be prepared.
With a combined 13 years of experience at Tales of the Cocktail, Sara Gorelick and Diana Novak give newcomers and repeat visitors their top tips for visiting the Crescent City in July. Heed their advice, and your Tales of the Cocktail is sure to be a successful one.
Your Tales of the Cocktail Survival Guide
1) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Imagine walking through a hair dryer on full blast, and you’ll get a sense of what the sauna-like conditions are in Louisiana during summer. It will hit you in the face the moment you arrive, so make sure to stock up on water, and order a glass every chance you get. You won’t realize how much water you’re losing throughout the day. By all means, taste plenty of cocktails, and enjoy an ice cold Abita, but remember that booze won’t keep you hydrated. Water is your best friend.
2) Sleep. For most, attending Tales isn’t a relaxing vacation. There is literally something festival-related happening every hour from the early morning to the early morning. But don’t skimp on shuteye. Try to get a reasonable amount of sleep each night so you can function the next day. And if you’ve got time to build in a nap between events, an air-conditioned hotel room isn’t a bad place to spend a couple hours during the hottest time of the day.
3) Dress the part. New Orleans summers demand comfortable, breathable attire. Nighttime lows are in the 80s with 100% humidity, so you’ll never not be hot. Which means it’s a real two-outfits-per-day town. Wear something light and casual during the day, then dress it up a little at night for dinners and parties. And wear comfortable shoes, or your night will end earlier than you’d like.
4) Pack like a Boy/Girl Scout. Be prepared for any opportunity, from a pool party to a more formal affair. And while you’re packing, leave some room in your suitcase, because brands regularly give out free swag like T-shirts and barware.
5) Eat. You’ll be in one of the greatest food cities in the world, so take advantage. Leave a few meals free to break away from the organized events, and patronize the local restaurants for a muffaletta, jambalaya, oysters, and other New Orleans specialties. And start at least one morning with strong coffee and beignets. Attending a 10am tasting covered in powdered sugar is a Tales rite of passage.
6) Stock your room with snacks. Upon checking into your hotel, hit up a nearby grocery store for bottled water and snacks. That will keep you from making bad decisions once you stumble back to your room. And should you wake up in the middle of the night requiring a cold drink and something in your stomach, a bag of pretzels or protein bar will do the trick—and cost a lot less than the mini bar.
7) Download the app. Keep track of your events, and always know what’s going on with the official Tales of the Cocktail app. It’s an easy resource for compiling everything into once place, including your tickets, and knowing your options at any time of day.
8) Bring a portable phone charger. Between calls, texts, emails, hailing cars, taking notes, Instagramming something amazing, and using that app, your phone’s battery will be under siege. Power up that portable charger, and keep it on you.
9) Don’t forget the SPF. Right, it’s going to be hot. And sun is bright. Combine all that with a few too many cocktails, and your body may soon regret getting out of bed. So take the proper precautions to protect your skin.
10) Exercise. Don’t drop your workout routine just because you’re traveling. If you get moving early in the morning, take a stroll along the riverfront. Many of the hotels have gyms, and plenty more have pools. Swimming is a good way to stay cool while getting a total body workout. You can even enjoy the pool bar once you’ve put in your laps.
11) Ask questions. There are no stupid questions (well, for the most part), so don’t feel shy. Especially in the tasting rooms, where you might be experiencing a new spirit for the first time. Ask questions about whatever interests you, and you’ll find brand ambassadors and producers eager to help.
12) Take a chance. So you couldn’t get a ticket to that most-desired seminar. It’s okay, show up anyway. “Sold out” doesn’t always mean sold out. People get busy, sign up for too many events, or otherwise skip events, so seats often open up to the next in line. The parties can be more difficult, and usually require showing up early to wait in line. So while the parties are amazing, so is the city. If you can’t get into the big parties, find a smaller one. Or visit one of the many good cocktail bars around town. Drink a Sazerac or a Vieux Carre at the Carousel Bar. Swing by the Old Absinthe House. Eat a late-night po’ boy. Or just go back to your hotel and get some sleep. These are all fine options.
13) Don’t get overwhelmed. There are tasting rooms, seminars, lunches, dinners, parties, pools, Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street, Freret Street, and more. You don’t have to do it all at once, or even this year. Don’t feel bad if you miss out on an activity. You’re not going to be bored, and there’s always next year.
So laminate these tips and keep them in your pocket (or just commit them to memory), then get out there, try something new, make some friends, and enjoy yourself. You’ll be okay, we promise.