Big Weekend: Tales Of The Cocktail 2012
New Orleans hosted THE drinking event of the year
Cedd Moses hands me a bottle of Jameson on my way up to the private space above One Eyed Jacks, a rowdy bar and music venue off Toulouse Street in the French Quarter. I’m there to celebrate with Moses, whose bar The Varnish in Los Angeles has taken home the Best American Cocktail Bar award just a few hours before.
The bottle handoff is the last thing I remember before waking up in my hotel room — lights on, TV on, suit on, shoes on — two hours before my flight home, causing an oh fuck moment that can only come at the end of a 48-hour trip to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. We won’t talk about the plane ride.
Tales, celebrating its 10th year this past week, is like math camp for bartenders. During the day, there are serious panels and seminars with titles like "Salt & Bubbles" and "Pisco Wars: Peru vs. Chile Since 1613." Like camp, there are cliques and crews — mostly divided by geography. The San Francisco craft distillers here, the Chicago bourbon geeks there. And at night there is plenty of partying. It's professional partying, which is where the trouble can start.
As one of the Food Republic editors, I was in New Orleans to meet with some writers (drinks were involved) and work on some stories to hit this here website in the near future (rabbit jambalaya and more drinks were involved).
But I was also on hand to attend the 2012 Spirited Awards, which is basically the Oscars of the bartending world and one giant party that featured pyrotechnics, group shots (like 1,100 people doing a shot), teary acceptance speeches, fist pumps, crushing disappointment, a few make-out sessions and a crowd of some of the most passionate (and good looking) people you will find anywhere. Some highlights from the awards, hosted by Drinking Made Easy star Zane Lamprey and Food Republic columnist / very well-liked man Simon Ford:
- At previous Tales of the Cocktails, I had skipped the Spirited Awards for a variety of reasons. Mostly because I heard that they were painfully long and light on food. This was most certainly not the case this year. Before the ballroom doors flung open, the crowd gathering at the Hyatt Regency padded with sliders and mini grilled cheese sandwiches during a well-placed kickoff reception.
- We’ve said it before. We devoted a week to the subject. But London, London, London! It’s the most progressive cocktail city in the world. At the top of the show, Zetter Townhouse won the World’s Best New Cocktail Bar. Shoreditch boite Callooh Callay won World’s Best Cocktail Menu. Salvatore at Playboy Club London won Best Drinks Selection. Owner Salvatore Calabrese was absent, and likely selling one of his £2,500 Sazeracs back in London. International Bartender of the Year went to Alex Kratena of the Langham Hotel. And the big award of the night, World’s Best Cocktail Bar, went to The Connaught Bar at the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair. Head bartender Ago Perrone was on hand to accept. Damn, London.
- The videos introducing many of the awards were funny, with shockingly high production value. Nice work. Some of my favorites were Sh*t Brand Ambassadors Say, Ambassablanca, a funny poke at high vs. low volume bars, and Dale DeGroff giving Tom Cruise some much-needed advice.
- Food Republic columnist Dan Dunn presented the Best New Product Award with an off-color joke too hot for prime time (to print here). Cognac Pierre Ferrand 1840 Formula took home the honors.
- Bitters master and one of the industry’s few true Yoda-characters Gary “Gaz” Regan was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Everybody stood up and clapped for a long time.
- Media got in on the awards action too. Best Cocktail Writing (Non Book) went to Liquor.com (big ups to our friends!), presented by last year's winners Imbibe Magazine. Best Cocktail Writing (Author) went to Gary Regan. And Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book was won by Chis Gall and Jim Meehan for their impressive PDT Cocktail Book.
- Each table was given their own punch bowl. The gin one went over better than the mescal one. But both were consumed. Obvs.
- American Bartender of the Year was won by Joaquin Simo of New York’s Death & Co., a rare highlight for a city that was basically shut out. Boston’s Eastern Standard won for Best High Volume Cocktail Bar. San Francisco’s Slanted Door won Best Restaurant Bar.
- The big American award — Best American Cocktail Bar — was won by The Varnish. A major statement for a city much less known for their serious mixology. They beat out Anvil Bar & Refuge (Houston, Texas), Clover Club (Brooklyn, New York) and the Columbia Room (Washington, D.C.).
This brings me to my stop at One Eyed Jacks, which comes after a stop at Simon Ford’s epic after-party Juniperlooza, held at the sprawling Sugar Mill. I spot bartenders from around the country celebrating Los Angeles’ big win. There’s lots of backslapping. A guy I barely know gives me a bro-hug. It’s all very friendly, this mixology world, and true to the hospitality part of the term hospitality business. (The James Beard Awards, by contrast, is a more stoic, chillier affair). It’s like a family that everybody is born into. But only the most devoted members show up to the reunion. And what a party it is.
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