A Spirited Celebration

New Orleans makes a toast to festive tourists

By: Paul A. Greenberg

Disaster? What disaster? New Orleans is back in extreme partying mode. The best evidence may be the upcoming fourth annual Tales of the Cocktail weekend, a four-day celebration of spirits scheduled for July 19-23. Never a town to turn down a smartly mixed libation, only in New Orleans could an entire weekend be devoted to mixologists, cocktail-book authors, festival-obsessed locals and curious tourists who prefer a respectable shot of bourbon over a Nouveau Beaujolais. Compared to last year’s about 10,000 attendees, this year’s numbers promise to swell to something closer to 15,000, according to the creative force behind this gathering, Ann Rogers.

Rogers, whose daily Southern Comfort Cocktail Tour reveals the hidden history of old New Orleans through its famous watering holes and taverns, conceived this culturally intoxicating weekend as a way to draw visitors to New Orleans, in spite of the mid-summer heat.

“It all started as a smaller event just to celebrate the first anniversary of the tour,” Rogers said, “and before I knew it, things just took off.”

The event kicks off Thursday afternoon with a “Toast to the Tales of the Cocktail” at the Hotel Monteleone, the grande dame of luxury French Quarter hotels and the event’s headquarters. Attendees are then invited to take the Southern Comfort Cocktail Tour through the French Quarter, where they will hear legendary stories about renowned and notorious historical figures and even see the birthplace of the cocktail.

Friday’s schedule is jam-packed with provocative seminars during the day, including a session on setting up a home bar, one on entertaining using spirits and another called “Bourbon Academy,” where a master distiller will explore the art of making whiskey. Early evening is taken up with “Sippin With 7,” a tour of specially designed, cocktail-themed suites at the Monteleone, one of which was created by “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” star Carson Kressley. A special showing of “The Tale of the Cocktail,” a documentary about the history and the evolution of cocktails, follows.

Saturday is filled with more seminars, most notably one on creating dessert cocktails and another called “Martinis and Makeovers,” held at an upscale day spa and offering just what the title says. “Mix it up on Magazine” is a no-holds-barred block party on historic Magazine Street that takes up most of the evening. In between there is a tequila-tasting event, a cooking class that features only recipes made with Southern Comfort and a six-hour bartender certification course.

Among the dozens of scheduled events, the Spirited Dinners on Thursday night may be the most in demand. Cocktail book authors and chefs from some of the best area restaurants combine their resources to create smart dinner pairings. Among the high-profile eateries participating this year are Brennan’s (just reopened after major post-Katrina renovations), Cafe Giovanni, Arnaud’s and Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House.

Look for a diverse group of interesting personalities, including New Orleans own “food goddess,” Lorin Gaudin, as well as the Kitchen Sisters from NPR and Jennifer English from the Food and Wine Radio Network.

Things wind down (sort of) on Sunday with a Bubbly Brunch at Arnaud’s, and a late-night Bartenders Bash at the House of Blues, giving the hardcore partiers a reason to stay until Monday or longer.

Tales of the Cocktail is a truly “forget your troubles” event. After all, as the saying goes, “Let’s have a drink. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.”

The Details

Pricing: Events are priced separately, but packages are available.

Hotel Monteleone