May. 17. 2022|Cocktails

Tales of Tales

Trevor Kallies, Bar & Beverage Director at Donnelly Group, hopes your drinking shoes are clean, because you’re going to need them.

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Once again I find myself making a list of last minute things I need to put into place before flying to New Orleans to take part in the Cocktail Apprentice Program at Tales of the Cocktail. As this is now my 9th trip to New Orleans for Tales and 11th trip overall, I feel like somewhat of a veteran at this game.

When people hear you’re heading to New Orleans, many will offer advice, theories, suggestions and recommendations for surviving The Big Easy. But Tales of the Cocktail as a CAP, as we call ourselves, is a different game altogether, and unless you’ve experienced it for yourself, it’s difficult to prepare for. As a CAP veteran, I thought it might be useful to open my bag and show you what you’ll want to have to make the most of it. But first, you’ve got to get there.

Luckily, MSY is a great airport to fly into. You land, hit the walkway off the plane and immediately feel that heat and humidity. Once in the terminal, you hear live Jazz, smell chicory coffee and see someone crushing a beignet. Basically heaven.

From the airport to the French Quarter is about a thirty-minute drive. Airport shuttles don’t guarantee a direct drop to your hotel and Uber can be tempting, but if you want the real experience, line up for a taxi. Nine out of ten times you’ll get a great driver who’ll chat if you want to, be quiet if you don’t, or give you a rundown of the sights along the way. And you’ll want to hear the insider tips, because this city is amazing and Bourbon Street really isn’t. Support local on this one and not the Uber App.

Here’s what you’ll want to have in your bag when you get there:

Legit shoes. The streets can get pretty gnarly after it rains, which happens often. Like every day. The streets turn into rivers if it persists beyond a few minutes, and that water is beyond gross. I’d hate to be the one caught in flip flops.

Fancy duds. The Spirited Awards is a formal event, and many restaurants are so old school that jackets are required for gents and dresses for ladies. Your cutoffs and flat brim aren’t making the dress code. For the branded parties—the welcome party etc.—it’s up to you to determine how pea-cocky you want to get. Be yourself. 

Change(s) of clothes. It’s New Orleans. In July. It will be sweaty and humid outside, and then it will rain hard for about twenty minutes, usually right after you started walking somewhere. Then you’ll be back inside and in a building with AC blasting. Be Prepared—not necessarily umbrella-and-rain-suit prepared, but spare-T-shirt prepared. A sweatshirt or hoodie or both is also a good idea for those cool seminar conditions. Also, there tend to be swag everywhere, so if you’re comfortable with liquor brand displays, you can easily double your wardrobe. Some guys I know have arrived with just one T-shirt for the week and been fine.

Drinking shoes. You will be surrounded by alcohol. You will likely be drinking some (lots) of it. This does not mean you have a license to get black-out by ten in the morning. Know when to say no. Don’t be that person and don’t get to a state where you have to 86 yourself, or
worse, have a Tales Staffer 86 you. You’re encouraged to not finish every drink that gets put in your hand. I promise, there will be another one not far behind it. Also, don’t feel the pressure to drink. It’s ok to say no when someone hands you a drink.

"Some guys I know have arrived with just one T-shirt for the week and been fine."

Responsibility pants. NOLA is fun, and relatively easy-going. There are a few very definite ways to crash land, however. Go cups are great! You can wander the streets, drinking with impunity, but DO NOT BRING GLASS OUTSIDE! You will get arrested. The streets all around the quarter have mounted police, but they aren’t like ours. These are New Orleans police (aka NOPD) on huge horses, whose sole purpose is crowd control. DO NOT TOUCH THE HORSES! You will get arrested. DO NOT URINATE IN THE STREET! You will get arrested. You don’t want to end up in jail in the French Quarter, especially on a Friday night as you won’t get out until Monday.

Safety belt. It’s a big city and it is the real world, as much as it feels like a fever dream awash in a sea of mezcal, gin & Miller High Life. Be careful: travel in groups, use the buddy system, look out for your friends. Like any big city, watch your belongings, especially in crowded bars late at night. Carry minimal stuff, keep your wits about you and stow a few bucks of American cash in your shoe. Take a picture of your license, passport, etc and save it to your email, so if you do somehow lose it you at least have a digital copy. And use your hotel safe!

A spare bag. You will be showered with a literal ton of swag at Tales. It’s up to you to figure out what and how much you take back. My advice: bring a spare bag in your checked bag. Then, at the end of the week, pack all your sweaty, dirty clothes in the gym bag and pack your hard case bag with all the swag. Better yet, pack clothes that you don’t care about ever wearing again.

A charged phone. If you have an external battery charger, bring it. If you have two external phone chargers, brim them both. My iPhone spends most of the trip searching for a signal. Battery Killer.

"Also, don’t feel the pressure to drink. It’s ok to say no when someone hands you a drink."

Respect for New Orleans. This city is beautiful and amazing and full of history and culture and struggles and triumphs. If you can, check out some of the incredible cultural attractions. Enjoy the shopping on Magazine, the Music on Frenchman and the amazing modern restaurants and bars in the CBD. The daiquiri shops and Bourbon Street will be there tomorrow—save them for last call, not your first drink or the best parts of the night. That being said, I love the dive bars in New Orleans. See below.

An appetite. There are so many incredible places to eat, drink, listen to live music and otherwise engage in general tourism. If you have specific dietary restrictions (severe allergy, Halal, celiac, etc.) PLAN AHEAD and make sure you won’t DIE. Bring an epi pen if you do have an allergy. It’s also not a bad idea to eat whenever food is put in front of you. 

Every year, the international cocktail community heads to New Orleans for a week of seminars, tastings, competitions and networking events. Click here to learn more about Tales Of The Cocktail.

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