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Notes From Tales of the Cocktail 2014, Part One

Photo: Brasted

And it begins.

Tales of the Cocktail is a four-day, booze-filled whirlwind of liquor of all kinds, food, parties, tattoos, mustaches, swag, and hangovers. Eater is here to report on the first two full days of the event, so you can feel like you were there without wanting to die in the morning.

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The adventure kicked off in the Bywater at the infamous Country Club, where Appleton Estate Rum took over the pool area to serve frozen fruity rum drinks and rum lemonade or iced tea made to order. You could also get a fresh squeezed cup of sugar cane juice, which gave the cocktails a curious level of depth when enterprising partygoers experimented on their own.

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After enjoying Paloma cocktails on the shuttle bus, guests were treated to Appleton towels, flip-flops, and a Jamaican feast of goat curry, plantains, peas and rice, and jerk chicken. Reggae tunes filled the air while folks jumped in the pool either fully clothed or in bathing suits. Eater did not personally witness the Country Club's usual nude bathing, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen.

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The official kickoff and toast occurred as usual on the steps of host Hotel Monteleone. After Tales Prom Couple Ann and Paul Tuennerman welcomed the crowd with this year's signature cocktail, a Hurricane Caesar created by Joe Cammarata, announced Mexico City as the next Tales on the Road destination, and honored Apolline Restaurant, Booty's Street Food, Dickie Brennan's Tableau Restaurant, Katie's Restaurant and Bar, and Oxalis with the 2014 Seal of the Sazerac award, which certifies they make a kickass and traditional Sazerac.

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The toast was interrupted by the embodiment of Harvey Wallbanger, who brought along a Galliano-sponsored go-go party flash mob, much to the delight of the crowds on Royal Street.

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After an afternoon of tasting rooms and seminars, Tales attendees primped for Absolut's annual Welcome Party, with its usual off the wall theme. This year's theme appeared to be "where circus freaks make groceries" since the creepy carnival setup outside morphed into a weirdly disturbing 1950s supermarket motif as guests wandered into the Grand Oaks Mansion.

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Upstairs was the Absolut 54 homage to disco, with roller skaters, cage dancers, and lemondrop shots served in prescription bottles.

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After the Absolut party, shuttle buses whisked Tales partiers away to... the airport. Lakefront Airport, a mostly charter flight airport evokes the glamorous age of air travel, with its beautiful Art Deco archetectual touches and hand painted murals. The theme of the always eagerly anticipated William S. Grant & Sons sponsored party was "Around the World with Charles H. Baker Jr.," honoring the world traveler and food and drink writer of the 1920s and 30s.

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The Grant portfolio includes a wide variety of liquors which lent themselves to the diversity of cocktails that were served throughout the airport in nooks and corners and rooms that represented historically famous bars from Mexico, Singapore, and Morocco. There was a classic ice cream soda jerk bar and a dark and mysterious jazz bar, and an elegantly appointed Christmas room. The costumes, food, and drinks were all on point and just a lot of fun to experience.

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Did we mention there was a camel?

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For those that stayed late and knew where to go, a secret and special pop-up bar within the party was hosted by the reunited bar crew from NYC's Fort Defiance, where Sobou's Abigail Gullo worked before moving down here. The pop-up served Barbados Buck, Tom Collins, Daiquiris and strawberry infused tequila cocktails, and reportedly, cocktail writer, historian, and all around badass David Wondrich was mighty impressed with the Fort Defiance crew's skill with the cocktails as well as their sense of fun and adventure. Gullo says of the event within the event, "we had a vision. A vision of a Charles H. Baker party with sleep no more. The Fort Defiance pop up was the last remnant that survived the party. Did it happen? Who knows! If you were lucky enough to be there, you knew."

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Thursday would have to be more sedate, right? Right? Ha, ha, just kidding. Between all the tasting rooms - the one hosted by the Alcohol Professor was interesting in that it featured a diverse array of products chosen as the top winners from the New York International Spirits Competition and Berlin International Spirits Competition - and events like the Absolut Elyx Cocktail Hour, the Hennessy event at Arnaud's, and another round of seminars like Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's "Which Rum Which Cocktail and Why?" and the James Bond themed "Bottled in Bond- Ian Fleming & 007" it took everything to stay focused for one of the many Spirited Dinners that night followed by the Bacardi portfolio party, "Awaken Your Spirit."

The spirited dinners covered a large range of liquors and themes. The "Big Lebowski" themed event, held appropriately at bowling alley-bar-restaurant Fulton Alley encouraged costumes (what a relief to throw on a bathrobe and be in costume!) and provided decorative touches like a replica of the rug as a placemat and folgers cans as centerpieces. The tea with peach infused Tito's was a huge hit as well as the andouille tater tots and the pork belly sliders.

Twelve Mile Limit's "Motorcycle Diaries" themed dinner sold out early and did not disappoint. Owner Cole Newton said that the drinks were killer, the food was excellent, and the service was smooth. "The highlights for me were Ryan Maybee's Darkhand Strawman, with Flor de Cana, Balvenie 14yr Caribbean Cask, and house made strawberry rhubarb soda. For food it was a toss up between the St. Louis style ribs and the Louisiana BBQ shrimp."

Time to dance the food coma out at Generations Hall with the Bacardi party with a spirit animal theme like horse or butterfly. The event featured Bacardi rum of course, along with Grey Goose vodka and Bombay Sapphire gin. DJ Soul Sister whipped the crowd into a dancing frenzy with her mad skills on the turntable. It was a good crowd, with a little something for everyone. And the masks they passed out were a little freaky, in a fun way.

Only half way done, so stay tuned on Monday for the wrapup!

· All TOTC coverage [-ENOLA-]
· All Hangover Observations [-ENOLA-]

— Nora McGunnigle

[All photos: Brasted]