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Tales of the Cocktail May Get Some Cocktail Conference Competition

A new cocktail conference debuts in Chicago in May

Promotional buttons from Tales of the Cocktail

After 16 years of dominating the cocktail conference scene, New Orleans-grown Tales of the Cocktail may get some competition.

The New York Times reports that a new cocktail conference with a very similar structure (seminars, parties, competitions) will debut in Chicago from May 7 through 10 after the gala for the James Beard Awards. Tales of the Cocktail takes place in New Orleans in July.

The conference, Chicago Style, was founded by Shelby Allison (co-owner of the Chicago tiki bar Lost Lake), Caitlin Laman (beverage director at the Ace Hotel), and Sharon Bronstein (director of marketing for the 86 Co.).

Though the organizers say they began planning the conference early last year, before controversy blanketed Tales of the Cocktail, some of it does seem to be a direct response to the events that rocked Tales.

“Where we will differ from other conferences is the diversity of our panelists and participants, and our inclusion of discussions directly addressing race, gender and sexual identity within these panel topics,” co-founder Shelby Allison told the New York Times.

The only panelist quoted in the New York Times story was Ashtin Berry, who said that “panels will include one on the ‘cross section between race, gender, sexuality within the hospitality community.’” Berry, a bartender who recently moved to New York, made headlines during the height of the Tales controversy after she invited Ann Tuennerman to participate in a “public unpacking.” The two did, indeed, speak in a widely publicized Facebook live video.

Tales of the Cocktail saw a storm of criticism in March of 2017 after a video of founder Ann Tuennerman wearing Zulu blackface was posted on Facebook. Zulu, the oldest and largest black Mardi Gras krewe in New Orleans, asks its riders to wear a particular style of blackface regardless of their race.

The main point of contention were the comments Paul Tuennerman made while interviewing Ann Tuennerman in the video. This led to the development of a diversity counsel, a broader conversation about inclusivity in the bartending industry, and ultimately, to both Ann and Paul Tuennerman’s resignations.

Since then, Tales of the Cocktail announced it will be sold to the Soloman family and Neil Bodenheimer in New Orleans and turned into a non-profit. On the other hand, Chicago Style will be a for-profit organization with plans to donate some of the proceeds to charitable organizations.

Whether this new conference will post a significant challenge to the viability of the 16 year-old Tales of the Cocktail or whether the two can easily co-exist remains to be seen, though Tales says it welcomes the newcomer to the scene.

“We have enjoyed working with a number of regional gatherings for many years now. We are happy to see that the cocktail conference world is expanding and many of our partners, like Causing A Stir and others, are continuing to grow their footprint nationally. Tales is pleased to have given them a platform to broaden the conversation,” Tales of the Cocktail said in an emailed statement to Eater New Orleans today.

“Tales of the Cocktail 2018 is moving forward full steam ahead. We are excited to welcome all industry professionals and cocktail enthusiasts from every corner and background of our industry back to New Orleans in July as the city celebrates her 300th birthday. It will be one of our best conferences yet.”

Tales of the Cocktail will take place July 17 through 22 in New Orleans.


A New Cocktail Conference With a Political Twist [NYT]

New Women-Led Chicago Cocktail Conference to Tackle Diversity and More [EATER CHICAGO]

New Chicago Cocktail Conference to Address Industry’s Inclusion Issues [CHICAGO TRIBUNE]

Tales of the Cocktail Sees Storm of Criticism [ENOLA]