Once a year, even the busiest of the nation's bartenders will somehow find a way to take a full week off from their 70- to 90-hour-a-week schedules and fly to New Orleans. It doesn't matter if that bartender just opened his first bar, or if your restaurant's bar is the most popular in the city. They will somehow find the time, and they will continually drink the entire time while there. And they will most likely have the time of their lives while doing it because they will be learning the invaluable ins and outs of the industry from vets, spirit makers, and everyone in between the chain of alcohol to consumer.
This is exactly how it goes at Tales of the Cocktail. It is my third year of attendance. I just got back and am in recovery mode.
Attending and being able to keep up with the country's absolute best bartenders is no easy feat, so I am sharing a few of my personal strategies to prepare, live through, and survive what is perhaps the funnest booze event in the world.
Don't be that idiot who ends up in jail, so remember to always respect the law. Or worse, don't be the fool who blacks out by himself somewhere.
For starters, do not try to sober up in the days leading up to the big week, hoping "this way, I can drink more while I'm there!" That strategy does not work. It will ultimately end up hurting you when you are trying to keep up with people who drink for a living are drinking.
On the contrary, you must steadily build up your tolerance as the event gets closer. When you get to Tales, you hit the ground running. On the first night, you will be anxious to party with all of your industry friends who you've only kept up with through Facebook. On that first night, you will not stop. Well, maybe at 7 AM the next morning when the programming and workshops start, you will stop.
Any Tales of the Cocktail veteran will tell you that this is the grand, unwritten rule of surviving: You don't finish drinks at Tales.
Next, make sure to pack your bags full of hangover remedies. Usually, I pack my toiletry travel bag with deodorant, a toothbrush, and the usual shit. However, for Tales, I stuff it with things like mini-Pedialyte bottles, antacid medicine, chewable Tums, and anything else that could help me deal with the bodily effects of drinking so much damn alcohol. Remember, it is equally important to party at Tales and network because you never know who you will meet. Nonetheless, you must find a balance, despite the million-dollar parties that your favorite liquor company might be throwing and the gallons of free, top-shelf booze that will be available everywhere you turn.
Get hammered, but just remember that it is not the priority.
Here is a day in the life of a bartender at Tales of the Cocktail: You will wake up and go to a breakfast event where you will start drinking cocktails in the morning. The afternoon will hit and you will keep drinking to keep the buzz going, and to prevent your body from burning out by getting sober in the middle of the day. At that point, you will resort to drinking beer to hydrate yourself. All throughout the daytime portion, you will receive mini-bottles of your friend's favorite booze. When night hits, you will go to a dinner and either drink a couple of drinks to keep the day-long buzz going, or get smashed off ten drinks.
This is the time when it starts to get tricky because you know that you should keep going all night.
It is the magic hour where you must fight yourself and be really selective of what you choose to drink. Hell, you don't even have to finish your cocktails. Any Tales of the Cocktail veteran will tell you that this is the grand, unwritten rule of surviving: You don't finish drinks at Tales.
When you get back home and come back to real life, ease back into your regular pace of drinking.
Drink what you want to drink, and then put the drink down. No one will ever pressure you or think less of you if you don't finish your cocktail at Tales. Also, as long as you stay away from drinking the frozen drinks in New Orleans—Hurricanes, frozen mai tais, Hand Grenades, purple daiquiris—you will be able to hang all day. If you must drink any of the frozen drinks—because bartenders are humans too and they do enjoy periodically indulging—do it right before you plan on taking a napping break or going to sleep at night, but only if you don't have anything else planned the following morning, because you will definitely wake up with a headache.
Also, don't be that idiot who ends up in jail, so remember to always respect the law. Or worse, don't be the fool who blacks out by himself somewhere. Pick another trip to break your phone, too.
Nearing the end of the week, you will be tired, lethargic, and truly exhausted from drinking. When you get back home and come back to real life, ease back into your regular pace of drinking. If you go cold-turkey, there's a chance you might feel a bit of alcohol withdrawal because you went so damn hard the entire time.
It's been three days since this year's event ended and I can't wait to return next year.
As told to Javier Cabral
Aaron Melendrez is an attaché for The Bon Vivants, a nationally recognized cocktail, hospitality, marketing, and design firm started by Josh Harris and Scott Baird in 2009. He is currently working with Ancho Reyes and Tequila Ocho. To keep up with Melendrez and his drinking tips, follow his Instagram account.