Over six days in New Orleans last week, the craft cocktail world assembled for the annual blowout. Alas, Tales of the Cocktail 2019 is now but a memory.. In recent years, a favorite pastime at Tales was speculating about the future of Tales. In 2019, consensus was that the Tales organization has decided upon a destination.
Where the annual event winds up remains to be seen, but several signals were loud and clear at this year’s event. Overall, a public emphasis on professionalism for the industry and organization was the week’s overarching takeaway. Below is a breakdown of the key trends that we saw at the 2019 festival.
In the past, Tales has largely been concentrated in the host hotel, a small group of craft bars, NOLA’s “hot” bar that year, the Erin Rose, and inexplicably the Alibi. While all those venues were still plenty full, 2019 saw a far greater geographic spread.
Downtown, Tales’ footprint expanded from the Upper Quarter to include surrounding neighborhoods including the Treme, Seventh Ward, Marigny, and Bywater. On a city-wide level, the CBD experienced a big uptick in events, many around the Ace properties. This increase was logical. That area is the center of just about every other tourist function in NOLA and houses a ton of fine dining establishments designed for private events.
For good measure, Uptown, Mid City, and even Central City hosted a smattering of functions also.
2019 was Tales’ deepest (and arguably first) foray into truly being a city-wide event.
In 20018, Tales got a new logo. In 2019, we witnessed a continued push towards projecting a more professional look. The new logo was integrated everywhere replacing the once ubiquitous deco-cartoon characters. Likewise, gone was the “Dynamic Duo” phrasing and in was the “Headliner” series. Across the board, including seminar schedules, it felt like organizers were taking the subject matter more seriously–and less of a rationalized bacchanal.
The adulting vibe permeated far beyond the aesthetics. During daytime hours, the tastings rooms were navigable. At times, it was even possible to hold a conversation with the rep. The vast party & activation scene continued to shift away from late night blowouts towards smaller, earlier events. Mornings featured a bit more pep and bit less Pepto-Bismol.
(Mind you this was still New Orleans and many a visitor falls victim to beats, banter, billiards, and other after hours temptations of the Big Easy.)
The foundation end of Tales of the Cocktail also seemed to have matured. Last year, the Foundation awarded eleven grants, largely to fund side-projects of industry people.
In 2019, the Foundation awarded only four grants, all to established non-profit organizations boasting extensive experienced infrastructure. The Benevolent, Children of Restaurant Employees, Liberty’s Kitchen, and The Benevolent were this year’s winners.
Dollar values on the grants were not disclosed.
(SORT OF) NEW LEADERSHIP
The Tales corporate hierarchy is also taking on a more business-like structure.
Since the sale of Tales of the Cocktail and the subsequent reboot as the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation last year, Caroline Rosen has served as Executive Director. During this year’s event, the TOTCF Board announced that Rosen will ascend to the new title of President.
Jenny Butler was introduced as Chief Executive Officer. Butler is no stranger to Tales. In her capacity as philanthropic advisor to the Solomon family, she was a familiar sighting during TOTC’s acquisition and restructuring phases.
It’s clear that the organizers of Tales have a vision for the Awards. They imagine a Beard-esque event replete with a sold-out theatre and a large livecast audience.
The last two years have featured high end production values worthy of such an event. This year, the venue also felt fuller, albeit there is a long way to go before it feels full off the pit.
The show is pro-grade and these awards genuinely hold serious weight in the industry. But TOTCF hasn’t quite figured out how to bridge that weight with the night-of. The tedious task building the live audience is still a work-in-progress.
(Our two cents: following the models of large award shows in other industries, it’s about getting large sponsors to host pre-parties and then funnel blocks of 50+ attendees from their pre-parties to the venue… or use a smaller venue.)
Also of note, for the second year running, entry was messy. Numerous attendees, including your intrepid reporter, found themselves shuffling back-and-forth to the “Solutions Line.”
Likewise, on a few occasions, the slideshow featured the wrong images for nominees (Although, writer Wayne Curtis told Neat Pour that he was flattered when Jeff “BeachBum” Berry’s likeness appeared above his name.)
Tales On Tour was staged in Puerto Rico last year. The decision made sense as the island is suffering from the effects of two devastating hurricanes–a situation that New Orleans-based Tales is tragically familiar with. The gesture of support was clearly well received. A large Puerto Rican (and greater Latinx) demographic could be counted among the attendees at Tales and events honoring the island were frequent and extremely popular throughout the week.
Well aware that a storm’s damage requires years of recovery, TOTCF Co-Chair Gary Solomon Jr. announced that Tales on Tour will return to Puerto Rico in 2020.
Fortunately, one of the biggest stories at Tales this year wasn’t a story at all. Briefly a hurricane, Barry sparked a panic in the national media. However, rumors of NOLA’s demise were greatly exaggerated. In fact, the city was fine and Tales was relatively dry, albeit damn humid!
The dire forecast deterred a few from attending, inspiring some grumbles. Yet, the absentee factor did not appear significant to the naked eye.