For cocktail connoisseurs, New Orleans has always had a place on the map. Tales of the Cocktail gave this connection a spot on the calendar too, right when it’s needed most.
This annual spirits industry conference is rolling again this week, promising its usual mid-July boost to the local hospitality business before the deep summer doldrums.
But this year is anything but business as usual for Tales of the Cocktail.
It is a new start, with a different format as a nonprofit and new leaders at the helm.
If you’re out and about in New Orleans this week, you’ll probably see signs of the Tales of the Cocktail return. People in the hospitality business from around the world come to learn and network. Some of it happens in seminar rooms, but a lot of it spills over into our bars and restaurants, which fill with liquor brand events and a well-inked crowd of visiting bartenders out to experience the city’s liquid allure.
That’s one reason Tales of the Cocktail has been good for New Orleans. It grew in step with a modern cocktail renaissance taking root worldwide, and it helped move New Orleans to the forefront, burnishing its image a bit from Bourbon Street debauchery to a mix of classic and contemporary.
Tales of the Cocktail itself underwent some turmoil, however. Backlash from a racially insensitive Facebook post led to the ouster of its founder last year. New local leaders took over, and they changed the whole organization to a nonprofit.
The conference format is familiar, but now there’s a pledge to use the event, and its global draw, as a charitable vehicle. It is now funding programs aimed at diversity, social responsibility and health in the hospitality field.
Social change might seem like a tall order at the bar. But then the business of eating and drinking is big in New Orleans. It’s part of the city’s core identity and ideas in this realm get people’s attention.
New Orleans is well known as a good place to drink. If Tales of the Cocktail can turn that into something that does a greater good, well, that could really shake things up.