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Where Y’Eat: In a city known for drinks, this event elevates New Orleans' cocktail culture

The White Russian (from left), margarita, bloody mary and Moscow mule are some of the most searched cocktails of 2015.
The White Russian (from left), margarita, bloody mary and Moscow mule are some of the most searched cocktails of 2015.

A great cocktail can come together just about anywhere, provided you have the right ingredients and some diligence using them. But New Orleans brings something else to the bar.

There’s cocktail history here and cocktail culture, and a sense of this city as the heartland of the American cocktail.

Tales of the Cocktail is an event that helps bring that into focus, and it’s back this week for the first full rendition after two years of going virtual in the pandemic.

This event draws people from the realm of cocktails around the globe to New Orleans to network, learn and party. It’s evolved over the past two decades through a time when a cocktail renaissance was taking root. Along the way it moved New Orleans to the forefront of an evolving drinks industry.

The event brings a needed boost to the local hospitality sector, arriving in late July each year when tourism is slow. This year though, that boost may extend in different ways, and beyond the bottom line.

In the more bleak phases of the pandemic, restaurants and bars were too often the face-to-face flashpoint for social strife over rules and mandates made far from their doors. While today there’s a sense of getting back to normal, there’s also an unmistakable exhaustion from the journey.

That’s why this year’s Tales of the Cocktail has a subtext of reconvening and maybe bringing a recharge for people who take part, reconnecting with the ideas of a craft and a calling and a community, which are the best parts of the modern cocktail scene.

This brings us back to the idea of New Orleans as a hub for drinks culture, not just drinking.

Something that positions New Orleans in the center of the conversation of what’s timeless, what’s new and what’s in flux fits precisely with where the city’s culture needs to be right now. At the very last, it calls for a toast.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.