Tales of the Cocktail has officially begun! Locals may think of it as an event where one can learn about trends in the spirit industry and sip a variety of boozy beverages. However, Tales also offers a place where enthusiasts (and their friends) can stock up on ingredients, tools and books that can help turn a home bar into a cocktail heaven.
The bookstore at Tales, run by the good folks at Octavia Books, is bursting with hundreds of titles. There are recipe books geared to the novice, the professional and anywhere in between. Octavia owner, Tom Lowenberg and his assistant James Wilson, have been running the market since Tales began. Lowenberg remembers the early years when it was a struggle to even find enough cocktail books to fill two tables. “Now,” he says “we have so many that we can fill a store.” And that’s what he does. For five days, the Royal Sonesta Hotel, headquarters of Tales, will turn into a mini bookstore. Lowenberg notes that each year, more interesting titles arrive. “Some are about specific categories, like books about mezcal or bitters. There’s even a tequila dictionary!” Other subjects include cocktail history and the science of alcohol.
New Orleanians may be particularly interested in the book Local Spirits: Neighborhood Bars of Orleans Parish, a gorgeous coffee table photography book that profiles a variety of neighborhood bars. Each day the bookstore hosts authors who are available to sign copies of their works. Lowenberg says there is nowhere else in the city, or even in the country, that can rival the Tales bookstore for selection as well as the opportunity to meet with such a diverse group of writers from around the world.
Within the bookstore is the bitters market. There, visitors can sample dozens of bitters, whose flavors are a crucial component of any good cocktail. Wilson, who supervizes both the market and bookstore, is delighted that this year they will also be offering a selection of syrups and salts, none of which are currently available in the New Orleans market. In addition to selling this variety of products, the bitters market hosts “Shots of Inspiration” where shoppers may not only taste the bitters but also meet their makers. As Wilson points out, “There’s always somebody to chat with.” Visitors can ask questions and get advice from the makers of how to best use these ingredients in a myriad of crafted drinks.
Once you’ve got your recipes and ingredients, you’ll need something to mix them in. It’s time to visit the Cocktail Kingdom and BarFly pop-up barware stores where you can find any tool you might need to make that perfect drink. From shakers to strainers to jiggers to tools you didn’t even know you needed. Just as there is variety in kitchen tools, so there is in bar tools. These shops provide guests the chance to handle the products and decide which style and size works best for their needs. Any true enthusiast should take some time to try out the heft and feel of the different brands. Not only is there variety in size and shape, but bar tools have become truly beautiful. The shaker and jigger are no longer merely stainless metal. Shoppers can now choose from an assortment of finishes including rose gold, gun metal, gold and copper. Once you have made your purchases, you’ll need something to carry them in. Both companies carry specialty designed backpacks to hold all your gear, so you are ready to mix your drinks for friends and family no matter where you go.
Whether you are a cocktail junkie or have one in your life, the Tales market offers a wide assortment of mixology treasures guaranteed to satisfy any cocktail fan.
The Bookstore and Bitters Market, located in the Evangeline Foyer of the Royal Sonesta Hotel, is open from Tuesday July 16-Saturday July 19 from 9-5:30 p.m.
The Cocktail Kingdom Pop Up store, located in the Iberville Room of the Royal Sonesta Hotel, is open Tuesday July 16-Saturday July 19 from 9:30-6 p.m.
The Barfly Mixology Pop Up Store, located in the 3rd Floor pool room of the Royal Sonesta Hotel, is open Tuesday July 16-Saturday July 19 from 10-5 p.m.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Drinks Historian and is founder and owner of Drink & Learn. She hosts the podcast Drink & Learn and is the author of Drink Dat New Orleans: A Guide to the Best Cocktail Bars, Neighborhood Pubs and All Night Dives, and a co-author of The French Quarter Drinking Companion, a guidebook to the many bars of the French Quarter. She keeps her desk messy and whiskey neat.