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Mixing it up with the best of them

The place to be for cocktail connoisseurs

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Liza Weisstuch
Globe Correspondent / July 23, 2008

NEW ORLEANS - Film buffs have the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Indie rockers, South by Southwest in Texas. New Orleans, however, is the province of cocktail connoisseurs. Last week, thousands of bartenders, historians, bon vivants, and barflies poured into the city for Tales of the Cocktail, an annual gathering focused on schmoozing and, of course, imbibing. What they learn will influence cocktail menus here and across the country. We kept tabs on several local mixologists to see what they did on their visit to the Crescent City.

WEDNESDAY

2:23 p.m. Those who question New Orleans's supremacy as a tippling town, consider this: It's the only city in the nation to have an official cocktail. Thanks to lobbying by Tales of the Cocktail founder Ann Tuennerman, the Louisiana House of Representatives in June declared the Sazerac the city's signature drink. Senator Edwin Murray makes the announcement at the historic Hotel Monteleone, conference HQ. The crowd toasts with small cups of the rye-based concoction. With that, Tales commences.

5:59 p.m. The courtyard at 823 Royal St., home to the new Absinthe Museum of America, is fog-thick with the smell of anise and herbs. The space is festooned with absinthe-inspired art and vintage paraphernalia, like slotted spoons. More than 10 types of the Green Fairy are poured. Marie-Claude Delahaye, founder of Paris's Absinthe Museum, mills about with a knowing smile.

7:45 p.m. Casual talk about ice-freezing techniques and the vicious art of eBay bidding for old cocktail books is underway at the Monteleone's Carousel Bar. (Yes, it spins.) Founding members of the city's new Museum of the American Cocktail, a treasure trove of spirits history, toast the opening.

11:04 p.m. Amid the festive crowd at the Palace Café, a Boston contingent - Eastern Standard bartenders Kevin Martin and Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli and Beija Corp. founders Kevin Beardsley and Steve Diforio - sips cocktails developed by Audrey Saunders, co-owner of New York's famed Pegu Club. A gang of British mix-masters breezes through, a crowd growing behind them. "Save the Daiquiri?" one of them inquires, referring to a party a few blocks away. And they're off.

12:10 a.m. "We saved the daiquiri," says Eastern Standard bar manager Jackson Cannon, holding up an empty glass. Rhum Clement's Save the Daiquiri party in the French 75 bar at the legendary Arnaud's features four noted bartenders shaking various interpretations of the old rum tipple.

THURSDAY

1:17 p.m. Seattle-based Jamie Boudreau, Eben Freeman of Tailor in Manhattan, and Eben Klemm, who runs the wine and spirits program for New York's BR Guest Restaurant, lead a packed seminar on molecular mixology. There's talk of foaming, fat washing, and using powders and gelatins to enhance flavors. Gin fizz marshmallows are passed.

6:10 p.m. Cocktail Hour here is a misnomer. For well over 120 minutes, some of the planet's finest drinkmakers shake, stir, and blend batch after batch of cocktails in a walk-around of World's Fair scale. Sporting a red polka-dot dress, Misty Kalkofen, bar manager at Green Street in Cambridge, is doling out Ninth Wards, a spin on the classic Ward Eight invented at Boston's Locke-Ober. The New Orleans tribute was created by Brother Cleve, granddaddy of the Hub's cocktail scene.

FRIDAY

12:07 p.m. John Gertsen, bartender at Boston's No. 9 Park, is curious as he leaves "Jerry's Kids: The Life, Drinks and Legacy of Professor Jerry Thomas," led by David Wondrich, author of a book about the 19th-century cocktail pioneer. "Those were sporty guys back in their day," Gertsen says. "When was the first liquor competition?"

8:29 p.m. Five mixologists face off in an "Iron Chef"-like challenge. They'll make two drinks, one of which must involve the secret ingredient: ginger marmalade. There's whisking, shaking, ice crushing, meringue-making. Hosts Dale "King Cocktail" DeGroff and TV personality Kevin Brauch do color commentary.

10:43 p.m. DrinkBoston blogger Lauren Clark and Kalkofen appear at An Evening of Farm-to-Glass Persuasion at elegant Café Adelaide. They recount an off-the-cuff contest they judged: Bartenders improvised drinks using only the sample-size liquors, tonics, and garnishes found in the Tales gift bag at the first "Swag-Off."

11:32 p.m. DeGroff joins the Boston women on a stroll to the sleek International House. At Loa, in the hotel's lobby, bartenders mix nouveau Sazeracs with Grand Marnier 150, a super-premium liqueur. The packed room goes still when spirits guru Steve Olson stands up on a couch and proclaims, "Every bartender in this world who matters is in this room!"

2:41 a.m. The jukebox blares at the weathered Old Absinthe House. Beer flows.

SATURDAY

12:10 p.m. The Carousel Bar is still buzzing. New York author Gary Regan is among those convening for a midday (morning?) pick-me-up.

10:10 p.m. After a day of seminars ranging from mixing drinks with raw eggs to making your own cocktail ingredients, everyone looks ace for the Spirits Awards. No. 9's Gertsen is nominated in the Mixologist/Bartender of the Year category, but he loses out to London's Nick Strangeway.

11:53 p.m. A funeral procession, New Orleans-style, jazz band and all. The bad cocktail is dead. All rejoice. It's midnight, a perfect time for a Bartenders' Breakfast - cocktails and sausage.

SUNDAY

10:12 a.m. The crowd starts to depart. Glasses clink. To next year.

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