New Orleans & a Taste of Tales

New Orleans – July 2018


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St. Louis Cathedral through Jackson Square

A few months ago, my husband’s company announced that they would be having a work meeting in New Orleans in July. “New Orleans in July?” I said, “that’s going to be awful!” Turns out, I was right – at least in terms of the weather. July in New Orleans is objectively awful to a Northern Gal like me but because of that, it’s also cheap. That makes it appealing to people hosting large meetings and conferences.

One of the conferences held in New Orleans in July happens to be Tales of the Cocktail. This year, it happened to be held the week before Chris’ work trip and happened to be at the same hotel as his company meeting. We happened to put two and two together and fly down late Friday night, to catch the tail of Tales.

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I’m not usually a fan of slushies, but when the heat index is 112F, it’s hard to say no.

Despite the fact that I’ve been doing the social media for the Minneapolis-St. Paul chapter of the USBG for most of two years, most of that as the elected “Social Media Coordinator” and despite the fact that most of the local bartenders consider me “industry,” I still have a strong case of imposter syndrome when navigating this world. My husband, Chris, is the actual cocktail nerd of the family – I can barely make myself an Old Fashioned and am often that dreaded customer who freezes like a deer in the headlights when asked if I want my Manhattan up or on the rocks. My passion for this world comes from a love of the hospitality of a good bar. In other words, I’m in it for the people.

Any fears that I didn’t belong at Tales started to dissipate when, just minutes after dropping our bags in our room at the Hotel Monteleone after our very late arrival, we walked into The Carousel Bar and within ten feet, I was being hugged by Jonathan Schulze, an MSP rep for A. Hardy Spirits who sponsored our last guild meeting. The chance meeting gave me some confidence that I was in the right place, doing the right thing.

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I made myself a spreadsheet of the Tasting Rooms schedule but forgot it at home. I literally squealed with delight when I stepped out of an elevator and saw this on the wall – causing the person who created it to squeal in delight at my delight.

With only one day of Tales overlapping with our trip, our tail of Tales was mostly limited to the Tasting Rooms on Saturday and Pig & Punch on Sunday. I went into the Tasting Rooms hoping to a)taste a lot of cool things and b)feel worthy of both my attendance as an enthusiast and the media credentials I was able to get. Despite starting the trip feeling like a total fraud, I finished Saturday feeling like I’d made some contacts of actual value – several of the spirits we tasted are launching in our area soon and they were thrilled to make contact with the local guild.

Oh, and we also learned that if you wander through Tasting Rooms as a couple with him in a seersucker suit and you in a cocktail print dress, you will get a zillion compliments. That didn’t hurt at all.

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Said cocktail print
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My only shot of Chris in seersucker. And also of random Malort shots on the street.

Our taste of Tales taught us that we want to get back and experience more of the events next year. We learned that we’ll need to pace ourselves, eat well, drink lots of water, and share samples (at sampling events, I’d rather drink half as much of twice as many). For me, personally, I learned that I can bring value to this industry that I love so much. I need to stop doubting my place in this world, stop thinking about myself as an outsider, and start actually putting more words on paper. (Words on screen just sounds so much less dramatic!)

I’ve been discovering that while I want to write about eating, drinking, travelling, and the hospitality industry in general – I don’t want to be a reviewer. Maybe I could get more followers if I gave scathing reviews of bad places or things – but I’d rather be positive and grow organically, if slowly. If I don’t like something or somewhere, I’m just not going to post about it. Maybe that’s too “laissez faire” but I’m okay with it, because it’s me.

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Night time on Bourbon Street

New Orleans is a strange city and hard to categorize. Sometimes the city felt like Paris, other times I imagined I was in Cuba. Rarely did it feel like I was in the US. I went into this trip dreading the weather, the strangeness, the insanity of places like Bourbon Street – but I left with a strong desire to go back and find more oddities and hidden gems. Because of the heat and humidity, I didn’t discover as much of the city as I would have liked but I believe the unique personality of New Orleans helped me discover myself, far more than ever expected. So, as they say on the other end of the Mississippi from my home in St. Paul, “laissez les bons temps rouler.”

Hitting bottom, at the top – CW: Suicide

21 years ago last month, I tried to take my own life.

I’d been fighting depression and bullying in my senior year of high school and ending my life felt like the only way to end my pain. Once I made the decision, I was actually happier than I’d been in weeks – I was taking control! I was going to be okay! (By, you know, not being.)

I won’t say I regret that decision for myself, but I do regret the pain it caused people around me. For me, however, I had to go through that to get the help I needed. The days I spent in an adolescent psych ward were both frustrating and educational. I met other teens who were dealing with poverty, abuse, and addiction – some of them minimized my depression because I was a spoiled kid from the suburbs.

230215_8604379524_8979_nIn the past ten days we’ve lost two celebrities and, closer to home, I know of two friends of friends who’ve lost their battles with depression. Especially with people like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, people are quick to point out “oh, but they had wealth and fame and help and resources and this and that.”

One of the things that took me a long time to understand is that often, depression is WORSE when things are good. It’s so frustrating to look around and see all the reasons you should be okay, should be happy – and instead, feel worthless and hopeless. Depression is always awful, but the pain can cut twice as deep when you know you should be at least content.

In the past 21 years I have had bad times, some even worse than that senior year of high school. And I have had good times, such good times. Depression comes regardless of where I’m at on this roller coaster we call life. Depression doesn’t care if you’re a celebrity, a spoiled kid from the suburbs, or an addict.

Depression might not care, but I do. I share my story in the hope of reducing the stigma of depression, in the hope that it will make it easier for someone else to get the help they need before it’s too late, in the hope that someone else realizes they aren’t alone and it’s not their fault.

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How drinking helped my social anxiety, but not in the way you might think

MarvelI am an unlikely candidate to write a blog about drinking. I’ve only just learned the difference between bourbon and rye, I don’t have an Old Fashioned recipe memorized, and I rarely make myself drinks at home. My late entrance into the cocktail scene wasn’t out of lack of interest, but rather years of social anxiety. As a young adult I found myself isolated by a paralyzing fear of new people and unfamiliar places. This wasn’t the life I wanted so I tackled the problem with therapy and job choices that forced me to face my fears. Sometimes I still have heart palpitations when meeting new people or navigating new space, but most days I finally have the life I wanted all along; getting out, socializing, and experiencing all the joy that my beloved cities have to offer

Where does drinking come into all this? I won’t lie, sometimes alcohol is the perfect social lubricant, diminishing inhibitions just enough to quiet the anxious voice. But that’s not actually what has helped me most . . . no, what has helped me most is the bar, particularly the bartender. Through trial and error at a variety of venues, I have learned that my best experiences almost always happen at the bar. This effect is dramatic enough that I have had a reversal in opinion about a place where I previously sat in a lounge area. So trust me, sit at the bar.

While both servers and bartenders are vital to a venue’s customer service, you often interact with a server in short bursts andLV usually to convey a specific order, whereas a bartender stays put behind the bar. Even when it’s busy, a bartender may pause in front of you for the few minutes it takes to make your drink and that time is often spent in a bit of friendly banter. For someone who gets anxious about friendly banter or small talk, this might not seem like a positive, but there’s a safety net built in to all this – part of the job of a bartender is to make you feel welcome and comfortable. Better yet, most bartenders truly enjoy getting to know their customers.

One perk to sitting at the bar, especially if the place isn’t swamped, is that you get to have a one-on-one drink consultation. I write a blog about drinking and still tend to panic when ordering because the options are overwhelming, especially if the bar doesn’t have a menu. Contrary to what some websites may lead you to believe, most bartenders enjoy helping their patrons figure out what to drink (when they have the time to do so properly). You can start a great conversation by saying “I like whiskey/gin/vodka and prefer drinks that are sweeter/spicier/more spirit forward, what would you recommend?” Or if you have a drink you like, try asking “I like Gin And Tonics but am in more of a whiskey mood, do you have any ideas?” As long as you’re open to trying something new, you just might end up with a new favorite drink before the night is done!

Good bartenders get to know you because they are well-practiced in reading, talking to, and helping people. It doesn’t matter that you’re not very good at talking to strangers because the person on the other side of the bar is a professional at it. The best bartenders can make even the most awkward and anxious person feel at home, in part so they will buy another drink and in part because their people skills probably helped them get their job. As I said, there’s a safety net in sitting at the bar. You don’t have to fear rejection because it’s a bartender’s job to make you happy, but you also know you’re in good hands because you’re with someone who enjoys and excels at getting to know people.

EveryoneDon’t forget that customer service is a two way street – treat the bartender with kindness and respect because that’s what you want in return. Whether you become a regular or just make someone’s night a bit better, customer facing jobs are tough and often thankless, a little kindness is often appreciated. Because I tend to go to my favorite bars when it’s quiet, I’ve been able to get to know some people who I would otherwise have found intimidating. (As an adult, my favorite bartenders feel like “the cool kids.”) The confidence I’ve gained by getting to know people across the bar has made me better able and more excited about trying new places.

The moral of the story is this: sit at the bar. You’ll get more face time with someone who is well practiced at making people feel comfortable because it’s part of their job, you’ll have a better experience because you’re enjoying a drink with the person who created it for you, and there’s little social risk involved as long as you hold up your end of the deal (respect, politeness, paying/tipping). The best social benefits of alcohol don’t come from getting drunk; they come from bellying up to the bar and getting to know the bartender. Practice makes perfect, and this practice happens to come with delicious beverages!