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Drinking stories

How Boston's best barkeeps survived five days of around-the-clock cocktails
By LIZA WEISSTUCH  |  August 11, 2010

DRINK’S UP: Boston’s Drink closed down for a week last month and relocated to New Orleans for the eighth annual Tales of the Cocktail gathering. It paid off — at the event’s Bar Room Brawl competition, Drink was named “Best Bar in America.”

Twenty-five thousand members of the Lutheran Youth Congress are leaving New Orleans.

In identical turquoise T-shirts reading I BELIEVE, they're straggling out of the French Quarter's Hotel Monteleone. Just in time, too. Replacing them are another kind of faithful, equally dedicated in their way to their calling: 15,000 bartenders from around the world, dragging suitcases and boxes of clanking bottles and barware.

Their mecca: the eighth annual Tales of the Cocktail, held Wednesday to Sunday, July 21 to 25. Tales is an extreme geek-fest for cocktail aficionados — the kind who can spend hours discussing a range of martini recipes or parsing the virtues and drawbacks of various types of ice — accompanied by a bacchanalia so prolonged and excessive that it would make Andrew WK turn in early. Once you relieve bartenders of their responsibility of serving others, there's no telling what can happen.

These are the people, after all, who've seen everything from the trenches. Beneath the tucked-in shirt, the armguards, and the politesse, there's fight in those eyes and muscle in that courtesy when it comes to demonstrating the supremacy of their craft.

The contingent from Boston was far bigger than in years past. There were representatives from well-known craft bars like Drink, Eastern Standard, and Deep Ellum, but also from Russell House Tavern, Franklin Café, the Gallows, Number 9 Park, Trina's Starlite Lounge, Davio's, Back Bay Social Club, Bond, and Pomodoro, as well as the Boston Shaker, the cocktail supply boutique in Davis Square. Boston-based Janet and Avery Glasser, who've been producing their Bittermens Bitters since 2007, most recently overseas, were also there to launch their now-locally produced Bittermens line for national sale.

So this reporter — a three-year Tales vet — went with them. Over the next five days I would see them with midgets, with monks, with flasks, without sleep; in bathrobes, in boxing gloves; wielding muddlers, ice picks, julep strainers, feather pens; in pursuit of Fernet-Branca, pork, Pimm's Cups, and Sazeracs and, whether intentional or not, with loads of stories to tell.

'Put your brain on a shelf'
"I had Green Chartreuse poured down my gullet at 8 am," California Gold says.

Gold, who works at Drink, is among the 52 apprentices whose job it is to batch drinks for more than 60 seminars. No small feat. Over the five days, her work will involve (among other things) 25,983 limes and 162 pounds of ginger.

I run into her on the third day. She looks shell-shocked and can only manage sentence fragments: "barely any sleep" . . . "cases of booze that could fill a swimming pool" . . . "surreal."

"There was just so much stress," Gold will say later, when we're back in Boston and significantly better rested and more sober. "I had to do 100 flamed orange twists for one seminar and my hand turned black. I had to use a lighter because I didn't have matches. My hand really stunk from the lighter, and I was worried that the smell was going to be imparted onto the orange twists."

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Related: Southern exposure, Understated indulgence, Sichuan Gourmet, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , New Orleans, Russell House Tavern, Back Bay Social Club,  More more >
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    "TOTC" stands for Tales of the Cocktail, an annual drinks conference held each July in New Orleans.
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 See all articles by: LIZA WEISSTUCH

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