Plenty of other Nashvillians attend the event; in fact there is an entire Facebook group dedicated to local bartenders and liquor biz professionals to help plan the week's events. You can usually find at least a few Music City residents holed up in some of the French Quarter's best hole-in-the-wall dive bars late at night, taking a break from the frantic festivities of Tales. My calendar is always full of seminars on cocktail history and trends and visits to many, many various tasting rooms.
But you can have a helluva good time just hanging around the Hotel Montelone, the headquarters of the event. There is almost always free food and drinks available somewhere in the vicinity all day and night during Tales, and purchasing any of the various ticket packages grants you even more access to fun events, receptions, dinners and drinking throw-downs surrounding the event.
Southwest flights are usually cheap and available, even at this late date, but I generally drive so I can carry back all the swag I acquire during the week. I'm known as the liquor mule of the group and frequently carry bags of bottles back for my industry friends who don't want to chance checking their booty in their luggage.
So if you decide to attend this year or in the future, here's my advice for surviving Tales:
Don't stay in the French Quarter
Bartenders are a nocturnal lot anyway, and when you get this many of them together in one place, sleep is fleeting. Last year, the Nashville crowd seemed to be on the same party schedule as Cuba Gooding Jr., who was in The Big Easy shooting a movie. Facebook lit up with pictures of many of our group taking selfies with a blitzed Gooding in the foreground or background. I stay with a friend in Mid City, just a 20-minute $1.25 streetcar ride from the Quarter. I find not having to drive or find a cab to be very helpful in having a safe Tales. Plus, I'm often confronted by tastings of 10 or 12 single-malt scotches that kick off at 10 in the morning, so I need my beauty rest. Alternatively...
Stay in the Quarter
Some nights, when I'm headed home on the 1:30 a.m. streetcar, the party is just getting wound up. If you don't mind being kept awake by bartenders rolling balls they've stolen from Rock n' Bowl down the hallway of your hotel at 3 in the morning, by all means get yourself a cheap room in the middle of the action.
The reason those rooms are so cheap is that it is late July in New Orleans, an environment not unlike the jungles of Vietnam. Between the heat, humidity and all the booze you'll be drinking, you'll need to replace a bunch of fluids every day. Our Nashville group used to swear by Pedialyte, and you'll notice that the shelves of the Bourbon Street Walgreen's is emptied of the stuff most days. Last year, the "miracle cure" was supposedly coconut milk. I just try to drink enough water every day to float the Delta Queen.
Spirits tasting isn't like wine tasting. If you swallow every cocktail and liquor that is presented to you in the tasting rooms, you'll be done before dinnertime. And missing a meal is a major sin in New Orleans. Palate fatigue is a definite danger, so I try not to taste things I've already tried before, except maybe for a few favorites if the master distiller is standing right in front of me waiting to hear my opinion. That would just be impolite, y'know ... Plus, even eliminating repeats still leaves me with about 250 new things to try.
Try to spend at least some time at the Monteleone pool
The rooftop pool at the HQ hotel is one of those happy places that I go to in my mind on particularly bad days. With a view of the Mississippi River and most of the Quarter, it's a great spot to duck out of the craziness of Tales for a little while. It doesn't hurt that the pool is usually full of handsome and gorgeous bartenders frolicking and showing of their heavily tatted-up bodies. Plus beer is served there, and after a few days of drinking nothing but booze, sometime you just gotta have a brew.
Attend at least a few seminars
I've learned so much from the more esoteric classes held during the days at Tales. They are usually taught by much more experienced and interesting spirits writers than I am, along with some of America's most noted bartenders and brand ambassadors. Oh yeah, and they serve at least a few cocktails in each session. If college had been like that, I would have stayed for my master's degree.
But most of all, just GO!
Whether you're in the business or just a cocktail enthusiast, Tales of the Cocktail is a must-attend event. The Nashville contingent keeps getting bigger every year, because just about everybody who attends for the first time asks for the week off next year as soon as they get back. And I'll carry back those free bottles you pick up for a small "sip tax." Just pray I don't get pulled over in Alabama on the way home and arrested as a bootlegger.