“I had just moved back home to New Orleans at the very end of 2006, after six years bartending in NYC. I was expecting a hokey, little, amateur cocktail festival with bad drinks,” Neal Bodenheimer says, ruefully, of the first time he arrived at Tales of the Cocktail, way back in 2007.
“But, I remember being blown away by the quality of the attendees and presenters. I saw so many friends and familiar faces from NYC in New Orleans, and I remember being inspired by the burgeoning cocktail community that was being formed by people from all over the country and world.”
Bodenheimer has been one of the key players in the cocktail scene of New Orleans ever since––as a partner in the city’s first real cocktail joint, Cure, which he and his business partners opened in 2009. It was named one of ‘America’s Best Bars’ by Esquire, again listed as a ‘Best Cocktail Bar in the U.S.’ by Food & Wine, and continued to establish and set the pace for great drinks in America’s most notorious city.
Then came Cane & Table––a renowned bar for cane-based spirits, tequila, and mezcal, as well as a fantastic Caribbean-focused menu by head chef Alfredo Nogueira. The gentlemen then opened Val’s––a Mexican, agave-focused bar program with upscale street food renditions in a converted old gas station.
Today, he operates five places, including the newest venture, Peychaud’s, which opened in 2021. This cocktail den and stunning courtyard space is actually located in Antoine Peychaud’s former house in the French Quarter. The drink list, created and helmed by Nick Jarrett, is a shining testament to how far cocktails have come in the Big Easy, and how vital it is to honor historic drinks here.
And finally, you have Neal Bodenheimer’s massive influence on Tales of the Cocktail itself. He stepped in a few years ago as a board member of Tales of the Cocktail Foundation, helping further the education of future bartenders, and continuing to expand philanthropic initiatives within the hospitality industry.
With such a crazy, wonderous tenure in our industry, it presents an interesting opportunity to look not at how Tales of the Cocktail has changed the American bartending profession (an untold amount), but specifically how it has changed its host city of New Orleans. We can find no better man to pose this question to.
“A whole hell of a lot,” is Bodenheimer’s answer.
“The breadth and quality of cocktail offerings in New Orleans has arguably never been better,” he says. “The impact of Tales on our community is immeasurable, given that we are the host city of the world’s premier cocktail event and it brings together the best and brightest in our industry. The influence of world-class education and mentorship has certainly created a ‘brain-gain’ situation for our market. In addition, we have also benefited from the countless bartenders who have fallen in love with New Orleans and have moved here.”
Neal’s Meet at Tales cocktail recipe is yet another libation to add to the phenomenal drinks coming out of New Orleans. Simple yet spectacular, the Palmchat combines Neal’s love of lower-proof beverages as well as the great balance of red bitter, passion fruit liqueur, and grapefruit using Q Mixers Sparkling Grapefruit.
We had a few more fun questions to ask …
What’s the best cocktail to counteract the heat of Tales and July in New Orleans?
“Sherry and Tonic. Low proof, refreshing, complex enough with friendly, but not searing acid.”
What’s the worst drink you’ve ever had in this town?
“Unfortunately, I made it. For my cousin, during development for Cure. He has never let me forget it because it was truly awful. One of my life’s goals is to make the idea work.”
What’s the No. 1 Rookie Mistake for those coming to Tales the first time?
“Tales of the Cocktail is a marathon, not a sprint. Most people grind themselves to a pulp before it even gets going.”
Another rookie mistake would be coming to New Orleans and not seeking out a Neal Bodenheimer bar or the man himself. He’s a great storyteller and a fine-drinking companion. One parlor trick of Neal’s we will let you in on is his fashion sense. We aren’t sure how he always manages to pull off a suit jacket and a button-down in the New Orleans humidity without even breaking a sweat. Must be that native swamp blood.
We also got a damn-fine Meet at Tales drink recipe from him featuring Q Mixers. It combines his love of lower-proof beverages, as well as the great balance of red bitter, passion fruit, and grapefruit.
Q Mixers and Tales of the Cocktail Foundation present, Meet at Tales––a program going behind the scenes with eight industry leaders, delving into their best times at Tales of the Cocktail®––raising a virtual toast to the people, places, and drinks that have shaped their careers.
After several challenging years, Meet at Tales is a chance for our Industry Leaders to give advice and mentorship to those rising up. Six lucky Tales of the Cocktail 2021 registrants will be selected to Meet at Tales for a 15-minute conversation and will receive a custom cocktail kit developed by the Q MIXERS Industry Leader they are paired with. Following Tales, each Industry Leader will select one individual for a one-hour follow-up conversation.
We could think of no better partnership for this project than Q Mixers––a brand whose entire mission is to make truly spectacular mixers. Additionally, during this year’s conference taking place in a hybrid format September 20-23, Q Mixers will host 4 Mix at Tales Happy Hour events ––each of which pair up 2 industry leaders to host a happy hour to field fun and pertinent questions, brainstorm, and have a few drinks of course.
Add Neal’s Mix at Tales Happy Hour event to your Tales of the Cocktail 2021 agenda taking place digitally on September 23rd at 1:00 PM CST.
The immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ida has left many in the New Orleans hospitality industry temporarily displaced and without a source of income while the city recovers from the loss of power, damages, and business closures. Even once the city reopens, many people will be grappling with accrued expenses from evacuation, external damage to their homes, and the looming uncertainty of when they will be able to return to work.
To support recovery efforts, Turning Tables has partnered with Another Round Another Rally to distribute disaster relief funds that will go directly to people within our community that have been affected by the impact of the hurricane. Please consider donating here.