by Ian McNulty
The Spirited Dinner Series has been part of the annual drinks extravaganza Tales of the Cocktail from its first edition in 2002. These events are modeled after wine dinners, but at the start the idea of pairing multiple cocktails and courses was fairly novel and sometimes a hard sell.
“I’d approach people about it and they just thought I was crazy,” says Tales of the Cocktail founder Ann Tuennerman. “That first year we had 10 of them. I was able to go around and visit all of them in one night.”
Times have changed, of course. This year the dinners will be held July 18 with greater numbers and diversity than ever. Many of the dinners will sell out well ahead of time, and in fact some are already booked up. That means if you want to attend one you’d better start looking over the options.
This year’s line-up has more than 30 events, and it includes a few unconventional venues. For instance, the riverboat Creole Queen is hosting a dinner on the water, with a river cruise, buffet, jazz band and multiple bars across its decks. Meanwhile, those partaking in a dinner dubbed “Dive Bar Russian Style” will be directed to the backstreet bar 12 Mile Limit for Slavic-themed dishes and drinks made from Samogon, a clear Russian spirit similar to grappa. Even the French Quarter music hall One Eyed Jacks will hold a tacos and tequila dinner, with two seatings.
As in past years, distillers, brand ambassadors, drinks authors and other experts in the field participate directly in the dinners, and chefs and bartenders collaborate on the drinks and menu.
“One big change is that in the beginning a lot of the bar chefs and mixologists doing these dinners were from out of town,” says Tuennerman. “Now, we have so much talent here behind the bar that there’s a lot more local people involved.”
Some of the pairings between beverage brand and restaurant feel pretty intuitive. At the Irish House, for instance, the Dublin-born chef Matt Murphy will serve a menu he’s calling “the Creole Celtic Courtship” alongside drinks made with the famous Irish whiskey Bushmills, while the menu at RioMar centers on Latin American-style seafood dishes with an array of drinks made from tequilas and South American wines.
At Maurepas Foods, chef Mike Doyle is working various liquors from event partner High West Distillery right into the meal, in addition to pairing dishes with cocktails. And some dinners sport elaborate themes, like the one scheduled at Criollo inside the Hotel Monteleone called “Hemingway’s Conch, Cuban and Caribbean Cocktails and Cuisine.”
Prices vary, but most are in the $80 to $100 range. Reservations are required. Details for individual dinners are here.