by Francine Cohen

In the first nine years of Tales of the Cocktail it seemed that the most memorable (or not) conversations that took place happened well, well, well after midnight, sometimes underneath the bright neon lights of the Alibi, but more often than not, as dawn broke.  Last year that all changed.  Some of the best conversations that transpired all week long still took place in the early hours of the morning.  But it wasn’t the bleary eyed, 1980s song-warbling, “Pass me another beer it’s six AM and I am not quite ready to stumble home from the Alibi” early morning hours conversation, but rather the “Hey, how are you and what are we both doing standing here at the elevator going down/at the curb awaiting a cab at 7:30 AM and looking fresh as a daisy?” variety.  And they were punctuated by a long walk or preparation for a meeting.

And now, this year, year 11, there will be wellness programming on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning beginning at 8:30 AM?  What the heck happened to Tales? 

It just got even smarter. 

In past years just one brand (Bols), led by the intrepid Tal Nadari) endeavored to undertake any sort of healthy programming amidst all the seminars and parties when they offered their bike ride around town. Last year Perfect Puree of Napa Valley  hosted yoga classes by the pool and offered a healthy breakfast and back massages to media. This year, things are getting even more intense, in a really healthy way. While Perfect Puree is once again supporting healthy living programming which this time around involves yoga, tai chi, a serious workout with Effie Panagopoulos, and seminars and panel discussions about mindfulness, stress reduction, and more, it is joined by brands like Back Bar USA, Bacardi, Belvedere, 86 Co., Pernod Ricard and William Grant & Sons - all who see the wisdom of addressing the health needs of the spirits industry’s workforce.  And, if yoga isn’t your thing, but going fast is your preferred form of stress relief, Novo Fogo is sponsoring a 4K walk/run around the city one morning.

So when did we wake up and decide this had to happen?  Dushan Zaric of the 86 Company and a founder of Employees Only who is behind this three-day seminar – Keeping It Real: Mind, Body & Spirits - along with Natalie Bovis and Patricia Richards and others says, “Mainstream wise, I think the amount of professional bartenders has reached critical mass. There’s more and more bartenders who have chosen this profession to be their career.” 

Like in any career, bartenders need to be at the top of their game in order to succeed and, as much fun as it can be to go out and party with friends, doing that all the time doesn’t lead to success.  Zaric says, “It’s all about balance.” Effie Panagopoulos, Spirits Industry Consultant and a certified fitness trainer who will be leading a vigorous workout in America’s oldest health club, notes, “I think Tales 10 years ago was a small group of the tastemakers that are the leaders in the industry now.  And when it started everyone was a lot younger. Health and wellness has been part of the conversation for a while now. It’s kind of like the unspoken subconscious for the industry for people who have been in it for a while. Knowing you can’t maintain this lifestyle forever.  People are getting married, having children.  We’ve seen people like Henry Besant pass away who had issues with drinking. People realize we are not super human and there are repercussions to maintaining that pace.”

Natalie Bovis, The Liquid Muse, concurs, “In a climate of laybacks, ‘agave for breakfast’ and heavy drinking (etc.), personal safety cannot be ignored. No one is saying to cut out partying entirely - this is the liquor industry, after all! But, thinking about long-term health requires sleep, decent nutrition, exercise, and moderation when it comes to partying. In our society, we see some people paying the ultimate price for an unhealthy lifestyle. It would be nice to think that these kinds of conversations - in any industry or learning forum - can help prevent that.”

An ounce of prevention was the only incentive Zaric had to lay before the brands with which he had an easy time getting on board. He explains, “I approached the brands and said, ‘consumers that hear your message don’t drink and drive but bartenders aren’t hearing the same health message from you, they are just hearing that there’s a party so let’s get drunk.’”

Other messages, like the ones shared on Sean Kenyon’s Facebook page called Barma, addresses the need for balance. He says, “Everybody’s been so concentrated on the science of what we do – the spirits and the cocktails, but the human element got left out of it.”

Well, no more. If you’ll get up for an 8:30 session on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, you’ll have a chance to discover how to have a cleaner, healthier mind and understand what gets us upset behind the bar and what we can do to have more shifts behind the bar that are not more bad shifts. Another day’s program includes a medical doctor talking about liver health and an expert in Fai Jun talking about movement and exercise and what it does to your organs and why it is important for bartenders to move.

Bovis summarizes the three day seminar as she explains, “Each day starts with fresh juice offerings, about 20 minutes of yoga or Tai Chi, meditation, then speakers who are from both outside and within the bar industry. We have a nutritionist, bar owners, etc. It is from 8:30-10 am so as not to conflict with other seminars, and also to start everyone's day off positively. (It might even encourage some folks - such as myself! - to party a little less during the evening events).”

While Kenyon knows that 8:30 AM is a tough time of day at Tales and admits, “It’s difficult to believe that they actually got put on the schedule that early.” He also honestly believes that people want to see the content and will make the effort.

Dushan and Patricia and Natalie and Effie and Sean and all the others speakers hope so too.  Bovis comments, “We are hoping to have open sharing and encouragement for others who are also striving for more balance. We also fundraised privately from our liquor company sponsors, and with Ann's blessing, we are offering this free-of-charge to the first 50 arrivals each day.”

For those 50 people Zaric concludes, “Give yourself a chance to come and see what people are doing.  Maybe somewhere in there you’ll find a little pearl and have an aha moment and see what that means for you.”

***Keeping It Real: Mindy, Body & Spirits will be held Thursday, July 17th, Friday July 18th, and Saturday, July 19th in the Acadia Suites Rooms at the Royal Sonesta from 8:30 AM-10 AM.

Read more from Tales of the Cocktail.