Sam Meyer is an editor at CNN and blogs about cocktails at cocktailians.com.
I have seen strange and wondrous things. I have seen a hairless cat with a rhinestone-bedecked velveteen collar advertising Slovakian vodka. I have seen green monkeys (more about that later.) I have seen grown men dressed as tomatoes and celery, beckoning passersby to a Bloody Mary bar.
I am in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail, the biggest cocktail convention in the country.
The home of jazz and gumbo is also one of the homes of the cocktail - the city's official cocktail is the Sazerac, properly made with hometown Peychaud's Bitters - and the city boasts the Museum of the American Cocktail and several top-notch watering holes, to say nothing of NoLa-associated drinks such as the Ramos Gin Fizz and Brandy Milk Punch.
Tales of the Cocktail has been an annual event in New Orleans since 2003, and there are nearly 15,000 industry types, bartenders, media, and cocktail enthusiasts gathered here for educational seminars with such titles as "The Science of Stirring", "The Evolution of Gin", and "Civilization Begins With Distillation." There are also walking tours, dinners with cocktail pairings, and lots of parties to attend. On Saturday night, a jazz funeral procession will wind through the streets, symbolically burying the Sex on the Beach cocktail. In 2008, they laid the Appletini to rest.
It's also a chance for the cocktail community to get together. Historians Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller excitedly told me about their recent discovery of the earliest-recorded use of the word "cocktail" - in 1798, in London, eight years before the previously earliest-known use of the word in an upstate New York newspaper. Here, business cards are being exchanged with wild abandon, and I've bumped into book publishers and bartenders and bloggers galore.
And the guys in the green monkey suits? Friends and I were sitting at an outdoor restaurant in the French Quarter, and they walked by us, on their way to lend atmosphere to a party thrown by a cachaca brand. One of my dining companions asked if the rest of us saw them too, or if they had emerged from her Champagne flute. Strange things can happen in New Orleans.