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The country’s top mixologists reveal their favorite cocktails

Bartender William Perbellini of LA's Bar Tosca, at Tales of the Cocktail

“The irony of working behind a bar,” says Washington DC bartender Matthew Ficke, “is that we don’t get much of a chance to actually go out to bars.”

That’s why Tales of the Cocktail, the annual New Orleans event that took place in July (see sample bartender participation at left), is such a draw — booze masters from around the country come together to talk shop, swap recipes, check out what’s new and get inspired.

“I love seeing what other people are doing with the things that are available to them in their city,” says Birmingham-based mixologist Steva Casey.

We figured you would, too, so we asked six barkeeps what they’re stirring up in their hometowns.

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Just Back: Tales of the Cocktail

This is one of my favorite stories ever. I'm so lucky to have it paired with images by the great Gabi Porter (Twitter: @gabiporter). She was shooting beside me when I snapped the above. 

“Did bartenders create civilization?” moderator Derek Brown asks a panel of “paleococktails” experts. The DC bar owner is playful but unsurprised by the response from Pat McGovern, a UPenn archaeochemist who helped discover a Neolithic fermented beverage in China (rice, honey and fruit; absorbed and preserved in pottery).

To paraphrase: quite possibly.

This is Tales of the Cocktail, the annual liquor convention in New Orleans, perhaps better known for moments like hottie spirits promoter Charlotte Voisey on an elevated stage, above a crowd of 600 at the William Grant & Sons Cocktails in Film Festival, joining a band to play the bass tab of “Seven Nation Army” on a tuba.

To illustrate: blonde, with a British accent, in a red dress, straddling a large horn.

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Napa Valley's Great Speakling Wines


There’s a good chance you’ve been to Napa Valley, this country’s second federally approved, geographically defined grape-growing region (the first was Missouri’s Augusta). You probably visited the winery that produces your favorite cabernet or chardonnay. And maybe, knowing your preferences, they led you to a wine you never heard of. That was the best part of the trip. But did that unplanned path ever take you to a house of sparkling?

Yes, the land of big, juicy reds is also the land of clean, dry sparkling wine.

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Napa Valley’s famed French Laundry starts offering booze

This February, the French Laundry, one of the world’s most significant restaurants, did something new: Serve liquor.

Until last November, the Napa Valley restaurant that’s been open since 1994 never had a bottle in house. There was wine, of course, and beer, but spirits require a separate license and, given the proximity to both a school and a church, chef Thomas Keller did not think he’d ever get one.

But times change and Keller and his team started considering a program that might extend the guest experience. You won’t find aperitifs or cocktails at the French Laundry. Nor will you find scotch subbing in for sparkling as a pairing with any early course. Here, the spirits list is presented, via iPad, after the savory items (along with the cigar list, which the restaurant has offered for more than a decade). That’s generally six courses in.

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Bruno Munro Brings Light Field to Cheekwood

Mansion-Field of Light panorama
Bruce Munro, Field of Light, installation view, 2013. Photo by Kyle Dreier.

Bruce Munro’s second large-scale (to say the least) U.S. art installation is on view through November 10 at Cheekwood, a sweeping 55-acre historic estate, and now museum and gardens, in Nashville, TN.

“Installation art begins with the meeting of the person and the space,” says the lighting designer. Pieces like “Light Shower” and “Bell Chandelier” were created with Cheekwood’s 1920’s Georgian-style mansion in mind, by Munro’s team of 13 designers and technicians. “You need to contrast ornate with simple in design,” he says. “You don't want light to be dancing too loudly.”

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Water Makes a Splash in Interiors and Architecture

Huvafen Fushi Maldives, Per AQUUM
Water is an enormous part of the earth, our bodies, and our lives. Its presence is vital. And its absence, well, we don’t want to think about that. Which is perhaps why people love to see, hear, smell, and feel water as much as consume it. So it’s no surprise that water elements are appearing indoors as much as out these days, from mini tabletop waterfalls (so zen) to water walls (so tall) to the awesome spa at Huvafen Fushi, in the Maldives (so underwater).

“Water is the equilibrium and elixir of life - restorative, calming, balancing and renewing vitality,” says a spokesperson for Per AQUUM, who developed the still unique spa and resort in 2004. “The spa’s underwater treatment rooms create a rejuvenating encounter with water in a way that no other spa in the world has done.”

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Nashville’s cookin’: Music City hums with star chefs and fantastic food

Country Music Hall of Fame, a giant wall
Nashville is in the groove. And music is just part of it. And country music is just part of that. Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi and the Black Keys are just some of the musicians to record in the city, first settled in 1779 as Nashborough. President Andrew Jackson’s wife was there then. You can tour the extraordinarily preserved estate (replica slave quarters included) where the couple lived (1804-1845) and are buried: The Hermitage. Also, go to Cheekwood; the stunning 55-acre botanical garden and American art museum is host to Bruce Munro’s “Light,” installed inside and out. A night viewing of “Field of Light” (Wednesdays to Fridays until Nov. 10) will blow your mind.

Pulled Pork Sandwich, Martin's BBQ
A visitor’s guide and a rental car (easier and ultimately cheaper than cabs) can get you to other museums (Johnny Cash!), halls of fame (Songwriters!), historical sites and live music. And Nashville is also a great place to eat. We spoke to, and ate with, some of the city’s best chefs, local musicians and the mayor to create this guide...

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Chillax country-style in New Mexico


New Mexico, which was part of the Spanish empire and Mexico before becoming a US territory that turned into a state, should be on your must-visit list. It’s the perfect place to be awed by how gorgeous your country is (high desert is crazy colorful) while simultaneously needing to remind yourself you’re still in your country (the adobe stops seeming like a gimmicky amusement park within hours).

Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders were here (you knew that) and D. H. Lawrence, too, among countless other creative/ahead-of-their-time types.

And JetBlue just made it a lot easier to see what drew them. Nonstop JFK-Albuquerque flights started in April. That hasn’t happened since TWA in the late ’80s. There’s one daily each way from $99 (

There are countless places we could send you, but Santa Fe, Albuquerque and I-25, the highway between the two, are the best way to start.

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Preakness Stakes and much more: Visit Baltimore

The Preakness Stakes takes places this Saturday at Baltimore’s Pimlico Racetrack. If you’re one of the 6,000 people inside the Corporate Village and Turfside Terrace, you’ll be part of the world’s largest farm-to-table event yet: Besides the traditional crab cakes and Chesapeake Gold Oysters, this year the Maryland Jockey Club asked chef Mike Isabella to create a menu with other state products like sheep’s milk and lemon thyme.
And overall, Baltimore has upped its game — from food to fun. So whether your money is on Orb or Oxbow, a trip here is a safe bet.

Read complete story on Baltimore ravin': Charm City lives up to its name in these two neighborhoods

Here are some more photos by me...

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