7 Fascinating Long Reads from 2016

The exterior of a Polynesian style a-frame tiki house.

A part of our editorial mission at Tales is to bring you palatable, practical insights that improve your work behind the bar. And although it’s important to bring you pertinent spirits news and to teach techniques that broaden your skillset, we also publish many interesting long reads, including in-depth looks at bar culture, history and the people who make our industry unique. We hope that these stories broaden your perspective and expose you to elements of the bar world that intrigue, amaze and inspire you. This year we told tales of everything from mountain moonshine and drunken sailors to secret tiki societies and the disappearance of neighborhood bars. As we chug through what remains of the holiday season, take a moment of pause to read some of our favorite fascinating long reads you might’ve missed.

The sign for Mai Kai tiki bar. The concept of tiki loyalty clubs is believed to have originated at the Mai Kai in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where patrons could join the Oloke Maluna Society upon drinking all 46 cocktails on the menu. Photo via Flickr/Ed Schipul.

The History, Mystery and Community of Tiki Bar Loyalty Clubs by Cara Strickland

Half the draw of tiki culture is in its inherent esoteric nature. At the height of their popularity in the 1950s through the 1970s, devout tiki drinkers belonged to loyalty clubs and societies like the Mai Kai’s Oloke Maluna Society in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The loyalty clubs lured guests in to stay, with promises of names on plaques and lifetime memberships, and they contributed to the enduring mystique of tiki culture. As the tiki craze has regained its stranglehold on the cocktail world, tiki societies have also been reinvigorated — this story investigates an equal parts elusive and enchanting cocktail phenomenon.

Sailors drinking at a table. Sailors taught us more about drinking than just how to make a punch or a good G&T; they also showed us that nothing brightens a day more than a drink with friends! Photo via Flickr/Ed.

Drink Like a Sailor: How Men and Women of the High Seas Defined What We Drink Today by Marcia Simmons

Believe it or not, we don’t just curse like sailors, we drink like them. We owe many of the ways we drink and what we drink to the men and women who traversed the high seas. Sailors invented punch and the gin and tonic’s predecessor, all in the name of preventing scurvy. "With each pipe of the bosun's whistle, sailors would take their daily tot and allow its warming qualities to fill their bellies and hearts with contentment and a renewed vigor for the arduous tasks that lay ahead," says Martin Cate, co-owner of Smuggler's Cove. "To them, we owe the belief that a daily snort can make any day just a bit brighter!"

A man holding a duck phone to his ear. Greg Best, co-founder of Ticonderoga Club, takes reservations on their signature mallard telephone — just one of many ways they set out to be, "a little bit like classic Looney Tunes." Photo by Jodi Cash.

The Return of Fun to Bartending by Jodi Cash

In the bar community, 2016 was a year of bucking against the status quo. Perhaps one of our favorite trends we saw was the long overdue return of fun to bars. At their origin, bars were meant to be a place where people could gather and commune, to relieve themselves of their daily pressures and woes. When the cocktail renaissance shifted the focus of bartending from hospitality and service to complex “mixology,” an attitude of pretension slipped into the scene. But now bartenders are embracing the revolution of providing both a light hearted atmosphere and phenomenal drinks.

A bartender is scooping cream on top of Irish coffees. When he first started at Buena Vista, Larry Nolan was supposed to work six months. He’s now been there 43 years. He's served drinks to an astronaut, innumerable tourists and boundlessly loyal regulars who may or may not have their ashes spread in the bar's planter box

How a San Francisco Cafe Brought the Irish Coffee to America by Shelby Pope

Perhaps one of the most endearing stories we’ve published, “How a San Francisco Cafe Brought the Irish Coffee to America” is guaranteed to warm your heart. At Buena Vista, bartenders clad in white suit jackets and bow ties have been making their signature drink for decades. They serve anywhere from hundreds to thousands of Irish Coffees each day, in precisely the same way they were made when they introduced the cocktail in 1952. And in a world that’s ever-changing, the story of Buena Vista’s constant Irish Coffee comes as a comfort.

A man standing between rows of whiskey barrels. Using a recipe that's somewhere around 150 years old, Carlos Lovell is carrying on a long family history of distilling whiskey. Photo by Mike Barnes

After Decades of Dodging the Law, a Moonshiner Goes Above-Ground by Laura Sullivan

Southern moonshine boasts as much lore as any spirit that’s ever been. And Carlos Lovell, 84, started running whiskey through the North Georgia mountains as a teenager. This is the story of how he brought his father’s 150-year-old recipe out of the woods and onto shelves. “Making whiskey ain’t different than making a pot of soup … for me,” Lovell says.

Two people standing in front of barrels of rum. The owners of Richland Rum, Erik and Karin Vonk, lament the wastefulness caused by Georgia's franchising and distribution laws. Rather than selling directly to consumers, their products have to be loaded onto a truck, sent to a distributor and then driven back out to the various liquor stores. Photo by Hector Sanchez.

How Southern Distilleries Are Making History by Changing the Law by Beth McKibben

Nearly a century after Prohibition, distillers in the American South are still grappling with antiquated distribution laws. Seven Southern distillers told us about the challenges they face, and their efforts to make these laws a part of the past. “Times are changing,” says Tommy Williams, owner and partner of Independent Distilling in Decatur, Georgia. "It took us 81 years to get here, it may take another five years to level out the playing field.”

A lighting repair truck in front of two large neon signs. Davy's Locker, a bar loved by Vegas locals was hit hard by the recession, which had taken a major toll on many of Slight’s construction worker and convention staffer customers. When projects dried up and trade shows slowed, so did their bank accounts and Davy’s business. Even the landmark neon started to burn out, in need of more than $6,000 in repairs. Photo courtesy of Davy's Locker.

The Struggles of America’s Neighborhood Bars by Sarah Feldberg

In the midst of the cocktail revolution, neighborhood bars have shuttered en masse. The people behind these meaningful establishments tell us about their valiant fight to survive. This story is more than a state of the industry assessment, it’s an important call to action — we must save America’s neighborhood bars.