Our Best Stories from 2015

A woman is straining a drink from the shaker.

When we re-launched the Tales website this year, we didn’t want to offer our readers just another website about booze (despite what many of our friends and relatives may believe). Sure, we had strategy, traffic goals, a tagline, all the usual trappings of your typical online publication. But mostly, we wanted to give our audience the same thing that Tales has offered from the beginning: a place that celebrates the people who are working incredibly hard to shape this industry.

Plenty of great publications cater to cocktail enthusiasts (and do a wonderful job at it), but that’s not what we set out to do. We wanted to turn the conversation back toward the men and women behind the bar. The rookie barbacks who spend their days off studying up on Jerry Thomas and Harry Craddock; the tough-as-nails dive bar matriarchs who can strike fear in the hearts of their rowdiest patrons; the distillers who insist on doing things the difficult, slow, often expensive way, solely because it makes a better product. These people, and their peers, are the very reason our site exists in its current form. It’s equal parts inspiration, education, and salute.

We’ve only been chugging along since the summer, but we are already so proud of the stories our writers have contributed in that time. From quirky history to actually useful advice, their work has brought incredible energy, ideas, and innovation to the site and, we hope, to our readers. Below are a few of our favorites. — G.C.

Exterior shot of a boarded up restaurantPhoto: Gary Knight/Flickr

When Capitalism Kills Your Favorite Old Bar by Maya Kroth

Maya Kroth on the plight of Albie’s Beef Inn isn’t just the story of a lovingly worn-out old dive in its last throes. It's not even the story of a bar whose walls are lined with oil nudes and whose menu boasts a single boiled carrot. It’s the story of what these places mean to their communities, and what is lost when we lose them.

Flair bartender

The Rise and Fall of Flair Bartending—And Why It Might Rise Again by Adam Rains

There are plenty of people who dismiss flair as a cheesy vestige of the ‘80s at best, a cheap circus trick at worst. In one of our most popular stories of the year, Vegas writer and bartender Adam Rains draws a fascinating line through flair’s history, from its inception with Jerry Thomas to its mainstream commercialization at T.G.I. Friday’s, and makes a compelling case for its modern-day resurgence.

Black and white archival photo of Frank Sinatra in the recording studio

The Love Song of Jack and Frank by Sarah Feldberg

Decades before Diddy launched Ciroc or Sammy Hagar shilled tequila, a blue-eyed crooner walked onstage with a glass of whiskey. On the eve of Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday, Sarah Feldberg writes about how the singer ultimately helped to catapult a small Tennessee whiskey brand into the mainstream.

A father and his daughter are sitting across from one another at a bar. The little girl is drinking oj through a straw and her dad is drinking a cocktail.

Striking a Balance as a Parent and Bartender: One Dad's Story by Andre Gallant

In this moving essay, Andre Gallant gracefully relays the triumphs and challenges of being a parent and a bartender, and explains why every single one of those exhausting, demanding, bleary-eyed days was worth it.

Interior of a sports bar with fans watching football

How a Bar in the Middle of Lake Michigan Survived Prohibition by Sarah Probst

There’s a lot you might find surprising in this story from Sarah Probst: that there are islands in the middle of Lake Michigan, and there is a bar on one of those islands, and that said bar could have remained open through Prohibition. What’s behind this obscure bar’s long-term success? Bitters and Green Bay Packers fans.

Piles of trash in front of a hurricane-damaged New York bar

Fort Defiance's Triumph by Beth McKibben

It’s been three years since Hurricane Sandy wrought its damage on New York City, and on a small neighborhood bar in Red Hook. The story of Fort Defiance’s resurrection, as written by Beth McKibben, is the story of a scrappy community that refused to buckle in the face of hardship.

Female bartender pouring into two cocktail glassesPhoto: Anthony Tahlier.

Thoughts on Service with Julia Momose by Nicole Schnitzler

We published quite a few great profiles this year, but Nicole Schnitzler’s lovely portrayal of GreenRiver’s Julia Momose and her philosophy toward service is a must-read.

A woman is behind a bar with a baby strapped to her chest.

The Challenges of Maternity Leave in the Service Industry by Carolyn Crist

Family leave has been a huge issue in mainstream media in 2015. Carolyn Crist extended that dialogue to the service industry, where a lack of safety net is leaving some expecting mothers high and dry.

Female distiller behind a barPhoto: Megan Hooper.

The Noble Experiment: How One Woman Fled the Corporate World for Craft Booze by Zoë Leverant

Quitting your comfortable, stable, secure corporate gig to make it on your own in the ever-competitive craft spirits industry? That takes guts. That’s why it’s hard to read Zoe Leverant’s profile of Bridget Firtle, the Wall Street expat turned craft rum proprietor behind The Noble Experiment, without feeling pretty damn inspired.

Exterior photo of a mining museum in Butte, Montana

More than a Mining Town: Drinking the History of Butte, Montana by Jennifer Duffield White

One of the most fascinating recurring themes on our site is about bar cultures found in small towns across throughout the world. In Jennifer Duffield White’s synopsis of drinking in the tiny mining town of Butte, Montana, she features the work of Headframe Spirits, a distillery revitalizing what was once the largest city west of the Mississippi. This captivating story pairs rich historical context with unexpected happenings in a little-known corner of the U.S.A.

Reader Favorites

Some of our most popular and impactful stories from the year.

Veteran Barkeeps on the Art of Small Talk by Hillary Richard

Dale DeGroff, Joaquin Simo, and Nicholas Bennett walk into a bar — and chances are, each one of them can effortlessly strike up a conversation with just about anyone in the vicinity. In Hillary Richard’s piece, the three offer practical, useful advice for bartenders who struggle with making small talk with their customers.

How Five African American Women are Shaking Up Atlanta's Cocktail Scene by Chris Watkins

We absolutely love writer/photographer Chris Watkins’ portrayal of five smart, passionate, and fiercely talented women of color working behind the bar in Atlanta, and he did an incredible job capturing their personalities in his stunning portraits.

Burnout Behind the Bar: Why It Happens and How to Avoid It by Iza Wojciechowska

There’s no way around it: this industry can be demanding and exhausting, and too many long nights can wear you down. Iza Wojciechowska asked industry heavyweights Dushan Zaric, Franky Marshall and Gary Crunkleton to share their wisdom and honesty on how they avoid becoming slaves to a routine after so many years in the business. It’s a must-read for anyone who considers themselves a career bartender.

A Bartender's Review of Taco Bell's New Booze-Serving Cantina by Daniel de Oliveira

When Taco Bell announced the opening of its millennial-driven, cocktail-serving Cantina concept, we instantly wanted to experience its vodka-spiked Mountain Dew Baja Blasts for ourselves. Instead, we sent High Proof bartender Daniel de Oliveira, who gamely scoped out the Wicker Park location on our behalf.

Better, Faster, Smarter Bar Design by Clair McLafferty

There are so many reasons to consider the layout of your bar: speed, efficiency, the physical health of your employees. And yet, for many bartenders, it seems like Edison bulbs and leather-bound menus get more design attention than their actual workstations. In this piece, Clair McLafferty explores some of the innovative ways bar owners are reconfiguring their spaces, from Francesco Lafranconi’s racetrack well to Joaquin Simo’s speed rack.