A Chat with Ann Tuennerman and Kimberly Patton-Bragg
In honor of Tales of the Cocktail's 15th anniversary, Tales founder Ann Tuennerman is highlighting 15 bartenders whose lives and careers have been impacted by attending the event, and whose work has elevated the industry as a whole. Here, Kimberly Patton-Bragg discusses her career and relationships with other industry professionals.
Where were you born and raised?
Born in Decatur, AL, raised in Jacksonville, FL
What attracted you to becoming a bartender in the first place?
It had nothing to do with a cubicle.
Was is planned or was it a temporary gig that evolved into a career?
I was a cliché actress ..
What and where was your first bartending job?
Technically, 9 years old helping out at the Ninth Hole snack bar at Timuquana Country Club, mixing grapefruit and prune juices for older golfing dudes.
Was there a moment when you decided that bartending would be your career?
When I finally got sick of being asked, "What do you do?" as I'm making a drink. I was really enjoying bartending and hated auditioning and "working for free for art's sake" more and more.
Was your family supportive of your decision to pursue bartending?
Absolutely! It pays better than Shakespeare.
For someone who wants to pursue bartending as a career, what top three tips would you offer?
- Have a good work ethic.
- Work clean.
- Be a fun person to work with and to be served by — it's drinks and people, not brain surgery, and even though I'm an admitted media whore, this is about the guests, not your ego.
How did you first learn about Tales of the Cocktail?
Through coworkers at Blue Smoke, I think.
Where there any challenges you had to overcome to attend Tales the first time (financial, logistical, etc.)?
Being out of work for a week — but it was worth it by far.
Kindly describe your first Tales experience and what it meant to you.
I was in the first CAP class, and boy howdy did we get crushed! No Sunkist juicers, first time any (or most of us) had done massive batching. Super skeleton — but amazing — crew that I will always walk through fire for. I learned so much!
What was it like to be immersed in the community of bartenders and cocktail luminaries from all over the world? Did it confirm bartending as your calling?
Beyond inspiring. It also solidified that this was what I wanted to be for the rest of my life.
Kindly describe your top three favorite moments from Tales.
- The pool parties at the end — a great release.
- Gary Regan helping us juice that first year. Mad props.
- That first time on stage at the Spirited Awrds with the coolest and hardest working cats ever. They were my idols first, and now tight friends. They never made me feel unwelcome or less experienced. Mom still hates the picture of me with the Wild Turkey in my mouth, lol.
- Okay, a fourth. Breaking into Charlotte Voisey's seminar with the perennially shirtless and amazing Rockey Yeh, armed with fencing sabres (I'm much better, now, Rocky — rematch ).
Kindly describe any awards or recognition you received at Tales.
Twice, programs I ran won "The Seal of the Sazerac". Super proud to have been able to be awarded for the cocktail that started it all in the city that started it all that I love so much. And more importantly, that my "kids" got it right (by my specs) every time — and cared. Thank Andrea Heming, et al...
How has Tales energized your career overall and what opportunities have flowed from your involvement with it?
I don't think I would have been able to create so many good programs, train and learn from so many good people, be published, or be on TV if it weren't for the lessons and people I have met from Tales. I've always joked that it took me leaving NYC and acting to make it to the New York Times and television — justifies my yeeeeeeeaaaaarrrrrsss of college loans being a Theatre major (though Mom is still waiting for me to be in Southern Living — her bar for success, haha).
Kindly describe your top behind the bar experience where you impacted or inspired a guest?
Man, so many. Six engagements, countless hookups, serving Joshua Bell (I'm a violin freak), but most importantly — training so many bartenders (my kids) that have gone above and beyond my own abilities.
Kindly describe any key professional relationships that were forged at Tales through networking with fellow bartenders, spirits luminaries and brand managers.
Jesus, too many to count. I was nervous as hell to meet Chris "the Count" Hannah — now I consider him not only one of my best friends but the little brother I never wanted.Chris Patino — always gracious and inclusive ( and taught me the dangerous magic of a Yo Mama's burger with peanut butter, bacon and jalapeños - damn you).
Don Lee. Any question I have — you never hesitate or make me feel stupid for asking.
Wondrich — celebrating my 45th with you and all the others in Puerto Rico — I'll never forget (Okay, I forgot some of it).
Jorge Lauriano — you've always been my cheerleader.
David Arnold — taught me how to Sabre Champagne (I sill want one of those badass rings) and fencing with retractable barspoons at Tales Mexico City. Rhiannon Enlil — my OG and all of my New Orleans barkeeping (and server) family.
Chris Dehlavi, Kate Gerwin, Ms. Franky, Christine Maffei, Joanne's Spiegel, Jennifer Seideman, Maggie Mesky and countless other women that I adore and have learned from — and continue to.
Mark Schletter — you organized a badass entrance with a mariachi band in Mexico City second lining to the Bacardi party to "The Saints Go Marchin' In" — and then our epic "babysitting adventure." There are too many too count. But yes, Jake Parrot, I still make drinks with shit floatin' in it.
How would you sum up Tales to an aspiring bartender who is new to the profession?
Show up early, listen, drop the ego. No one cares about the encyclopedic knowledge you memorized, the skills you've gained, the drinks you make, the flair you have, your "look" if you're an asshole. And don't judge others because they have different specs or techniques. Everyone started somewhere. I'm old as fuck and still learning and everyone needs a job. The Sazerac that you want to make might be different from the specs of that establishment. And you're in our city, enjoy and don't be "that guy". And drink lots of water. And GO OUT TO OUR RESTAURANTS!
What is your go-to cocktail when you go out?
Cobbler has holes in their shoes. I usually try something on their menu first, and then move to whiskey or wine.
What is your favorite cocktail to make for friends and family?
Depends on where I am and the occasion. But I love to make a great classic or Hemingway Daiquiri or a big ass thing of Pina Coladas, so they can see and taste a different technique other than Florida beach shops (though I ain't above it). Also, every Thanksgiving I do Mint Juleps and white trash 70's vittles before going to opening day at the racetrack. Then I cook for my husband, friend Nancy Kohn, whatever "orphans" need to be fed and Chris Hannah. We watch Dean Martin videos. And Paul Gustings always insists he's not invited. Ugh.