Marriott Brings The First Ever Pop-Up To Tales Of The Cocktail With The Atomic Lounge

While many brands decided to sit-out Tales of the Cocktail 2018 to see how it would play out under new ownership, Marriott International had faith in the festival and decided to throw their first ever pop-up bar this year. While portfolio parties have become a staple of TOTC, Marriott’s pop-up bar activation marked the first ever portfolio party by a hotel group. Although this was their very first major activation at Tales, we truly thought it was one of the most memorable and innovative events of the 2018 festival.

Showcasing The Ritz-Carlton, W Hotels, JW Marriott, Marriott Hotels, Westin and The Autograph Collection, the Marriott’s bar teams created some remarkable cocktails that were as surprisingly funky as The Atomic Pop-Up experience. We spoke to Gary Gruver, Senior Beverage Manager, Global Operations at Marriott International about the entire pop-up concept and where the hotel group is headed with their bar programs across the board.

Talking with Gary Gruver, Senior Beverage Manager, Global Operations at Marriott International


Marriott International’s Gary Gruver with thirsty Founder Tara Fougner

(Photo by Jordan Hughes @highproofpreacher)

How did the idea come about?

I have been attending Tales of the Cocktail for the past several years, and when I was thinking about experiences that sparked my inspiration for the industry, Tales was definitely a starting point. So for our first Marriott activation, I wanted to provide that opportunity for our bartenders and expose them to the energy and brands that are always featured at Tales. Furthermore, I wanted to engage the trade and showcase our various talents to shift any existing perceptions and highlight how thoughtful hotel beverage truly is to its guest.

Why The Atomic Lounge?

There’s a great story behind The Atomic Lounge. The owner, Feizal Valli, was a New Orleans bartender who ended up in Birmingham to stay with friends during Hurricane Katrina. Birmingham made Feizal feel so much at home that he decided to open up his own bar there—The Atomic Lounge. When we knew that the space we were going to transform for Tales was an old F&B space in The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans that hadn’t reopened since it flooded during Katrina, it seemed like the perfect fit. We wanted to bring Feizal back to his old home to open up a satellite version of his chill and retro bar and provide a refuge at Tales for bartenders where they could kick back, relax and not taking anything too seriously.

How did you select the Bar Talents from across the Marriott portfolio?

It was a mixture of established and emerging talents from across our company. Some of the talent have been our tried and true advocates in the world, while others are regional winners of an internal mixology competition called “Master of the Craft”. They all now join the ranks of our beverage advocates.

Are there any misconceptions about Marriott beverage programs that you are actively working to dispel?

Just the normal ones that I know most hotels encounter—that the person behind the bar is just a person with a name tag. Our programs today are stronger than ever and hospitality is at its core.

The Atomic Lounge Pop-Up Photo by Jordan Hughes @highproofpreacher

Marriott has put a real focus on elevating their bar programs across their properties. Can you tell us a bit about the methodology and approach?

Accreditation. Training and accrediting our bartenders across all brands is our main ethos moving forward. We are putting all of our time and energy into our associates, starting with a firm understanding of what the craft is. Once we accredit, then we elevate them with programs built to enrich their career within the beverage world. Even if an associate were to leave the fold, they would have all the tools necessary to elevate another bar’s bottom line.

Where do you see the concept of the “Hotel Bar” going within the Marriott family?

I see it gaining huge traction in both luxury and lifestyle aspects and strengthening its position as a place for the beverage community to gravitate towards.

This was the very first hotel portfolio party in Tales history and you decided to activate this innovative pop-up during Tales rebuilding year with the new ownership. Why was that and how do you feel about Tales 2.o?

We felt that it was a great time to get involved with Tales of the Cocktail. As this is a rebuilding year, we had the opportunity to be a part of that story and add something new that had never been done before. The new leadership has been truly amazing and, most importantly, transparent. They were encouraging and really assisted us with putting on a stellar event.

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