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Late-breaking telexes from the cocktail front by Wayne Curtis, author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in 10 Cocktails, and designated drinker for The Atlantic magazine.

  • And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails
    And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails
    by Wayne Curtis

Contact: Email me via www.waynecurtis.com

Twitter: @waynecurtis

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Entries in New Orleans (13)

Friday
Dec212012

In your cups: an historical tippling tour of New Orleans

Note: The American Historical Association convenes in New Orleans January 3-6, and 5,000 historians are coming to town to, well... do whatever it is that historians do when they convene. Bitch about Franklin Pierce? I don't know. Of course, what they should be doing is employing all their senses to better understand the city's past, and that includes the sense of taste. So, here's a handy check list of places to sample history by the glass. 

Little known fact: New Orleans sits on a volcano.

Yes, well, it’s special sort of volcano — no fumaroles or magma. Rather, it sits precariously on a shifting and molten bed of latent antiquity, and any disturbance on the surface invariably opens cracks that result in dramatic eruptions.

Like Hurricane Katrina, which caused centuries of simmering racial and economic imbalance to spew forth. Or the annual earthquake known as Mardi Gras, which causes eruptions of Zulus and fine, feathery Indians, which ooze down city streets like an implacable lava flow (a very slow lava flow in the case of the Zulu floats.)

Some of the city’s older and better bars are the equivalent of volcanic vents: minor outlets through which the past incessantly steams to the surface. New Orleans has long loved stiff drink and cocktails (as a port, it thrived at the intersection of Mississippi River whiskey, French cognac, New England ice, and bitters from the West Indies), and that love has only grown more tenacious over time. The city has been hit repeatedly by yellow fever outbreaks since it was first founded, but, thankfully, it avoided the lite beer and white wine spritzer epidemics. Dig down an inch or two anywhere, and you’l find nineteenth century drinks that failed to fall out of favor.

Too much work? Well, fine. Here’s a start:

Sazerac Bar, Hotel Roosevelt
What to order: Sazerac
The original “cocktail” (born ca. 1803) was a simple, stirred drink: bitters, sugar, and spirits. The Sazerac is essentially a pimped-out version dating to the latter half of the 19th century, tricked out with an absinthe rinse. It’s traditionally made with rye, sugar, and Peychaud’s bitters (a venerable New Orleans brand), with a hint of lemon and licorice. (Cognac was the original spirit, but whiskey displaced it when cognac supplies dwindled following the ruination of French grapes by a Texan aphid in the late 19th century.)

Serviceable Sazeracs can be ordered in most bars around the city — it’s the “official cocktail” of New Orleans, as decreed by the state legislature in 2008 — but the elegant steamship-moderne interior of the Sazerac Bar (dating to 1949) is a fine place to enjoy one.  123 Baronne St.

The Napoleon House
What to order: Pimm’s Cup
The Napoleon House is how people who’ve never been to New Orleans imagine the city: vaguely continental, with spalling walls graced with faded portraits of Napoleon amid strains of classical music. This restaurant and bar, housed in a Creole-inflected building dating to 1814, is famous for its Pimm’s Cup (which dates to 1840), and is made with a British gin-based liqueur, lemonade, and 7-Up, then garnished with a cucumber slice. It’s a tall and refreshing drink, perfect for summer weather but not wholly hostile to winter, either.  500 Chartres St.

Bellocq
What to order: Bonal Gentiane Quinine Cobbler
This new bar (opened in 2011) sits across a small courtyard from the lobby of a boutique hotel in a late-modern former YMCA building. The building doesn't offer much in the way of a classic New Orleans past, but the cocktail menu overflows with it.

Bellocq (named after a noted local photographer of prostitutes) specializes in classic drinks slightly updated for modern tastes. As such, the  cocktail menu abounds with obscure 19th century classic tipples, like the crusta, julep, and, chiefly, the cobbler. The cobbler was born of ice — New Orleans was a major importer of New England ice starting in the early 19th century, and much of that chilly goodness got crushed and conscripted for these delicious drinks.

Cobblers are essentially a mix of spirits and a little sugar served over pebbled ice in a julep cup, then handsomely adorned with fresh fruit for both taste and aroma. The Bonal cobbler is a fine modern adaptation of one of these classics, and a perfect example of how the past may be profitably recruited to improve the present. 936 St. Charles Ave. (Lee Circle)

Carousel Bar
What to order: Vieux Carre Cocktail
The Vieux Carre cocktail was created in 1938 by bartender Walter Bergeron at the Hotel Monteleone lounge (then called the Swan Room). He was looking for an alternative to the always popular Sazerac, which was then a trademarked name exclusive to a single bar. Bergeon’s cocktail also had a boozy, classic profile, but was a bit more layered and Gordian in its complexity. It’s made now (as then) with rye, cognac, Benedictine, vermouth, and two types of bitters.

And, no, it’s not you: the main bar was built on the chassis of an antique merry go round in 1949, and patrons revolve fully every fifteen minutes. The bar also claims a long literary heritage: Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote all got into their cups here. 214 Royal St.

Arnaud’s French 75
What to order: French 75
The French 75 cocktail is named after the French 75mm field gun (1897 model), and is traditionally made with gin, lemon juice, sugar, and champagne. Except at Arnaud’s, which has been serving Creole fare since 1918. Here, it’s made with cognac. Bartender Chris Hannah argues that, well, of course, the French would have used cognac, not gin from the much-loathed British. With cognac, it’s an elegant and sophisticated sip, and a fine drink for all seasons. For a cold-weather-only drink, order a Winter Waltz, a hearty, allspice-inflected applejack and cognac cocktail Hannah invented. It's on the way to becoming a classic that future historians will document; sip it here first.

The restaurant bar, which can be entered directly from Bienville St., has the feel of a Parisian hotel bar, with lots of wood and quarter-sized white tiles on the floor. Fair warning: it’s cigar friendly, and on some nights the fog hangs thick. 813 Bienville St.


Tujaques
What to order: Grasshopper
Yes, the Grasshopper. It was invented in the 1930s by the then-owner of Tujaques for a cocktail competition in New York. It caught on. And then disappeared — and not without reason. It’s made of creme de menthe, creme de cacao, brandy, and cream. Inexplicably, the drink seems to be creeping back into fashion. (I blame ironic Brooklyn hipsters, even in the absence of any evidence.)

Still, why not try one in its place of birth? This elegant, classic bar is worth checking out for its distinguished pedigree alone. It first opened in 1856 (it’s been in its current location since 1914), and the impressive backbar, shipped from Paris, dates from the mid-19th century. Note the absence of barstools — this has always been a workingman’s riverfront bar. You stand at the bar, knock back a drink or two, you go back to work. 823 Decatur St.

Looking for more to do (drink, eat, see, hear) while in town? Download the New Orleans Explorer's Guide, an iPhone app I wrote featuring more than 150 suggestions (with photos and interactive maps) for getting the most out of a New Orleans visit. Buy here: www.NOLAexplorer.com.

Friday
Dec072012

Loggerhead, sugar cone, sugar snips. Must be time for a cocktail

 

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Something's been lost in contemporary cocktail culture. It’s no longer the subculture it was a few years ago, one of those hidden cultural cul-de-sacs filled with quirky individual passions — people obsessed about tinctures or 19th century history or defunct tiki bars or whatever.

Cocktail culture at some point in the last few years crossed the Rubicon, and now sits squarely in pop culture territory. Too often it attracts new adherents for no other reason than it’s where the cool kids hang out. I mean, who doesn’t want to hang out with the cool kids? So, to fit in, callow newcomers learn a couple of bartending tricks and then grow their Edwardian mustaches. They set their flame on low, and fuel it not with a deep-seated curiosity about bitters or the sociology of ancient saloon life. Rather, they're driven by a deep-seated desire to drink free liquor and get laid.

So last night, it was nice to see some old-fashioned flint-and-tinder flames again, both literal and metaphorical.

I’d gotten an invitation to stop by from Nathan Dalton, the bar manager for Felipe’s, a Mexican joint which has great margaritas made with fresh limes, but it's a place you don't see on those must-visit lists for craft cocktail pilgrims doing the stations of the cross in New Orleans. He said was hosting a small party at his house with colonial cocktails, and thought I might want to check it out.

Well... obviously. I got to his house about 10:30. It’s a eggplant-hued shotgun far out in the Bywater. I walked in, and then, in classic shotgun style, walked through the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom, and the bathroom. I turned left at the bathtub, whereupon I entered an extraordinary bar. A great collection of intriguing liquor cluttered tiered shelves, and there was an assortment of quality bar tools spread on a tall, long table.

And there was a loggerhead. And a sugar cone. And wonderful antique set of sugar scissors. (Read more about early sugar ritual and culture here).

Nathan was making up a Rattleskull when I arrived, with brandy, rum, wine, and porter, garnished with fresh nutmeg. He made mimbos and bombos, and grog and a lovely Stone Fence with a delicate hard cider and Appleton rum, with some sugar snipped off to round off the tartness.

I helped out with the second round of flip. The loggerhead — an ironmonger friend had crafted it for him and his wife — met the propane flame, and heated for about a half hour. We shut off the lights from time to time, and eventually the loggerhead's head glowed a soft crimson all the way through. It looked like Jupiter viewed through a powerful telescope. We killed the music, and then the loggerhead went into a pottery pitcher full of rum, molasses, and Guinness. It hissed and sputtered and put up a fight as will happen, but eventually it capitulated, leaving a cappuccino-like foam on top. (The liquid-to-loggerhead proportion was a bit too askew to properly caramelize the sugar and burn the grains. But it was still tasty.)

Sometime after midnight we got taking about Campari and then the conversation turned to cochineal, and Dalton got animated all over again. “I got some cochineal!” he said, having recently returned from a trip to Mexico. “You want to eat some bugs?”

He left the room and moments later returned with a sack about the size of three pound bag of flour filled with tiny dead insects. He said he paid $185 for it. We palmed a few — dried, they’re not much bigger than apple seeds — then popped them in our mouths. They were bitter, pleasingly so.

“You’ve got to watch this,” Dalton said, and then mixed some bugs into a cup of water. It instantly turned a deep ruby color, like a shot of Campari. “Now watch this,” he said, sounding more excited than Bill Nye the Science Guy, and squeezed in a bit of lime juice. And it instantly turned a golden yellow — the pH level could change the color, he said. Someone suggested adding baking powder to to try to turn it back to red. Dalton ran off to find some, but none was found. The liquid remained gold. We stared at it, thinking maybe hard looking would bring it back.

It didn’t — nor did the chalk we found. So I finished my Stone Fence, and departed a short while later. I bicycled six miles home through a warm New Orleans night. And I did so feeling more encouraged about where cocktails can take us than I have in a long, long time.

Wednesday
May162012

World Cocktail Day: Finally, an excuse to drink, dance and carry on in New Orleans 

What happened 206 years ago this month?

As if I had to ask. Of course, it was the date of the first printed definition of the word ”cocktail.” And because so few days exist on the calendar in which one can celebrate by drinking extravagant cocktails and dancing and generally carrying on, World Cocktail Day was established in 2006. It honors that most American of American inventions, the cocktail. (Or the most British of American inventions, if you believe David Wondrich. But he’s a known liar.)

Many fraudulent holidays exist, of course, such as World Estuaries Day (September 3), National Biscuit Month (Sepetmber), National Melba Toast Day (March 23) and Canadian Toilet Flange Day (October 7). These exist only on press releases. No drink or gaeity is involved.

World Cocktail Day, I am pleased to report, is not an ersatz holiday. Indeed, this year’s milestone will be marked with a fabulous Swing Ball at the Museum of the American Cocktail on the Mississippi River. Live in New Orleans? Take the bus or streetcar. Don’t live in New Orleans? Fly and catch a cab.

The ball will feature the outstanding Meschiya Lake and her Little Big Quartet. She has a voice that can fill a city block, and it still has energy enough to wander down a side street or two. She plays traditional New Orleans jazz. This doesn’t mean smooth jazz, and it doesn’t mean Dixieland jazz. (The latter was a soul-less, stripped down version of the real thing, the Herman’s Hermits to the Beatles.) It means jazz you can serioiusly dance to.

Dancing will make you hungry, of course. Do not fear: there will be food. Noshing will be provided by Cure, Cafe Adelaide, and the Windsor Court Hotel.  

Eating will make one thirsty. Do not fear. there will be drink. Some of the city’s best bartenders will be mixing up outstanding cocktails, including Chris McMillian, Rhiannon Enlil, Kimberly Patton-Bragg, Nick Deitrich, and the inscrutable Chris Hannah.

Good food and drink invariably makes one thoughtful and inquisitive. Do not fear: there will be education. You can browse the museum with food and drink in hand. When questions arise about early 20th century drink, you can ask, oh, say, DALE DEGROFF. Have a tiki question? Why not ask JEFF “BEACHBUM” BERRY.  Oh, yes, they’ll be there, and ready to chat.

Also: be sure to welcome Jeff Berry to New Orleans. He and his wife, Annene, moved here last week. New Orleans is where tiki inventor Don the Beachcomber grew up, so Berry's move here is like the return of a salmon to the ancestral river. A salmon wearing an aloha shirt. Or whatever.

You might ask, what sort of second mortgage will be required to afford such a glorious event? A very small one, friends. The cost: a mere $30, including all food and drink and dance, for those who order in advance. (It’s $40 for procrastinators.)

Will I be there? As if you had to ask.

Friday May 18, 6pm to 9pm, Southern Food and Beverage Museum (Riverwalk Marketplace, at foot of Julia St.) For info, call 646.696.0862. To order tickets online, head to www.americancocktailmuseum.org.

Thursday
Dec152011

How to make a cocktail with gas station convenience store ingredients

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The idea: Simple. Four teams of three bartenders were dropped off at a store. They were given $100 to buy ingredients to make a drink. (Not including spirits, which were provided by Pernod-Ricard.) 

The catch: The store was a slightly skeevy convenience store attached to a gas station somewhere on upper Elysian Fields in New Orleans. In Streetcar Named Desire, you take Elysian Fields to Desire. In reality, not so much.

The venue: The teams convened in the back room at Molly's at the Market on Decatur St. This was a catered affair, with fried chicken from some joint. There were two big boxes of chicken. Not much was eaten. You could have run a small car for a week on the oil collected in those boxes.

The drama: At the store, Team White 'N Nerdy (Chris Hannah, Nick Detrich, Matt Rey) headed straight to the dairy case. Here they blew most of their budget on eggs — they bought all 15 dozen eggs so no other team could use them in their drinks. The fate of the unused eggs remains unclear.

The treachery: Michael Glassberg from Team Bitter As Hell and Too Much Baggage managed to swipe a dozen eggs from the erstwhile monopolists. White 'N Nerdy: strategic advantage denied.

The creativity: Pork rind garnishes. Rims encrusted with crushed wintergreen Lifesavers. Red Hot infusions in lieu of Angostura bitters. Louisiana Hot Sauce.

The Bad: Most of the drinks, not surprisingly. When I taste cocktails I mentally start at 100 and then deduct points for flaws. Here, it was more efficient to start at zero and begrudgingly bestow a few points. A drink involving a peppered mango and too much salt tasted a bit like an Epsom Salts foot bath, after the feet had been removed. I mean that in a good way. I did add five points for the garnish of red-pepper encrusted mango (gas stations have mangos?) which looked like an enraged Gulf shrimp.

The ugly: Team White 'N Nerdy made a drink called the Nod Noggin, which was a Becherovka-based drink along with whatnot that made it disturbingly opaque and brown. However, the team showed considerable creativity in crafting a drink that left foamy brown rings around the glass as it was consumed. I tip my hat to this sly homage to the gas station rest room. Also, once I made this connection, I couldn't finish the drink. Nor could those around me after I helpfully pointed out the similarities.

The good: Team Electric Crabs (Murf Reeves, Liam Deegan, and Michelle Lunza) made a drink consisting of Martell Cognac, Strawberry NesQuik, King Cobra Malt Liquor and Karo syrup. With a Graham Cracker rim. I took a sip, first making sure a spit cup was within reach. And the drink was... how can I put this... actually quite good. It was, in fact, remarkably balanced. You could taste each of the ingredients separately, and it came together in an unexpectedly interesting way. I would order another one. (Recipe below.) Electric Crabs took the prize from the judges. (Those sitting in judgement were Keith Marzalek, Chris and Laura McMillian, and Chris Patino.)

Oh, the humanity! This idea for Station Libations — held the evening of December 14 — came from a dark part of Rhiannon Enlil's shriveled, bitter heart. One can only hope more of her events fill the calendars of 2012.

After School Special

1.5 oz Martell Cognac
2 oz Strawberry NesQuik
1/2 oz King Cobra Premium Malt Liquor
1/2 oz Karo Syrup

Shake like a fiend with ice. Strain and serve.

Sunday
Nov132011

Field Trip: Vitascope Hall (Hyatt Hotel), New Orleans

Chain hotel bars aren’t usually my destination of choice — too predictable, too mediocre, too many people wearing laminated convention badges around their necks and laughing their scary, fake laughs. But I’m happy to make an exception when I see something being done right.

I stopped by the revamped Hyatt Regency New Orleans during its re-opening ceremony a few weeks ago — it had been closed more than six years, ever since Katrina blew out many of its upper windows (pictures of the hotel became an iconic NOLA image) and the failed levees flooded the ground floor. Wandering through the third floor atrium lobby — which is haute John Portman if you’re a pop architect geek — one of the bars (not yet open) caught my attention. A holy mess of liquor bottles were neatly enshrined within a tall glass dividing wall. And they weren’t the mass market bottles you might expect. Here was Old New Orleans Rum, Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette, St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram, and a few other cocktailian favorites. This clearly wasn’t my parents’ Hyatt Hotel.

Later I made a call to Alex Hill, director of food and beverage, to find out if the bottles were just chum for the craft cocktail crowd. Perhaps once lured inside they’d be gaffed with Popov and Malibu. But, no. The drinks list was actually a couple notches above what you’d expect. “Our goal was find someone local, someone who understood the cocktails,” Hill said. They didn’t want to call in a NYC-based brand ambassador with a big spirits brand to help get the cocktail program launched. They wanted to find someone who understood local history and nuance. And — after a visit to Tales of the Cocktail and a chat with Ann Tuennerman — they found Rhiannon Enlil.

Now, I’ve known Rhiannon for a few years. I often bike up to Cure early on Sundays, when it’s slow and she’s usually working and we can chat. So I may be biased. But, seriously, that woman knows her way around a cocktail. They'd be hard-pressed to find anyone better.

The idea was to improve the cocktail program, but not to go overboard with the craftiness. “We didn’t want a ten minute ticket time on a drink,” Hill said. “We have to be a bit quicker.”

I went back a few days later to see how it panned out. The bar is called Vitascope Hall, after New Orleans’s first movie theater. It’s a big, open, modern, angular spot, with lots of televisions for the sports crowd. (Not coincidentally, it’s the closest hotel to the Benz-O-Dome.) You can download a Vitascope iPhone app and, in theory, tap on the music you want to hear over the bar’s sound system. In reality, the playlist seemed to be stuck on the “Worst Shit of the 1980s” channel. I was told the system’s not quite up and running yet.

Rhiannon had flirted with some 40 different potions in crafting the new cocktail list, which ultimately listed nine drinks (including two punches, one serving four and one six). They use about 20 different house mixes (syrups and infusions), and six different bitters. Most seemed to strike a perfectly reasonable compromise between ease of preparation and taste.

My favorite: the Saratoga Trunk, a big and tasty drink served over crushed ice. It’s a twist on a late 19th century classic, made with Four Roses Single Barrel, Laird’s Applejack, Carpano Antica vermouth, and Fee’s whiskey barrel bitters. One word: Yum. (Is “yum” actually a word or just a random phoneme?)

Other drinks anchored in the past include the Place d'Armes (Rittenhouse Rye, house-made grenadine, lemon, lime, orange, mint) and the Rum Daisy (Cruzan and Goslings rum, lemon, cranberry syrup, clove, soda water).

There’s also food, of course. Another word: disappointing. We ordered mussels with lemongrass, curry and green onion, and while the flavor was good, some of the little bivalves were sadly desiccated, some unopened, and some — maybe 70 percent — just right. And the cheese plate struck me as designed for a palate brought up on grocery store domestic Swiss. It could have aimed higher.

Still, for a big chain bar, this struck me as a three steps forward, one step back The cocktails far outpaced most other chain hotel bars I’ve endured lately, and my hat’s off to them for not taking the easy route and just implementing a bland, could-be-anyplace corporate cocktail program.

Tuesday
Jul122011

Hello, New Orleans!

Tales of the Cocktail — the drinking world’s equivalent of the Davos Economic Summit — kicks off in the Crescent City in just over a week’s time.

If you’re headed south to tipple, sniff and swill, allow me recommend an iPhone/iPad app published earlier this month to help you get even more out of a visit. It’s called New Orleans Explorer’s Guide. I know a fair amount about it because I wrote it.

In a former life, before I discovered that drinking heavily could be a wise and excellent career move, I was a guidebook writer for Frommer’s. So writing this app was a bit like stepping back in time. I was pleased to learn that I still knew how to pedal the bicycle.

The app is designed to serve as a travel guide for those headed to New Orleans. It features about 150 entries, ranging from museums (including the Museum of the American Cocktail, of course) to great parks to the restaurants I like to frequent. I’ve also got about 25 of my favorite bars listed. (By the way, if your thirst is mightier than that, I can recommend another app — New Orleans’ Best Bars — by my friend Todd Price.)    

The app was published in conjunction with Sutro Media, and has lots of handy features, including interactive maps showing you how to walk to where you want to be, or, to make life easier for TOTC attendees, how much the average cab fare would be. (Tap once more and the app will call the cab for you.)  

The cost of New Orleans at your fingertips? A mere $2.99.

New Orleans Explorers Guide can be purchased directly through iTunes. Reviews and ratings are much appreciated — until I get at least five ratings, the app exists in the iTunes equivalent of a musty bar that sells only Bud Lite. Help usher me into the classier sort of neon-edged joint with aged rum where I belong!

Friday
Jan142011

Cocktail Ranger: Twelve Mile Limit, New Orleans

Twelve Mile Limit is the bar equivalent of one of those skeevey food trucks that serve remarkable food. Here: wonderful cocktails in a raffish, unglamorous setting.

The bar was launched late last fall by Cole Newton, who came to New Orleans after Katrina to help with the rebuilding, then made drinks at Coquette, one of the city's best restaurants. He departed Coquette last year to open his own spot, and found a corner bar in the Mid-City neighborhood, a pretty good distance from where tourists usually get nervous and turn back for the French Quarter. It's not actually twelve miles distant, though. America once claimed sovereignty for twelve miles offshore so during Prohibition cruise ships would open their bars once they crossed the line. Also, Newton had a drink called the Twelve Mile Limit at Coquette.

At heart, TML remains a neighborhood bar — nothing fancy, but solid and with surprisingly great drinks. I wouldn't rank it as a destination bar like Cure on Freret St., but I do consider it well worth checking out if you've had your fill of Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street, and the usual Uptown locales. Or if you're just curious about New Orleans neighborhoods that few ever visit.

TML has a dozen or so seats at the bar, a few tables, one jukebox and one pool table. Plus a terrazzo floor, a low ceiling, and a buzzer to get in (or a doorman some nights). The rehab needs a bit more time and traffic to get broken in and feel like a proper dive, but I have confidence it will ge there soon. Maybe by JazzFest.

Behind the bar are the usual beers and spirits, and a handful of specials on the chalkboard. I believe this is the first place I've been where you can order up a cocktail containing Chartreuse for $7. (Ask for the Juarez, made with white tequila, triple sec, lime juice, and green Chartreuse.)

Other good options recently were the eponymous Twelve Mile Limit (white rum, rye, brandy, pomegranate and lime) and the Baudin (bourbon, honey, lime, and hot sauce), both priced at a friendly $6.

For food, there's a guy from Texas with a kettle grill out back making up brisket, chicken wings, and more, available until about 10 p.m. or until he runs out. If you want to order out a pizza or other food to be delivered, Newton is fine with that.

The crowd varies from night to night, some evenings favoring chainsmokers nursing beers and Marlboros, other times skewing toward Teach for America imports working their way thought the cocktail board while venting about the mysterious ways of New Orleans. Either way, there's a loose, friendly vibe.

Bottom Line: This would become your regular dive if you lived within a 10-minute radius. If passing through from out of town, it's worth an evening's detour to check out some wonderful drinks priced right.

Cocktails: $6 to $8. 500 S. Telemachus St. For more info, visit TML's Facebook page.

Tuesday
Nov302010

Where to drink in NOLA? Go with the flow

Ian Hoch, a New Orleans activist, actor, comedian, and, well, I'm not sure what else, has done New Orleanians a great favor but by putting some of his obviously copious free time to use. He's compiled a flow chart to figure out where to go drinking in the city. (Click here to see a larger, more legible version.)

It's quite helpful. It starts out with basic questions ("Are you from here?") but quickly cuts to the chase. Do you want to hear "actual music or shitty music?" If actual music, do you like "trumpets and shit?" Is your first priority "seeing boobs?" "Are you a douchebag?" And it appears he has some firsthand knowledge of these bars.

Hoch has also reported that he'll have a poster version to sell eventually, which I suspect will be announced via his Twitter feed.

UPDATE: The slick, full-sized poster is now available ($20) here.

Monday
Feb082010

Quote of the week: New Orleans, 1834

“In all the streets around, cafes and barrooms (it would be unjust to call them grogshops) were open and in the receipt of a full and noisy custom. Rum and gin, Monongahela, and Tom and Jerry here live in palaces. The genius of Intemperance — driven from many of her dirty altars in the streets, alleys & culs de sac of the northern cities — may well console herself with the taste, elegance and refinement of her shrines in New Orleans. The drinking room is large — the ceiling high, a handsome lamp or chandelier hangs from the midst — [and] a whole army of bottles, with contents of all color line the shelves in close array all around, and the counter with its marble slab, or mahogany board, [is] tricked off with shining brass work. Full decanters complete an arrangement for beastly gratification such as it is reserved for New Orleans to exhibit…”

— from the journals of John H.B. Latrobe, on his visit to New Orleans, November 1834. (Punctuation altered for clarity.) 

Friday
Feb052010

Branding alert: The Ninth Ward

When I travel around the country I've gotten in the habit of seeking out “authentic” New Orleans restaurants and trying out the food, mostly for the amusement value. Sometimes it’s actually nearly passable by Crescent City standards, and it makes me say “hmmm!” Sometimes, well, it just makes me say, "hmmmm." Like at Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, where I once ordered a “vegetarian gumbo served in a sourdough bread boule.” I prefer not to discuss this, thank you all the same.

The point is, New Orleans food — like its music — is a great cultural export, although mileage may vary once it gets beyond city limits.

The New Orleans cocktail may be following the same uncertain path. A recent post on the Village Voice’s food blog noted a bar under construction in the East Village (at 180 Second Ave, to be exact), which will be called The Ninth Ward. Not surprisingly, it will focus on New Orleans-style drinks. It’s being opened by Robert Morgan (who runs Shoolbred’s across the street), and he tells the Voice that “the new place will have an 1890’s New Orleans feel, with absinthe drips and classic cocktails, much like Laffite's or the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street.” Naturally, he’ll also serve New Orleans food.

It’s a great name — a nice play on the classic cocktail called the “Ward Eight,” and a nod to a section of New Orleans that got brutually hammered in the levee breach following Katrina. It’s unlikely the name would have had any resonance outside of the New Orleans if it hadn’t been for the storm.

As it is, the Ninth Ward has already been pleasingly recognized in drink. In 2008 Brother Cleve of Boston came up with a bourbon cocktail by that name for Tales of the Cocktail, and it’s right tasty. Here he is making one: [UPDATE: Sadly, the video seems to have vanished.]






Morgan said that he’s noticed customers coming into Shoolbred’s (which is not a fancy cocktail bar) and asking for Sazeracs, a New Orleans drink that was all but unknown outside the city five years ago. Seems to me it’s a good thing that the word is getting out about a fine regional drink, but I’m also a little concerned it could follow the path of unrighteousness and end up with its name badly sullied. Although if gumbo can survive a sourdough breadbowl, I have confidence that the Sazerac is hearty and self-assured enough to survive even an encounter with vodka. Well, maybe not vodka. But at least off-brand bitters.