Mar 31, 200911:31 AM
After Hours

New Orleans Finest Nightlife

Cure and the Craft of the Cocktail

Cure on Freret Street

IAN MCNULTY PHOTOGRAPH

Even the ice cubes are better at Cure, a cocktail bar that opened on Freret Street in late February. These distinctive cubes are extra large, produced by a specialized machine expressly so they are slower to melt and water down a drink. Ice is ice at most bars, but this detail speaks of the driving force behind Cure: a level of care bordering on reverence for the craft of the cocktail.

The name Cure is a nod to the deep roots of cocktails in the world of 19th century pharmacies, where bitters, tinctures and even drams of liquor were dispensed as palliatives. And behind his broad bar top, Cure owner and head bartender Neal Bodenheimer gives an air of Old World civility, dressed in a pressed shirt and tie under a stiff black apron as he vigorously but precisely shakes together an aviation, a gin-based cocktail with pre-Prohibition credentials, or La Louisiane, a rendition of the classic Sazerac.

Bodenheimer is a New Orleans native who developed both an appreciation for fine cocktails and the chops to prepare them while working at a succession of A-list bars and restaurants in New York City. He returned home not long after Hurricane Katrina with the determination to share his passion with New Orleans. He worked at the busy Uptown hotspot The Delachaise for a while, and later created the cocktail menu for its upscale French Quarter spin-off, Bar Tonique.
   
Bodenheimer always wanted his own space however, and he found it hiding beneath the clutter and junk of an old appliance repair shop that would have made Sanford and Son appear fastidious. A massive renovation has transformed the property into a bar as sensuous and design-savvy as the hippest hotel lobby lounge. But Cure has its own distinctive character, much of it emanating or reflecting back on Bodenheimer's devotion to quality, craft-made cocktails.

Take a closer look and details like those custom ice cubes emerge everywhere. Padded leather banquettes curve around one half of the room, creating intimate spaces. Vintage brickwork and lumber speak to the building's historic credentials, and contrast with the modern furnishings and bar design. Glass jars line the bar filled with fruit wedges, while imported bottles of hard-to-find vermouth, gin and liqueurs glow from illuminated bar shelves. Smoking is not allowed inside the bar, though patrons can light up in the large rear patio, itself a sleek and attractive space.  

There is a list of recommended specialty drinks, like the Hemingway daiquiri (hint: it's not frozen) or the howitzer, which adds a strong dose of bourbon to the champagne-based classic French 75 (both are named for artillery pieces). The bartenders can make anything, of course, and at least during the more easy-going weeknight shifts they seem to revel in mixing something unexpected and on-the-spot for adventurous patrons.  
You won't find pre-made bar mixes or even a soda gun here. Instead, Bodenheimer and his bartenders prepare drinks from a collection of freshly-made juices, syrups and garnishes like busy chefs pulling from their mis en place. For instance, to make the spicy, smooth, refreshing bourbon cocktail called a horse's neck, a bartender first plucks a whole lemon from a basket and peels it in one long, continuous strip so quickly and deftly, it looks like a sleight of hand. From a small squirt bottle comes fresh ginger syrup, which he tells us was made that afternoon.

Another cocktail might call for a few precise drops of fennel tincture dispensed from a metal flask concealed behind the bar and the unlikely concoction called "the search for delicious" starts with an intense, dark vermouth and adds sprinkles of sea salt both to the drink and on the glass's rim.

The bar stocks a small selection of imported beers, plus bottles of Miller High Life as a hedge against the guy who comes in and just wants cheap suds.

From a small and quite open kitchen adjacent to the bar, chef Jason McCullar produces a short but immensely satisfying roster of dishes. Some are ideal for casual sharing around a cocktail table, like the cheese and imported meat plates or the crostini smeared with duck liver pate. But sandwiches like the vegetarian mushroom melt or the cochon panino made with pork roasted in-house and spicy cabbage kimchee are downright hearty and filling.

Cure's location on Freret Street puts it right in the center of a commercial strip that is seeing serious new revitalization. Watching the pros at work here and sipping their creations at the luminous bar or in the patio under the easy sway of palm fronds, it can feel like Cure is also at the heart of New Orleans cocktail culture.

Cure opens daily at 5 p.m. It is located at 4905 Freret St., and the phone is 302-2357.
 

Reader Comments:
Mar 31, 2009 02:52 pm
 Posted by  eameschair

I really want a t-shirt with the Cure logo on it! Very, very cool. The howitzer is fantastic!

Jun 8, 2009 01:13 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

These people are beyond snooty. Seriously - who wants to sit around watching a snob bartender spend 15 minutes making a coctail for some equally self-righteous schmuck? They hardly have any wines by the glass for sale (and this is a bar), and they have no wine glasses. With as long as it takes to get a drink here, there's no way they will stay open because the profit margin has to be so low. If you're a self-righteous, stuck-up cocktail-phile, maybe you'd like this place. But seriously, get over yourselves, losers. The author of this review needs to get the ice cube out of his azz and realize WFT this place is really about - narcissism and personal self-importance.

Jun 9, 2009 12:12 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Cure is a total breath of fresh air - literally, they don't allow smoking except on the open-air patio! The drinks are great, the building is beautiful and the staff is helpful, especially when it's not crazy busy.
I, for one, appreciate what they are doing. The crowd spans age, race and demographics - I love that it is on Freret and not downtown or on Magazine St. Also, more power to the no-baseball cap dress code, which helps keep the frat quotient low.
Personally, I'd much rather pay a few more bucks for a drink that is actually well-crafted and tastes great and that isn't full of high-fructose corn syrup and crappy, well liquor.

Jun 9, 2009 05:22 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Horrible service and takes an eternity to get a cocktail, even if it was a good cocktail. Also, fix the broken sewer line outside in the courtyard. It smelled like someone was dropping heat the entire time I was on the patio. I'd rather smell cigarette smoke than stank - and I hate cigarettes - but they could not overcome the power of someone's restroom desecration.

Jul 19, 2009 02:17 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

The Cure has a great atmosphere however I really didn't enjoy the two drinks I had. The gin rickey tasted bitter as if the lime juice was a few hours old and started to ferment. The sidecar had too much lemon juice for my tastes. For me, it was not worth the money.

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After Hours

New Orleans Finest Nightlife

about

Ian McNultyA transplant from his native Rhode Island, Ian McNulty quickly discovered how easy it is to strike up conversations with New Orleans people simply by asking about their favorite clubs and neighborhood joints.

He asked often, listened carefully and has been exploring the nightlife of the Crescent City ever since.

McNulty was the editor and principal contributor to Hungry? Thirsty? New Orleans, a guidebook to nightspots and inexpensive restaurants around town. He is also author of Season of Night, a memoir about life in a devastated part of New Orleans during the first few months after Hurricane Katrina.

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