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Mar 11, 201012:00 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Drinking in the Spirit of History

For a town about to celebrate its 292nd birthday, New Orleans not only revels in its history but also continues to create special moments at a rapid rate. Think what has gone on just over the past five years, and that’s enough to boggle the mind –– some good boggle, others not so hot.

Yet through fires and plagues, wars and riots, hurricanes and floods, the one characteristic that New Orleans has possessed from its founding has been the reputation and the ability to throw a great party. We do not suck at staging festivals and parties. Lots of towns just can’t get it right, but we slide into a celebratory mode as simply and comfortably as bedroom slippers.

Whenever we have the opportunity to travel and the subject of parties and festivals comes up, inevitably the group I am with tosses their collective hands into the air and hollers: “Uncle! No town anywhere can compete with New Orleans for whipping up frenzy and hosting a party.”

Kinda makes you proud.

It used to be that hosting a good celebration was all we were known for –– in a positive sense. But lately with the hard work that our citizenry has collectively put into reconstruction and with the newfound fleur-de-lis ambassadors we used to call The Aints, it seems that across America, we are being reconsidered and viewed by a lot of right-thinking folks as the truly unique community we are.

At our core, however, is the joy of spirits. Well, yes, there are some spirits in the unexplained phenomenon sense, but I was suggesting something more along the lines of adult beverages.

New Orleans certainly does not lack for suitable retail outlets in which to enjoy spirits. What may be of particular interest to you, just from a historical viewpoint, is to learn how these concoctions known as cocktails came to be and where we fit into that well-crafted story.

If that thought had ever crossed your mind, a perfect beginning place for you is the New Orleans-based Museum of the American Cocktail. Or if you have been enjoying spirits for a long while and have some knowledge of their development, then those circumstances mean it’s a logical destination for you.

What? You’ve never heard of the place? Get out from under that rock, or those “rocks,” and hie thee over to the Riverwalk. MOTAC, as it is clumsily abbreviated (don’t say it out loud; it sounds like a government spy program), is located at the most upriver section of that marketplace, right near the main entrance to the New Orleans Convention Center.

There are actually two museums for the price of one. The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is an excellent collection of artifacts and storyboards that feature what we take for granted in our culinary pleasures. Within SOFAB (really, more initials) is the Museum of the American Cocktail. Together, these two installations perfectly complement each other without one story overwhelming another. 

MOTAC is here because there is a large school of thought that the cocktail, very early in its history, was embraced by New Orleans and New Orleanians, who at that time in the early 1800s were really more French, Spanish, and Creole than American.

There is even a local urban myth that the cocktail, and the word itself, were invented here. That is likely not true, but the true facts are lost in the mist of history. It does appear that the first printed reference using the term “cocktail” was on May 13, 1806, in the upstate New York newspaper, the Balance and Columbian Repository.

Seems an election had been held and the loser printed in the newspaper a list of items under a column headed “Lost.” The items included many rums and other spirited drinks he had evidently purchased for potential voters, and in the list was a line item, “25 do. cock-tail.”

By the way, the other column next to the one marked “Lost” was a column marked “Gains,” and under that heading was NOTHING. Bit of a sore loser, I’d say.

A week later, in the next issue of the publication, was a long letter to the editor inquiring about what a “cock-tail” was. The letter writer, known only as A Subscriber, had extensive knowledge of “phlegm-cutter, fog driver, whetting the whistle, moistening the clay…” but did not know “cock-tail.” In his reply, the editor noted that a cock-tail was “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters it is vulgarly called a bittered sling.”

To this day, those ingredients ––  a base liquor, sugar and bitters (citrus) –– are the foundation of every cocktail. 

The museum also brings the story of bar accessories to life with archival examples of what these early instruments looked like, and many have not changed much over 150 years.

The story of drinks, such as a true New Orleans creation, the Sazerac, is included here, with each story meticulously researched and presented.

There are also videos of Chris McMillian, bartender at Bar UnCommon in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel, showing you how to properly make 20 of the most requested cocktails in the world.

Then there is the lecture series. Each month the museum brings to New Orleans noted authorities to discuss history, technique, ingredients, spirits and philosophy in a lecture/classroom-style arrangement. Also involved in these demonstration seminars are the stars of the New Orleans bar scene: talented mixologists, bartenders and bar chefs who assist and participate with the visiting lecturer. It’s a lively, entertaining learning experience, complete with samples of the drinks being featured.

This is truly living history at New Orleans’ best. The museum was established here by noted authorities in the world of beverage service from all over the world. Led by the legendary Dale DeGroff of New York, the museum’s board and membership are spread all over America, Europe, the Far East, Australia and South America.

This is probably something you will want to be involved with, and full details of the museum, including a virtual tour, membership information and announcements about the seminars are at www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org.
And it’s all right here on the river. Did you know that? Evidently you still have a lot to learn about history.

The Museum of the American Cocktail, Riverwalk Marketplace

1 Poydras Street, Suite 169 (Julia Street entrance)
(504) 569-0405

Open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
$10 admission for members, free to members

(Disclosure: Tim McNally is a founding member of the board of the Museum of the American Cocktail)


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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans


In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.


Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.


Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.


Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.


They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.


Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.


Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.


Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.


It’s a good gig. 




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