Oct 22, 200912:00 AM
All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans
Yeah, We Deserved That!
New Orleans has always been known for Hurricanes and Hand Grenades, but with the addition of bars such as Cure to the local scene, we're starting to get attention for high-quality handcrafted cocktails, as well.
Photo courtesy of Robert Peyton
Recently the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine were asked to rank certain cities in a wide variety of categories.
The categories ranged from Friendly, Intelligent and Athletic/Active to Music, Theater and Museums.
There were more than 30 cities included in the rankings, and they were ranked in more than 50 categories. It was a pretty extensive survey, though to be fair, it was open only to subscribers and/or readers of Travel + Leisure, a good collection of folk, no doubt, but also a demographically narrow group with specific interests.
Anyway, we will take our kudos where they lie and not quibble over the shortcomings of an opt-in-only survey.
And the meaning with which we will not quibble is that our fair burg did very, very well. We finished No. 1 in 10 categories. No other city came close to that kind of a score. A hearty round of applause for us, thank you.
The readers found us at the top of the heap in particular for the same things we like about ourselves: Wild Weekend, Stylish Boutique Hotels, Antique and Vintage Shops, Big Name Restaurants, Neighborhood Joints and People-Watching.
We also ranked at the top of the Spring Break category, and I am going to let comments about that pass … for now.
Most important to readers of this column is that we ranked Numero Uno in Cocktail Hour, Singles/Bar Scene and Live Music/Concerts/Bands.
The Cocktail designation is one we want to address.
There are other great cities in this country that fancy themselves fine-dining and adult-drinking destinations. Among those are New York, San Francisco and Miami, closely followed by Chicago and Los Angeles.
These communities do offer some wonderful restaurants and excellent watering holes. Who would visit one of these towns and pass up the chance to get out and mingle with natives and visitors alike at a fine restaurant or a classy bar?
That is notably so in New York and San Francisco, both towns that provide all who are on the scene some truly spectacular experiences. They are big cities, and they have the resources to pretty much do whatever they want because they can assure a return on their investment.
But here we sit, with a relatively small number of people to support our infrastructure. And yet we do the job of providing experiences that are considered by many knowledgeable people to be the best in the nation.
The cocktail and dining scenes are economically important because these interrelated industries generate visitor dollars that would not be in the community were it not for them. These dollars flow to employed individuals; government coffers; and allied industries, such as hotels, transportation and furnishers of goods.
It is said that when you go to a bank and ask for a loan, it is easier to obtain such assistance if you already have the money. So too, when you are attempting to lure visitors to your town, it is easier if you have a valid reputation for entertainment, for providing value and for offering unique experiences.
If that does not describe New Orleans, someone please write me back and set me straight.
I will not attempt to single out all the wonderful and generous facilities and services that make up our shared reputation. You know who they are, and they know who they are.
What I do want to note are a few of those establishments that have brought us a new reputation. “New,” oddly, is not a word that is always welcomed in New Orleans. Yet it is a new world out there. Communities are moving along, building success in areas where they see it has worked before for others. Examples of this civic copycat mentality were the creation of festival shopping marketplaces, aquariums, sport stadiums and entertainment districts, all of which happened within the past 15 years all across the nation. Within each community, including ours, there is a responsibility to keep matters fresh.
On the bar scene, we have enjoyed a resurgence of young people not only taking an interest and embracing our old standard fare but also coming forward and creating exciting new directions. The hard ceiling of the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz has been busted through by so many variations, most of which are pretty terrific. And that has brought us the reputation we enjoy today all across the nation.
New Orleans really is new, and visitors are taking a new look at us. They like the fact that we have so much old while embracing the new.
As an example, take the new bar up on Freret Street, Cure. This place is hot, and it has brought on board a whole new generation of mixologists who will prepare for you a gin and tonic if you insist but would prefer to build a drink using some infusion mix that they have concocted.
Alan Walter at Iris, last year’s Bartender of the Year from New Orleans Magazine (disclosure: affiliated with this Web site), continues along his quest for “different.” I was telling a talented bartender in San Francisco recently about Alan, who went to every area of town looking for just the right texture and taste in pine leaves. He found what he wanted in Lakeview. He created a couple of drinks around the ingredient, Lakeview Pine.
The Chris-guys, Chris Hannah at French 75 over at Arnaud’s and Chris McMillian at Bar UnCommon in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel, are working with quality ingredients to enhance the flavors in drinks we all love while adding their own personal touches, vastly improving an already- fine beverage.
Ask Chris Hannah for a French 75, and you will have none better anywhere in the world. Then ask Chris McMillian for a mint julep while he recites a historic epic poem about the drink. Drinks and entertainment, for sure.
Step on over to the Lobby Bar at the Ritz, and even without Jeremy Davenport in the room (although that is always a treat), you will find Daniel Victory behind the bar fixing certified award-winning drinks of his own creation.
Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta rocks every night, and the bar “cooks” right along with the music.
Don’t leave out the Carousel Bar in the Monteleone: The place is so much fun, and the drinks from Marvin Allen are solid. Ask him for a Pisco Sour. You’ll love it.
Lu Brow of Café Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar is a mixologist par excellence. The house drink, the Swizzle Stick, will have you meeting and greeting every stranger in the place.
And, as I noted, there are many others, such as Whiskey Blue in the W Hotel on Poydras, the Polo Lounge in the Windsor Court and even Felipe’s Uptown and in the Quarter, where every night our guests are well-taken-care-of and made to feel that New Orleans is a special place.
That’s true, you know.
We did not get to be No. 1 by resting on our 300-year-old laurels.