Oct 1, 200912:00 AM
All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans
You Should Know
But How Often Do You Fumble With the Answer?
Inevitably a friend, or even a relative (they can be different, you know), comes to New Orleans intent on enjoying the great cultural opportunities that we mostly take for granted.
And along with the where-do-you-suggest-we-dine questions comes one that’s sometimes a stumper for locals: Where can we go to hear some good New Orleans music?
Then you pause, you think, you wonder, and maybe you call one of your friends who spends more time in such pursuits than you. Frenchman Street comes up, maybe Snug Harbor, but, of course, you have no idea who is playing there.
After that, the pickings seem to get slim. Who’s at Tip’s? House of Blues? Anywhere?
Even if you settle on a place, there is a downside that has to do with the quality of the beverages. In many places, emphasis is placed on entertainment and not on cocktails or wine.
As a loyal reader of these weekly epistles, there’s no doubt that having a proper beverage is important to you and therefore, by extension, to your friends.
We decided to drop in on a few places recently, and the results were most satisfactory. In fact, I am happy to recommend them to you so you can recommend them to … OK, you get it.
Let’s begin by just noting places that have good music and cold beer. In the 700 block of Bourbon is Fritzel’s: good New Orleans jazz played by guys having a good time. Happy and traditional sounds permeate the smoke-filled room, and the service, despite the crowds, is attentive and responsive.
Also keep in mind that Palm Court in the 1200 block of Decatur is a fine music destination. Older practitioners of New Orleans jazz enjoy the gig, and many of their friends drop by, so the jam is like nothing else anywhere in this world. Palm Court offers food –– jambalaya and the like. It’s decent, not great, but it works in this setting. The drinks are honest, but nothing to call your mama about.
A new addition to the scene is Irvin Mayfield’s Club just off the lobby of the Royal Sonesta. Even when Irvin is not playing, and that’s most of the time, the band he puts up on the stand is terrific. As you would expect, the place is mostly filled with visitors, but they are having a great time.
The bonus here is that the cocktails are simply outstanding. They’re creative, even innovative, with fresh ingredients and top-of-the-line spirits. Let Tiffany Coles, the talented lady behind the bar, guide you through the cocktail menu. She’ll do right by you, and you’ll discover flavors that you did not even know you liked together. Cucumber and jalapeño peppers in a silver tequila-based margarita? Don’t knock it.; try it. A blueberry mojito using sparkling wine instead of tonic? Killer.
Four more advantages: fine wine selection, many by the glass; bar bites, which are special nibble-type dishes, sort of American tapas, that are well-prepared and hot; excellent atmosphere because this really is a classy place; and the music, for sure.
Oh, and one more: There’s no cover and only a one-drink minimum. You were going to do that anyway, so why not get music?
I have not, for too long, been in such a lively bar, visiting with friends, ordering snacks and good beverages and enjoying the evening. It’s fun, and it’s real New Orleans, particularly when there’s a bossa nova beat to Satchmo’s standard “It’s a Wonderful World.”
Outside –– the courtyard on one side, Bourbon Street on the other –– is the steamy Crescent City night, and inside is joy. Works for me.
The next stop is Jeremy Davenport’s Lounge in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Jeremy has put together a smooth, pleasurable, happy evening with his trio, and the area the Ritz has set aside for him is practically ideal.
There’s a long bar in the same room. I mean, what else does one want? The drinks, needless to say, because this is the Ritz, are absolutely perfectly prepared. The place has added a cocktail star to its impressive lineup, our own Daniel Victory.
This guy is good. How good, you may ask? GQ magazine just awarded him fourth place in a Bombay Sapphire competition, and that’s out of more than 1,200 international entries, quite a nice achievement.
The drink he created is the Courtyard Cooler, and I am not going into detail here on what it is or how it is made, but suffice it to say that it involves three states of being: liquid, solid and gas. Pretty neat, huh?
Then as the evening is winding down, why not saunter over to French 75 bar in Arnaud’s? It’s a great spot for a quiet nightcap.
The namesake cocktail, prepared by resident mixologist par excellence Chris Hannah, can include either gin or cognac. Chris is partial to the cognac style, but it’s your drink; you figure it out.
Here’s a bonus: Felipe’s in the Quarter stays open late, real late. Fresh Mexican cuisine accompanied by a freshly made margarita top off a great evening.
Don’t eat heavy, but just order enough of the carnitas or a tamale, with a bit of guacamole, and you’ve done it.
There you have it, a night out in old New Orleans –– and guess what. You did not need to move the car or even have a car. Just walk from place to place at your leisure, carrying a drink if you wish and soaking up the “culture of the street.”
The next time one of your out-of-town guests asks the question, you will have no hesitation with the answer. Fortunately, you never have to give up correctly made cocktails or other excellent adult beverages to enjoy the flavor of our very special city.
What a joy it is to have this available whenever I want, without one airport or interstate highway between me, music and drinks! Gotta love this place!