Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
Of Bananas and Beer
On the bygone Tulane Avenue watering hole Nick's Big Train bar
Banana Banshees have been on my mind since the recent announcement that Chiquita Bananas was going to return to New Orleans as its home port. That made me think about Nick’s Bar.
Nick’s Big Train bar once stood on Tulane Avenue across from Dixie Brewery. Now the bar, having never recovered from Katrina, is no longer there and the brewery is blighted and partially torn down, though the building will be be renovated as part of the hospital development. That alone is something to drink to, which in Nick’s day might have involved the house specialty Golden Cadillac (a creamy Martini made with Galliano liqueur.) The Banana Banshee was not invented there but it should have been given the bar’s popularization of the drink.
Back when there was a neighborhood around the brewery Nicks was the place to go — or as one Yelp reviewer, identified as Jane S. from New Orleans, so eloquently once stated it: "Dang, Nick's, I miss you. I miss hanging out after closing time, I miss drinking on the bartender's tab, I miss barfing in your bathroom, and I miss being a young drunken idiot."
Besides his mixed drinks and atmosphere, owner Nick Castrogiovanni made one more contribution to the local drinking culture. According to legend, one day when Dixie founder Valentine Merz came by for a drink Castrogiovanni, drawing from a gun analogy, told him that his beer “has a kick like a .45.” That was taken and a compliment and Dixie was for the longest time known as Dixie 45.
(Another version says that Castrogiavanni was known for keeping a .45 behind the counter for, you know, just in case. Customers began referring to him as “45” so that a frequent command was “give me a Dixie, 45.” The phrase caught on.)
If you have not driven along Tulane Avenue lately you should. Good things are happening in preparation for the hospitals. The thoroughfare is becoming important again. When all those doctors are working nearby a good bar would be welcomed after hours. Wouldn’t it be great to see a reincarnation of Nick’s. Certainly a Banana Banshee is a perfect medicine for most anything that ails you.
Mixing It Up: A Recipe
According to the website partylife.us the drink was invented by Castrogiovanni. The ingredients are listed thusly. There is debate if he was the real inventor but no doubt that he popularized the drink.
1 oz. banana liqueur
1 oz. cacao liqueur (white)
2 oz. cream
Pour into an ice filled shaker.
Shake and pour into a cocktail glass.
Add a garnish of nutmeg powder.