Tippling, scribbling and road tripping through the South
Melanie Warner Spencer
Southerners, especially Southern writers, are passionate about many things including, but not limited to, telling stories, food, football and hooch — and telling stories about food, football and hooch. Some of our most celebrated writers were zealous lushes, using their favorite spirits as fuel, muse and subject matter. For example, consider the life and work of William Faulkner, Hunter S. Thompson, O. Henry, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote — wait, maybe that’s not the best list, given each one of these writers had a certain degree of — shall we say, issues — surrounding their drinking habits. That said, not only did each of them practice the art of consuming aqua vitae (a little too much), but also at one time or another ginned and juiced in Louisiana — specifically, New Orleans.
Now, I don’t have any basis in fact for the following assertion, but it seems to me one could build the case that drinking in Louisiana — specifically, New Orleans — makes you a better writer. I’ve only lived here a little over three years, but my own prose has improved exponentially. Or, I’m too sauced to know one way or another, but we don’t have to figure that out right now. Let’s take our time and drink about it. Where was I? Oh, inebriated Southerners, yes. There are a lot of us and we can be found tippling in watering holes, on porches and even on the streets in some cities — specifically, New Orleans. I would say also in the passenger seat of a moving vehicle, but the Louisiana State Legislature closed that loophole in 2004. Now don’t you worry, you can still have your drive-through daiquiri and drink it too, but just don’t put that straw in it until you get home, ya hear? Ernest Hemingway, who advised, “Write drunk; edit sober,” was not a Southerner, but he loved daiquiris and also spent some time drinking in Louisiana — specifically New Orleans. Were Papa alive today, he likely would have relished the days-long festival dedicated to drink, Tales of the Cocktail. It kicks off in New Orleans on July 18 and draws hospitality industry professionals and intoxicant aficionados from all over the world. It’s a lot like the South by Southwest Music Festival held in Austin, Texas each year, but for liquor. Actually, it’s just like SXSW, without the music part getting in the way of the drinking.
My husband Mark and I, frequent imbibers, were both born and raised in Kentucky, which means we are partial to bourbon. It also means we have consumed drinks during interstate moves or while on road trips (not while driving, of course) at bars in every state and commonwealth between the Bluegrass and the Pelican State. As well as in Texas, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida, leaving eight Southern states to go, but we’ll settle for conquering those we have left in the Southeastern Conference. Once on a road trip to Shreveport I had a mighty terrible cold and laryngitis. Let me tell you, there is no care and comfort greater than a hot toddy delivered by a compassionate bartender or server when you are traveling in a strange city.
As much as I love having a drink at Sloppy’s Downtown in Lake Charles; Flying Heart Brewing in Bossier City; and The Chimes in Baton Rouge, to name a few, one of our favorite places to knock back some cold ones — apart from our own porch — is the Erin Rose in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Our first experience there was meeting up with a lawyer friend during a visit to the city before we moved from Texas. I’m not one to do shots, but I can’t resist an Irish Car Bomb (a half ounce of Jameson Irish Whiskey and a half ounce of Baileys Irish cream dropped into a half glass of Guinness), which tastes like chocolate milk. We had a couple there with our friend. He’s now a seminarian living and studying in Rome and we eventually moved to New Orleans. While I can’t say for sure that he turned to the priesthood because of the events of that night at the Erin Rose, there is no doubt in my mind that it contributed to our undeniable desire to move to Louisiana — specifically, New Orleans.