Bartender of the Year: Marvin Allen
The holiday season in the French Quarter had arrived quietly, but in keeping with the festive spirit of the season, Carousel Bar bartender Marvin Allen was at work serving drinks. Not that Allen doesn’t serve drinks most every other day of the year, but instead of pouring the usual vodka martinis and beers, Allen had dreamed up a menu of specialty drinks – “Eggnog His Way,” “Peppermint Dream,” “Joyous Noel,” “Papa’s Nightcap” and my favorite, the cinnamon apple martini, a mixture of Apfel Korn Schnapps, Absolut Vanilla vodka and Goldschlager. This shimmery, gold-flecked libation, oddly enough, complemented the décor – showy circular lights adorning a round, carousel-shaped bar (that actually rotates) and the adjoining lounge with sparkling stars on the ceiling. It made the scene outside on Royal Street seem almost banal.
There are bars where you go to order a beer and watch football. Then there is the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar, where ordering just a beer seems out of place. This is a bar with memories – writers Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner are rumored to have sampled a libation or two here – a bar where people have fallen in love, proposed and sometimes ended relationships. Allen, who has worked at the Carousel Bar for three years, draws inspiration from this setting to create his specialty drinks – but don’t worry, beer drinkers, he’ll serve a Bud Light if asked. Allen thinks up his concoctions year-round; in addition to his Christmas creations, which change each year, other standouts include the “Raspberry Truffletini,” the classic Sazerac (his recipe was featured in this magazine’s August 2005 issue), and the “Marvintini,” a sweet melding of Southern Comfort, Peach Schnapps, blackberry liqueur and pineapple juice. It won second place in the 2004 “Tales of the Cocktail” drink contest.
Having worked in bartending or restaurant management for more than 20 years, Allen, a Michigan native, arrived in New Orleans for a job, and like many, became enamored with the city and stayed. And while you may think Allen is just be the sum of his cocktails, ponder his idea of what makes a great bartender: “People skills. How to talk to people and make them feel comfortable,” he says. “It’s 95 percent personality, 5 percent actual drink-making.” Though after having one of Allen’s cocktails, I think he may have to adjust his figures. –Sue Strachan