The fast and furious pace of restaurant and bar openings in the New Orleans area has been pretty impressive. We’ve all been wondering, “What’s the deal?” and “Another opening?” and “Who is going to patronize all of these places?”
So far, that last question does not seem to be a stumbling block. Even when something closes, there is a new same-type-of-business right behind it ready to repaint the place, re-do the sign and open the doors…again.
But hospitality is a tough business and there is bound to be some fall out simply because the proprietor is out of gas. Can’t go any further. Not another night more. And while we all hate to see that happen, such is the nature of the beast. And to be clear, I was referring to the business, not the operator. Sorry for the confusion.
One such closing announced recently, however, did disturb me. From those wonderful guys who brought you Cure on Freret, Bellocq on Lee Circle was a joy. I loved the place. The décor was 19th century ersatz – stuffed furniture, crimson red drapes, cozy corners, sort of everyone’s image of a Storyville whore house, which is exactly the feel it was going for.
John Ernest Joseph Bellocq, in the early 20th century, was New Orleans answer to France’s Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, only Bellocq was much taller. Both men came from considerable wealth and then turned their talent for art to showing a seamier side of society. Bellocq was only interested in photography and his favorite subjects were the “working” girls of New Orleans’ legal red light district, Storyville, which existed from 1897 to 1917.
His photography, ultimately a chronicle of a passing era, is both romantic and sad. The working ladies are sometimes partially clothed, often masked, and there does not seem to be much joy in their pose. Eroticism, as defined by our era’s broad, take-no-prisoners standards, is often missing also.
So that’s the man, but back to the bar named in his honor. The bar Bellocq was a hidden jewel, literally, located behind what was, fittingly, a men’s hostel and work-out destination, the Lee Circle YMCA. The building went vacant from 1990 to 2001, following that organization’s decision to build a new facility more focused on health club amenities than overnight accommodations. Hotel Le Cirque finally saw potential in the large structure and repurposed the building as a mid-range luxury hotel and then moved on, making way for the Hotel Modern.
Bellocq never received the support, from either hotel, that any good cocktail destination in such a facility requires. Part of the issue was that Neal Bodenheimer, Kirk Estopinal and Nick Detrich had never operated a bar inside a hotel or produced a bar they did not own. There were limitations to their freedom and those seemed to grate on the guys who almost single-handedly lit the fuse on all the good projects on Freret Street after Katrina. The wonderfully humble and yet upscale Cure on Freret showed there was a lot of potential in an area just about everyone else had written off years ago.
So, I suppose, it was with mixed emotions but with considerable relief for Bodenheimer, Estopinal and Detrich when the new owners of the Hotel Modern indicated they wanted Bellocq out.
But there was a whole contingent of supporters who were distressed to lose a favorite watering hole. Especially one that featured a long-ignored category of drink known as the Cobbler. An American invention dating back to the mid-1800’s, the Cobbler is simply a tall drink, loaded with shaved ice, traditionally made with a variety of brown spirits and punctuated with a healthy portion of fresh fruit.
Back in the day, this drink introduced to an adoring public two cocktail items we take for granted: straws and ice. Neither item had played a role in the development of the cocktail until the Cobbler came along. And I assume one, ice, necessitated the other, a straw. How do you get through an ice-packed tall glass laden with fruit to the spirit component? The Mother of Invention and all that.
The spirits used in a Cobbler can be whiskey or even sherry – lately vodkas seem to have intruded, which opens the floodgates for just about any spirit – to which is added tinctures, syrups, or flavorings, along with the ice and the fruit(s). The infinite possibilities of Cobblers made the cocktail a great statement base on which to build a bar and a drinks program. Plus, the drinks were simple to make, not taking any time to turn out and in a bar that is a big advantage.
Since we are fortunate to live in an area where fresh fruit grown within 100 miles of New Orleans is always available, the changing landscape of Cobblers available at Bellocq made for a good beginning, or evening’s end.
There is good news for Cobbler fans on the local front: the Cure guys are still at it with Café Henri newly opened in the Bywater, Cane & Table in the Lower Quarter, and Cure. Yet Bellocq proved that sometimes the name of a bar, its décor and its concept just mesh. That does not happen as often as you would expect. Bellocq had that all going on. It will be missed.
- 4 oz dry Sherry
- 3 slices orange
- 2 bar-spoons sugar
Shake all ingredients hard with ice and pour, unstrained, in to a tall glass. Garnish with fresh berries then add a straw.
- 4 oz Bourbon
- 1 bar-spoon maraschino
- 1 bar-spoon sugar
- 1 slice orange
Shake all ingredients hard with ice and pour, unstrained, in to a glass. Garnish with fresh raspberries and blackberries then add a straw.
A very special thank you to A Dash from Oh Gosh!, Jay Hepburn for the recipes.
Read Happy Hour here on MyNewOrleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com. Also check out Last Call, Tim’s photo feature every month in New Orleans Magazine.