Lee Circle is a potentially epic fulcrum for the Crescent City, the pivot where downtown becomes Uptown and the gateway to the museum district. But it’s been under-loved for too long. Gas stations occupy two of its landmark corners, and one of those is closed, while the sprawling embarrassment of the Louisiana ArtWorks, that shuttered boondoggle of an arts complex, lurks just beyond it.

But these days, at least, there is more life and light along the circle, and more reasons to visit.

The Circle Bar is back, and the former Le Cirque hotel has been remodeled as the Hotel Modern, with a new restaurant (Tamarind by Dominique) and a new bar. 

That would be Bellocq, which would probably be a destination bar no matter where it turned up. This is a stylish cocktail lounge tailor-made for people interested in what’s new – and, at the same time, what’s very old – in the world of drinks.

Lighting Up Lee Circle at Bellocq
Photo by Ian McNulty

Bellocq debuted just a few months ago and it’s run by the same crew as Cure, which was among this year’s nominees for a national “Outstanding Bar Program” award from the James Beard Foundation. Right there, that should tell you that Bellocq is not a beer-and-a-shot kind of place or your typical corner watering hole. Since opening in 2009 as one of the pioneers of on Freret Street, Cure has been the hub of the New Orleans craft cocktail scene, a lightning rod for detractors bothered by its rules and vibe, an incubator for cocktail-making talent and a magnet for locals and travelers who get its passion and exacting standards.

But Bellocq is not Cure 2.0. In fact, if the precisely crafted drinks at Cure channel the golden age of cocktails, the drinks at Bellocq are their prequel. The specialty here are libations that pre-date the modern cocktail, especially cobblers, an archival mixed drink, popular in the 19th century, made from various combinations of wine, liquor or liqueurs with fruit, herbs and other additions. The overarching idea is a revival of old drinking categories and styles, and it’s one in synch with a growing trend in other cities.

The bar stocks many types of port, sherry and Madeira. Of course you can order modern cocktails and more conventional drinks at Bellocq, but it’s fun to play along and at least start with the specialties this bar was built around.  It’s not a place to have your standard go-to, but to try something different.

That idea is also the organizing principle for an ongoing series of cocktail tastings at Bellocq called “In the Glass.” Each edition of this series has its own theme, with original cocktails from the staff at Bellocq, Cure and other local bars of a similar bent presented in conjunction with that theme. The next “In the Glass” is scheduled for May 22, when bartenders James Ives and Ryan Gannon will serve a menu of different cocktails that each demonstrate the potential uses of vermouth, that darling of the craft cocktail scene. The event goes all night – and, in fact, by stretching it to 1 a.m., a rather late bedtime for an ordinary Tuesday, Bellocq intends to draw bartenders getting off their shifts elsewhere. The staff has pledged to donate 25 percent of their tips from the night to a local charity. 

Starting in June, Bellocq will host a different “In the Glass” event each Tuesday.