Alongside the expansion of the New Orleans restaurant scene – and we’ve never experienced anything like it in our history – has been a parallel growth of excellent cocktail bars. Many are attached to the new dining establishments and some are more drink than food operations.
But one thing can be said for most of the newer places and the newer mixologists manning the old places: They are quality operations, bringing novel dimensions of hospitality to our town.
An important point not to be missed, with the growth in the number of watering holes and their dedication to serving amazing drinks, the older places have had to pick up their game. The old saw about a rising tide raising all boats could not be truer, or more applicable, to getting a good drink at a fair price in New Orleans.
While this movement is also happening at the national and international levels with spectacular investment and appreciation for the nouveau cocktail culture, our little burg has not been left out. If anything, we are considered one of the up-and-coming centerpiece cities for what is happening just about everywhere. Thanks to the reputation of our summer festival, Tales of the Cocktail, and our reputation as a “food town,” the adult beverage community from everywhere places New Orleans at or near the top of any list in respect for a good drink, innovation, reputation, and ability.
We are, by every measure, officially hot stuff.
That’s only right because here, in our distant past, is the germ of all that is going on today. Were it not for our embrace of pharmacists and what they could do to cure the ills of an aching body, we would be just another place on the map that serves but cannot create. The creation of the Sazerac, Ramos Gin Fizz, Vieux Carre and the perfection of an entire spectrum of bourbon-based concoctions are still a part of our history and our present.
Much of our well-earned modern reputation is due to professionals like Chris McMillian, now at Kingfish, and to Marvin Allen at Carousel in The Monteleone, among others, who immersed themselves in the history and the techniques of making an ideal cocktail, all at once balanced, refreshing and delightful.
The new kids on the block include, and are likely not limited to:
Rhiannon Enlil – Self-proclaimed rabble-rouser, here is someone you want at your side in any competition. She loves to make Ramos Gin Fizz, which puts her way up in my book. Catch her at Cure, maybe Loa, and working a single weekly shift at Erin Rose in the Quarter. She loves that gig.
Tiffany Soles – Proving that if you can’t be happy where you are, come to New Orleans. Soles is a Texas girl who has found her niche at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Club in the Royal Sonesta, as well as a mover in the New Orleans Chapter of the American Bartenders’ Guild.
Jeff “Beachbum” Berry – Beachbum is a noted author, guardian of the international Tiki culture, and newest New Orleanian. His latest volume, Potions of the Caribbean, 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, is just being released in book form. If Lebowski were a real person, he would want to be just like Beachbum. And I am imagining that Beachbum wishes he were a better bowler. Touché. His new bar will be open in 2014. Location to be announced soon.
Ted Blumenthal – Booty’s Street Food in the Bywater is a grand spot for eclectic dining. When you note Bywater and then mention eclectic dining, that’s redundant. But one of the reasons for Booty’s success is the bar offerings, and Blumenthal's incredibly creative touch.
Chris Hannah – French 75 has been Hannah’s home stand for many years, and the sight of the young man with a shaved head and a white serving jacket is as much a part of the scene as expense-account visitors puffing on big cigars. What they don’t know is that Hannah is a mixologist at the top of his game, and not just the guy who asks if you want gin or Cognac in your French 75. This guy knows how to mix a premium drink that leads to another and another.
Steve Lemley and Becca June Conklin – The Bourbon O Bar in the Bourbon Orleans Hotel right on Bourbon Street (get the idea about the location?) has suddenly decided to become a fine-cocktail destination. Cheryl Charming is the leading light here, and she is one of the best, but she has brought on a youth movement as good as any lounge in town.
Nick Detrich – Cane & Table is in the 1100 block of Decatur. No use giving you the address because they don’t have the street numbers on the building nor is there a sign. When you are in the know, then you know. But you want to go. Trust me. Great drinks. Fine bar food from the same crew that operates Company Burger on Oak. And enough Quarter atmosphere to soak a sponge.
Cole Newton – Mid-City’s Twelve Mile Limit has to be on your list of places you know nothing about but are dying to try. And the reason you have heard of it is because of proprietor Cole Newton. Here is where bartenders come on their day off or when they finish their shifts. See if Cole will make you Sazerac. Sublime!
Christine Jeanine Nielsen – Wonder what color her hair will be today? Stop by the Lucky Rooster on Baronne and check it out. While you are there, savor the Gin in my System cocktail she created.
Eric Dahm – How did Grand Isle on Fulton Street end up with this genius? This talented young man is making quite the name for himself in a very fine seafood establishment. It just does not all seem to fit with the fried platters and the very intricate drinks. But, hey, this is New Orleans. It all works, and well. You know you are in for a treat when Eric breaks out the eyedropper for the key “secret” ingredients in his cocktails.
Abigail Gullo – Gullo is the bar mistress at SoBou in the Quarter. I never know if she is one of the Old Guard or the vanguard to the new order. She came here from New York and if you did not know that, you would never pick up the factoid. She is a New Orleanian through and through, even to a rather large tattoo of a fleur de lis on her right arm. Then again, you could ask her to sing all three verses of the New York Mets fight song. Now you can appreciate my confusion on where to place on the chart this most talented lady.
I’ve left people out here, and that’s one of the reasons I hate doing lists. But how else to get the information out in some sort of order?
More places? You won’t be disappointed at Appoline on Magazine Street, Broussard’s in the Quarter, Felipe’s Taqueria, Allegro Bistro in the CBD, High Hat Cafe on Freret*, Winston’s Pub on Metairie Road, Tivoli & Lee on Lee Circle, Sylvain, both bars in the Windsor Court, Bar Tonique, Spitfire…oh, heck, I’m exhausted.
I think I’ll head out and get a drink. Now where should I go?
You can reach Tim by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog post listed the incorrect location for High Hat Cafe. The correct address is 4500 Freret St.