Cocktailing in the Big Easy
"A lot of the service industry left New Orleans to work in cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco,” says Chris McMillian, a founding member of the Museum of the American Cocktail, in regards to the effects of Hurricane Katrina. “After Katrina, they came back, so now we’ve got some extremely talented bartenders — people who have worked at places like Milk & Honey and Pegu Club. New Orleans is quickly evolving into a dynamic cocktail scene.” Here’s a look at the new and notable:
New Orleans native Neal Bodenheimer worked in New York City under the tutelage of mixologists such as Eben Klemm and Junior Merino, but when Katrina hit, he felt the need to return home. After working at some of New Orleans’ swanky bars, Bodenheimer opened Cure. Some of the most talented bartenders in town, including Ricky Gomez, Danny Valdez, Maksim Pazuniak, Kirk Estopinal and Bodenheimer himself, tend bar at Cure, where they serve classic and signature creations like the summery Bootsy Collins, which involves El Jimador Blanco Tequila, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, rhubarb bitters and soda water.
Bar Tonique is another recent arrival in the New Orleans nightlife scene. As the name implies, homemade tonics are the specialty at this stylish spot on the outer edges of the French Quarter. Almost everything is fashioned in-house, including the maraschino cherries, and the cocktails are made with attention to detail by esteemed bartenders such as Matthew Palumbo.
Culinary cocktails and local ingredients are the thing at Cochon, where Audrey Rodriguez nicks ingredients from chef Donald Link’s kitchen to make creations like the seasonal Eat A Peach, made with Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced Rum, Ruston peaches, cayenne pepper and fresh squeezed orange juice. And at the fairly new Patois uptown, bartender Rebecca Tarpy offers twists on the classics and makes her own apertif with a concoction of fruits, herbs and botanicals steeped in vodka, sugar and white wine.
Classic cocktails are front and center at the Sazerac Bar, situated in the newly reopened Roosevelt Hotel. With roots that stretch back to the late 1800s, the hotel went through a series of name changes until it was forced to close its doors during Katrina in 2005. The hotel reopens to the public on July 1, just in time for Tales of the Cocktail, when the expectations for an exquisitely made Sazerac and Ramos Gin Fizz will be high.
After years behind the bar at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, McMillian is now at the new Bar UnCommon in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel. The bar doesn’t host much of a cocktail menu because McMillian can make you any classic potable of your pleasing — and if you aren’t sure what your tipple is, he’ll be happy to guide you in the right direction. NCB