NOLA’s Victory Bar Serves Mixology with a Touch of Class — and Economy
When our association of food and beverage trade magazine editors and publicists started planning our annual conference to be held this year in New Orleans, we included, as always, an afternoon of visits to relevant — and fun — locations. Since some of us previously had interviewed Daniel Victory, the award-winning mixologist at The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, who also regularly teaches at the Crescent City School of Bartending, we thought a busload of us would pay him a visit. Victory, voted New Orleans Magazine’s Bartender of the Year in 2009 and subsequently featured in Esquire as well as GQ, immediately welcomed the idea of our visit. However, after a decade-long stint at the Ritz, he was leaving to open his own place, Victory Bar on Baronne Street in the Central Business District.
Since the new venue was slated to open by the time of our visit in November, we could be among the very first to come and check it out, Victory said. But when we arrived, he and his business partner, Andrew Emory, appeared unfazed, even though they just received their Certificate of Occupancy the day before and were prepping for an early December opening.
As our group of more than 30 swarmed in, we found ample yet cozy seating (there’s actually room for 57 guests) in a cheerful room that emanates a warm reddish glow, a flattering tone for people, drinks and food alike. The Disney World-inspired shattered green glass-topped bar dominates the space; Victory constructed it to be a bit higher than standard because he and Emory each top 6’4”. In fact, little else in this former Quiznos location needed to be changed. “Whoever did the build-out did an amazing job,” Victory points out. “We just repurposed it, and I did the plastering and stucco on the walls. We have a low budget and low overhead, but we aim to give people an enjoyable experience with good service and good products. I put employees as No. 1 so they’ll put customers as No. 1; both must have a great experience.”
Aiming to “create a restaurant with a lounge atmosphere combined with a mixology focus,” Victory points out that the cocktails are old classics yet presented in innovative ways. That’s not to say guests can’t still enjoy a shot of Jameson and a beer. “We want the old classic cocktails on the menu, especially the Sazerac and Ramos Gin Fizz; we also want people to know about mixology and ‘edible cocktails’ such as Mojitos. I’ll do a lime and simple syrup rum gelatin with a mint syrup on top to be cut with a fork and knife. We want to push the envelope of what we can do with our palate.”
The “eats” menu features a slew of quick-to-prepare items including bowls of warm black truffled popcorn with smoked coarse sea salt ($4), which was especially yummy. For a more filling small plate, there’s the Korean BBQ lettuce wrap of ahi tuna, fresh melon and cucumber with wasabe cream wrapped in a spinach tortilla ($17 to share among four) — perfection.
With the crunchy economy, Victory finds some places have lost their finesse, dropping details like fresh flowers. “When you touch on all five senses you make people feel welcome; it doesn’t have to be high end, but people act more sophisticated in fine surroundings. I saw that at the Ritz.” He also believes his new location in the business district suits his upscale sensibilities and that the area could be renamed the Central Loft District with so many young people now living in spaces vacated by businesses after Hurricane Katrina. Because of this heavy evening foot traffic, he plans to be open from 4 p.m. to midnight weekdays, and until 2 a.m. on weekends. “Anytime things get a bit too hectic, we can tell Andrew [Emory] to go sing some opera; it always blows people away to see this guy covered with tattoos singing opera. He’s a maitre d’, a waiter and is great at taking care of people.” And that, really, is what bartending in any city should be about. NCB