In the early 2000s, cousins Ti Martin and Lally Brennan recognized the need for a serious cocktail bar in New Orleans that gave the same attention to drinks that the family’s Commander’s Palace and other restaurants did with food. So they opened the cocktail-centric Swizzle Stick Bar, the first of its kind in the city. Now, they’re diving in again, with SoBou in the French Quarter, what they’re calling a spirited restaurant with a focus on cocktails. Mix recently sat down with the two to get the scoop.
Mix: You two have called SoBou "a spirited restaurant' with a beverage program as serious and sophisticated as the food." What do you mean by this?
Ti Martin: Restaurants often focus so much on the food that the beverage program can be an afterthought. We like to say that while the food is always center stage the cocktails are stage right and the wine is stage left. From the moment we began planning SoBou spirits and wine were every bit as central to our thinking as the food.
Lally Brennan and Ti Adelaide Martin, Owners, Swizzle Stick Bar and Sobou
Mix: How does the drink program differ from what's already available in New Orleans?
Martin: We like to think of SoBou as our modern Creole saloon. We have harkened back to our parents' start in business at the Absinthe House bar and other great taverns and saloons where the hospitality is equal to the artistry in the glass and on the plate.
Lally Brennan: We also feel that the design lends a very warm feeling but also a bit modern and avant-garde. Much of the design is inspired by the origination of the cocktail in an apothecary/pharmacy - hence the use of the little bottles for secret concoctions. In one room through the use of mirrors the bottles look like they go into perpetuity.
Mix: What sort of things will you focus on here, drink-wise, that you don't or can't do at Swizzle Stick?
Martin: We have a strong focus on rum at SoBou. Lots of different rums for the cocktails or for tasting straight up to appreciate the nuance of the aged rums. Having the self-serve wine machines has added the opportunity for guests to compare and share, or indulge in 1oz of a white burgundy they may not be willing to commit to a glass or a bottle of. The 1oz, 3oz, 6oz options offer lots of chances to experiment. Maybe you've never had Gavi - but you'll gamble on an ounce of it at your own pace with no intimidation factor. It's just you and the wine.
Brennan: And the beer tables are just plain fun! The taps in the table that you control and pour are proving to be even more popular than we thought.
Mix: What's the single thing at SoBou you think might have the biggest impact?
Martin: SoBou is already becoming that place where you can stop in unannounced and just nibble or drink or plug your computer in (we have plugs under the bar top for guests). Of course you can come for a more traditional dinner of appetizer, entree and dessert - but grazing is very comfortable here. Two nights ago the mayor and his wife dropped in on their vespas unannounced just to nibble at the bar. It just has a warmth/glow/vibe - (however you want to describe it) that makes you want to be there. It’s that “third place” away from work or home.
Mix: Like much of the great Louisiana cookery, the menu at SoBou seems perfect for drinks meant for quaffing - does that play into the style of drinks you're focusing on?
Brennan: Yes the food and beverages were developed in concert. There are drinks and wine to just quaff and others that stand up to the vibrant flavors of the shrimp and tasso pinchos - I might do the already popular Rum Dum Dum with that (N.O. Rum, passion fruit, mint, pineapple.) But with my Duck Debris and Butternut Beignets I'd go with Georgia Rush (bourbon, local honey, lemon, Chilton peach).
Mix: What's the hardest part about opening a new restaurant in New Orleans now?
Martin: There is so much competition in the restaurant business in New Orleans right now it's unbelievable - I think we're all nuts. I actually think years from now as far as the quality and variety of cooking/restaurants - I think we'll look back on this as a golden age. That makes me very happy for my beloved town.
Mix: Favorite drink right now?
Martin: Stuck on the Rum Dum Dum and the Charbonneau Way (Rittenhouse rye, maple syrup, Bitterman's Amere Savage, Herbsaint rinse, thyme.) This is a big girl drink much needed to survive opening a restaurant in New Orleans in July!