Saturday, July 4, 2009

My Tales of the Cocktail...New Orleans

While Christian will be in our hometown this week attending the Tales of the Cocktail conference, "learning and studying" of course all that liquor has to offer. I thought that I would do my own Tales of the Cocktail list of all of my favorite spots to get great drinks in New Orleans. This is not for all of you visiting bartenders who'll sit and critique base liquors for hours on end while forcing the frail bartender at the Absinthe House to whip up 30 Absinthe Frappes for you and your ilk (@ 3am; hotshot)...this is for the people who just know how to enjoy a good drink...compiled over my 10+ years of liquid indulgence.

I would not recommend doing this all in one day, unless your tolerance is ready for it, but two or three days would suffice

First, hop on up to the The Carousel Bar at the Monteleone Hotel in the French Quarter where famous drinkers such as Ernest Hemmingway imbibed at, amongst many other infamous people, and order The Goody.

The Goody is an original cocktail invented at the Carousel Bar and includes dark rum, light rum, orgeat (almond syrup), pineapple juice, and orange juice. What better way to get your daily vitamins. Now perhaps riding a carousel bar that makes one rotation every thirty minutes, might not seem like the thing to do whilst drinking but trust me it is worth it. I have riden it countless times and never gotten sick and it provides this great carnival-esque ambience.

The next cocktail on the essential list can be found at the Napolean House. The Napolean House is a great spot that has been around for over 200 years, and still holds the mysticism of being stuck in a more relaxed and refined time. I love going here for the great atmoshpere, a wonderful Muffaletta, and of course for the famed Pimm's Cup.

I will never forget trying my first Pimm's Cup, because I truly thought I would not like it, but after one pleasantly refreshing sip amidst the humid New Orleans summer, I was hooked. The classic Pimm's Cup contains a gin based liquor called, Pimm's, lemonade, lemon-lime soda, and of course (the refreshing part) cucumber. These are so easy going down, so be careful and eat a little or a lot so you can continue the tour.

The next bar that is a must on everyone's list is Pat O'Brien's. Located in the french quarter and renowned for it's super drink, the Hurricane, Pat O'Brien's is a New Orleans establishment that will never perish. However, since all of the Hurricanes are now made from a powdery mix I am not going to include them on my cocktail tour, but another remarkable drink that Pat O's makes, that they even took off of the menu because it makes the bartenders cringe, is the Pousse Cafe. This is on my list because it is a beautiful layered shot that noone besides the tenders at Pat O's seem to be able to replicate. Placed in the sun, this shot looks like a rainbow mixture of goodness. What makes this drink work is knowing the specific gravities of the liquors that are in it and carefully pouring them over a spoon to allow the layers to set up.

Drinking a pousse at Pat's.

The next stop on the cocktail tour would have to be the Ritz Carlton Hotel. It may seem a bit stodgy to be going to the Ritz for drinks, but if you are looking for the best in cocktails then you have to go to the Library Lounge at the Ritz Carlton and pay a visit to Chris McMillian. Chris can mix any drink to its absolute pefection, but if there is one drink that you want done perfectly and absolutely can not have it any other way, than it is a Ramos Gin Fizz and world renowned bartender, mixologist, and all around cocktail genius, Chris McMillian has to make it. When done correctly this is the lightest sweetest and most enjoyable libation I have ever tasted, and I usually don't like Gin that much. The basic recipe calls for one-and-a-half ounces gin, a tablespoon simple syrup, two ounces half-and-half, one egg white, a dash of vanilla extract, a half-an-ounce of orange flower water and a splash of lemon-lime soda. However, the magic happens once you shake it and shake it vigorously you must.

The Ramos Gin Fizz

If you want more history about this classic New Orleans cocktail than I suggest you visit Chris and let him tell you, because as the fourth generation of bartenders in his family and a native New Orleanian who has worked in the finest establishments, he will have the best tale of that cocktail and many others.

There is nothing more classic New Orleans than going to the next spot, which has just reopened its doors after Hurricane Katrina, for its signature drink. The Sazerac, can only be had at the Sazerac Lounge in the old, but new again, Roosevelt Hotel. According to the Atlantic, "The trinity of Sazerac ingredients survived Hurricane Katrina: Herbsaint liqueur, Peychaud’s Bitters, and Sazerac 18 Year Old Rye Whiskey. All are owned by the Sazerac Company, headquartered in New Orleans in a building that itself survived the storm."

I have memories of going here with my family over Christmas every year when it was the Fairmont and looking at the lavish decorations and as I got older trying my first sazerac. You have to love when a bar dedicates its name to one drink, because you know they have to do it well, and well they do.

The Next drink is not orginial to New Orleans, but in my opinion they know how to make it like they invented it. However, it is a toss up on where to get the best one. The Bloody Mary is a classic drink legened to cure any hangover and there are two places in New Orleans where I love to have them. Ralph's On The Park, a Brennan's family restaurant, has one of the most acclaimed Bloody's in the city and has the view to match. Located on City Park Avenue across from City Park itself, you can see the southern seersucker clad men and women brunching with their delectable Bloody Mary's with the wondeful spicy cayanne spiked rim and of course the pickled salad that must be included, don't exlude the okra and green beans - they make it.

The other place to get the best Bloody Mary is quite a different scene, but comparable nonetheless. Getting a bloody mary at the Superdome on sunday at a Saint's game is a joy on its own whether or not the Saint's win or lose. They are perfectly spicy and have all of the fancy accoutrements and served usually from your same friendly bar attendant everytime. I guess people here just know what they like and a good Bloody Mary is a must on Sundays, so you chose where you'd like to have one.

This next cocktail is more about where you are enjoying it than the cocktail itself, but my fondest sophisticated cocktail moments came from sitting on the front porch of The Columns Hotel and experiencing my first Martini, gin style of course. (There are a lot of first time Gin moments in here- which I guess I really do like) The Columns is my favorite place to meet for drinks around happy hour and watch New Orleans in it's glory.

It makes the notion of why cocktails and New Orleans go so well together, like a breath of fresh air.

The next drink is the most luxurious drink on the list and a great way to end an evening before hitting the hay. The Brandy Alexander at Gallatoire's is not only an amazing drink, but the most wonderful way to end a meal at one of the most fantastic restaurants in the world.

So after you have wined and dined for hours over amazing food, conversation, and service, end your meal the right way with a Brandy Alexander. Oh and don't exclude dessert, just make it the after dessert dessert. The Brandy Alexander includes chocolate liqueur, brandy, and ice cream or cream.

For my last entry a tear is kind of welling up in my eye, because I have to say RIP to Nick's Bar on Tulane Avenue in New Orleans who I believe have still not reopened after Hurricane Katrina. Nick's is the kind of establishment that can only be referred to as a dive, but it was the kind of dive that you would see people from all walks of life in. The kind of establishment that makes any New Orleanian feel at home and where they just might remember your name. The most amazing thing about Nick's (clearly not the decor if you ever were there) was the gigantic hand painted bar menu that hung above patrons, taunting them with funnily named drinks that you just had to try. Yes, Nick's was not known for the classier cocktails but more for the ones with lots of liquor to get you messed up quicker. So here is a RIP moment to all the Pink Lemonade's (doesn't that sound so innocent) and 1-800-F**k Me up's that my friends and I drank over the years. Nick's you and your amazing drink menu will truly be missed.

So there it is. A list of fantastic cocktails comprised by a local with accompanied memories to match. I hope you have enjoyed my Tail of New Orlean's Cocktails and that it inspires you to try them all, at least the one's that still exist. Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans yet? Just wait till you can't get that fantastic cocktail in your town.