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Good Cocktails in New Orleans


TAPrice
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The Picayune published a bar guide this week (only the index seems to be online). It's answers lots of question, like where to dance or where to hear a DJ.

Conspicuously missing from the reader submitted questions is "Where to get a good cocktail." On another thread in the Spirits and Cocktails forum, Slkinsey said:

Unfortunately, you're in a bit of a bind down in New Orleans, which is somewhat notorious among the cocktailian set for mediocre mixology (for example, I recently told a bartender friend here I was going to NO for my upcoming honeymoon and he said, "you know you have to 'bring your own' when you go down there, right?") The impression I get is that there are two or three pretty good places, but the drop off is quite steep.

I'm a recent convert to drinking cocktails, so I don't have much experience drinking them outside of New Orleans. I have noticed that restaurants are more likely to mix a good drinks.

Two questions: Why hasn't New Orleans picked up on the trend towards quality cocktails? And, which bars (not restaurants) make a good drink?

I'll start with the second question:

Swizzle Stick: Lu Brow and her entire crew are top notch. Certainly the best place to get a drink in town.

Library Lounge: Chris McMillian is a great bartender and a real historian of cocktails.

Tujague's: I've had pretty solid drinks at Tujague's bar.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Those are the very places/people from whom I had my best drinks in NOLA. You just saved me typing the exact same thing.

I thought the Ramos Gin Fizz was pretty tasty at Absinthe House as well. The Carousel Bar in the Monteleone seemed to have a pretty good crew, although I think they were understaffed for the onslaught of cocktailians they were faced with during the Tales conference. One of those bartenders was so in the weeds one night I thought the poor man wouldn't ever see the light of day again. But that wasn't his fault. The Beverage Manager should've been shot for not staffing properly for a conference of notorius drinkers. :rolleyes:

Edited by KatieLoeb (log)

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Loa, in the International House is usually pretty good. I have also taken to ordering a drink at the Bridge Lounge that comes out pretty well. It's equal parts tequila (silver) and Pomegranate liquer, with soda and a lime. Described to me it sounded terrible, but it tastes pretty damn good.

As for why we're not on the right side of the recent trend towards mixologists and swank cocktails, I'd imagine it's the same reason we're behind the times where other trends are concerned. We're a particularly insular community that doesn't react all that well to innovation.

I'm in agreement on Swizzle Stick and the Library bar. Haven't had a cocktail at Tujague's in a long time.

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Is d.b.a. on Frenchman Street still open?

Had one of my top Sazeracs ever there in the fall of 2004.

I really enjoyed the vibe of the bar, too, especially early in the evening.

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Katie: Yes, those poor bartenders at the Carousel Bar were getting slammed. Everyone seemed to want a Ramos gin fizz. I remember one afternoon when the bartenders would announce "We have no more eggs" even before you could order.

Robert: Yeah, we're not good on trends. That's good and bad. Perhaps the question is not why we're behind the times, but why we stopped making good drinks. Because really, the trend towards good mixology is really a return to long cast aside practices. And around here, we're really good about holding on to foodways that others have abandoned.

I suspect the desire to accomodate tourists who want to get really drunk really fast is part of the answer.

What have people's experiences been at the Columns Hotel bar?

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Is d.b.a. on Frenchman Street still open?

Had one of my top Sazeracs ever there in the fall of 2004.

I really enjoyed the vibe of the bar, too, especially early in the evening.

This place is just great. One of the best selections of spirits I've ever seen assembled in one bar, which is always a good start towards some fine proper cocktails. I had a Sazerac there too, and although it wasn't mixed with the same level of passion or flair I saw displayed at some of the places mentioned upthread, it was quite serviceable, as I recall. I suspect if there's a 'tender there that's passionate about mixology one could have a slew of fine libations presented to them over the bar at d.b.a.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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... Perhaps the question is not why we're behind the times, but why we stopped making good drinks. Because really, the trend towards good mixology is really a return to long cast aside practices. And around here, we're really good about holding on to foodways that others have abandoned.

I suspect the desire to accomodate tourists who want to get really drunk really fast is part of the answer.

I think the decline of cocktails in NO was part of the general trend in America. You can't have a standard sink that low for such a length of time and not have it affect New Orleans as much as it does anywhere else. In terms of locals, I imagine that NO presents many of the same hurdles to the cocktail revival as other cities, things such as building interest, familiarity and critical mass. Even in a city like NYC, a leader in the cocktails movement, the vast majority of bars are turning out mediocrity. On top of that, New Orleans has perhaps some additional hurdles. For example, it seems as though beer and straight whiskey are much more a part of what is perceived in the popular imagination as "mainsteam NO culture" compared to cocktails (and I am constantly amazed the way a perceived reality can be bought into to the extent that it becomes actual reality within a generation). In terms of tourists, I wonder what percentage of NO non-restaurant alcohol-consuming tourists aren't going to the French Quarter to get sloshed on cheap sugary crap. This is another hurdle.

In the final analysis, however, I'm not so sure that the cocktails situation is all that dire in New Orleans -- the cocktails revival is still in quite an early stage. There are plenty of cities at around the same urban size as New Orleans about which we wouldn't even be having this conversation, because the going-in assumption would be that they didn't have a single great cocktail spot (e.g., Jacksonville, Kansas City, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, etc.). If we wonder why New Orleans doesn't have better cocktails, it's probably because of the historical association (awareness of which has been boosted by the Museum of the American Cocktail and Tales of the Cocktail) and also because it's known as having such great food culture. Ultimately, however, all it takes is for one dedicated bunch to open a place in New Orleans that religiously maintains quality, tradition and innovation within the context of tradition.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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We had really good cocktails at Iris, on Jeannette St. Food was great too. I tend to agree that you often get the best drinks in New Orleans in restaurant bars. But on the other hand, the worst drink I've had there was a Sazerac at Cafe Degas. In fairness to Degas, thats my only complaint out of many times eating there.

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Slkinsey,

Thanks for weighing in on this (and I hope you don't mind that I quoted you; your comment got me thinking about this).

Ultimately, however, all it takes is for one dedicated bunch to open a place in New Orleans that religiously maintains quality, tradition and innovation within the context of tradition.

I think Swizzle Stick would qualify in this respect, but it might be too embedded in a tourist friendly zone to be a regular hang out for locals.

I'm curious to see what Delachaise is doing. It's has the kind of atmosphere that would make it perfect to start such a trend. The chef is adventurous, and because it's a one-man operation, he runs out the plates and often chats with customer. It creates an atmosphere where people are comfortable talking about the food and taking chances. If that atmosphere could be extended to the bar (and maybe it has, I haven't been in a few months), that would be a good start.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Ultimately, however, all it takes is for one dedicated bunch to open a place in New Orleans that religiously maintains quality, tradition and innovation within the context of tradition.

I think Swizzle Stick would qualify in this respect, but it might be too embedded in a tourist friendly zone to be a regular hang out for locals.

It's hard to say, because I haven't been there (yet! - I'm going to be in New Orleans in November). But the menu isn't terribly encouraging:

The “What the hell! If you can’t avoid it, enjoy it, Hurricane” $7.50

Made with Southern Comfort

The Adelaide Swizzle $6.50

New Orleans Amber Rum, fresh squeezed lime juice, bitters, a splash of soda and our secret ingredient!

Side Car $8.50

Brandy, Rum, Cointreau, sour mix, lime juice ~ served with a sugar rim

Prytania St. Punch $7.50

New Orleans Crystal and Amber Rum, fresh orange and pineapple juices and grenadine syrup

Neutral Ground $7.50

Peach Schnapps, Limoncello and sour mix served “up”

Brake Tag $7.50

Southern Comfort, Amaretto, OJ and cranberry

BellaDonna $10.50

Charbay Blood Orange Vodka, orange liqueur, sour mix, lime juice and a splash of cranberry

Bar Chef Lu Brow’s Bloody Mary $7.50

house made to be red, with a bit of a kick

Contrast that with this menu from The Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle, which is more what I had in mind:

AVIATION  $8

gin, lemon, marachino

BETWEEN THE SHEETS  $8

brandy, rum, lemon, cointreau

BOURBON CRUSTA  $8

bourbon, triple sec, marachino, lemon,orange bitters

CHAPLIN  $8

bourbon, rammazotti, dry sherry, cointreau, orange bitters

CHAS  $8

bourbon, cointreau, amaretto, benedictine, orange curacao

COMMODORE  $8

bourbon, lemon, crème de cacao

DERBY  $8

maker’s mark, benedictine, bitters

DESHLER COCKTAIL  $8

dubonnet, rye, cointreau, bitters

EL DIABLO  $8

tequila, cassis, lime, ginger ale

FLORIDITA  $8

rum, sweet vermouth, crème de cacao, grenadine, lime

JASMINE  $8

gin, cointreau, campari, lemon

LA ROSITA  $8

tequila, vermouths, campari

MCCOY  $8

irish whiskey, tuaca, dry sherry, peach bitters

NEW ORLEANS BUCK  $8

rum, lime, orange, ginger ale

NEW YORK COCKTAIL  $8

bourbon, lime, grenadine

OLD CUBAN  $8

rum, mint, lime, sparkling wine

PEGU  $8

gin, cointreau, lime, angostura and orange bitters

SATAN’S SOULPATCH  $8

bourbon, vermouths, gran marnier, orange, orange bitter

SOUTH SIDE  $8

gin, cointreau, mint, lemon, sparkling wine

TAILSPIN  $8

gin, sweet vermouth, chartreuse

TRIDENT  $8

cynar, akvavit, dry sherry, peach bitters

VESPER  $8

vodka, gin, lillet blanc

This menu is reflective of a level of sophistication, a knowledge of cocktail history and a familiarity with the revival tradition of developing new cocktails in the classic tradition that is not apparent in the Swizzle Stick menu.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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This menu is reflective of a level of sophistication, a knowledge of cocktail history and a familiarity with the revival tradition of developing new cocktails in the classic tradition that is not apparent in the Swizzle Stick menu.

There are two menus. There is a short menu of house cocktails along with a menu of classic cocktails.

I can't remember which drinks are on the classic menu (last time I was there Katie, Dave the Cook and JAZ were there for Tales; maybe one of them remembers better), but I ordered a Hemingway daiquiri off the classic menu.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Come on, you're comparing The Swizzle Stick to Zig Zag??? That's not even remotely fair. There are only a handful of bars like the Swizzle Stick, that actually craft cocktails, and you've mentioned most of them above. The most interesting and intruiging drinks right now are coming from the restaurants, many of which are launching fantastic cocktail programs. I think of Lilette, Bourbon House, Cochon, Iris, Emerils, Delmonico, One Restaurant and Lounge, Marigny Brasserie, Dante's Kitchen, Commander's and more. That trend is on the rise. The Delachaise is indeed pursuing more cocktail craftwork at the behest of the Chef, Chris Debarr and one of the bartenders, Neil, who is quite talented.

I'm a fan of the cocktails at The Napoleon House, The French 75, Napoleon's Itch and St. Joe's, in addition to those places named above.

The TP bar guide had no cocktails? I didn't have a chane to read it, I was still crying about there beng no restaurant review from Brett. No cocktails in a bar guide is pretty lame, but maybe there's a method to the madness?

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My take on it is that New Orleans isn't into fads, including and especially the cocktail fads going on at the moment in other towns with drinking ADD. The classic cocktails are still solid at most of the regular spots, a few offer the ones folks read about but still, I can't imagine going to any of the grand bars and expecting a bubble gum cocktail, or a shochu one or whatever. As with everything else this is cyclic, and the classics will always stand the test of time

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The TP bar guide had no cocktails?  I didn't have a chane to read it, I was still crying about there beng no restaurant review from Brett.  No cocktails in a bar guide is pretty lame, but maybe there's a method to the madness?

There was a section on cocktails made with fresh fruit, just not a general section on cocktails. It was arranged around "readers" questions (no names of readers were given, so I'm not sure if all these questions were submitted). Questions like, "Which bars have the best by-the-glass selection?" or "Who has good happy hour food specials?"

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Here is a round-up of bars mentioned above (I'll update this list as new places are suggested):

Absinthe House

Bridge Lounge

Carousel Bar

d.b.a.

The Delachaise

French 75

Library Lounge

Loa

The Napoleon House

Napoleon's Itch

St. Joe's

Swizzle Stick

Tujague's

Restaurants with good cocktail programs:

Bourbon House

Brennan's

Cochon

Commander's Palace

Dante's Kitchen

Delmonico

Emeril's

Iris

Lilette

Marigny Brasserie

One Restaurant and Lounge

Edit: Added Lilette, which was left off by mistake. (9/25/07) Added Brennan's. (9/26/07)

Edited by TAPrice (log)

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Here is a round-up of bars mentioned above (I'll update this list as new places are suggested):

Absinthe House

Bridge Lounge

Carousel Bar

d.b.a.

The Delachaise

French 75

Library Lounge

Loa

The Napoleon House

Napoleon's Itch

St. Joe's

Swizzle Stick

Tujague's

Restaurants with good cocktail programs:

Bourbon House

Cochon

Commander's Palace

Dante's Kitchen

Delmonico

Emeril's

Iris

Lilette

Marigny Brasserie

One Restaurant and Lounge

Edit: Added Lilette, which was left off by mistake. (9/25)

Add Brennan's to the list for classic cocktails and some "Funk" Check out this link:

http://www.brennansneworleans.com/menus.html

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I went to the Delachaise last night to sample a few cocktails. Everything was nicely done. Neil, the real cocktail enthusiast, wasn't working that night, but the woman behind the bar (wish I got her name) did me right.

The Delachaise listed the Scorpion on the specials menu and I knew that over labor day they were doing tiki specials. Unfortunately, they were out of some special ingredients, but the bartender offered to make me an Eastern Sour (here is Drink Boy's notes on the cocktail). Very nice. Fresh orange juice (luckily she was out of pre-made OJ), bourbon and orgeat were the main ingredients.

Next, she made me another tiki drink, but I forgot the name. Rum, coffee liquor and pineapple juice were the main ingredients. Very odd and quite satisfying. It seems that Jeff Berry, the king of tiki, had taught them some drinks when he passed through recently.

To end the evening, I ordered a Manhattan. Glass was properly chilled. Angostura bitters were added. I could have sworn that she muddled an orange in the shaker, but I was watching that closely and she was making a lot of drinks. If she did, it added a nice twist. It was just a very nice and well-balanced cocktail.

The bar also seems to have a very good selection of liquors.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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I have always liked the Delachaise. It was our go-to bar Pre K, in fact whenever we cross the big pond we still head there first for a drink before we meet up with any companions. Their liquor selection is is really great and they actually know how to make cocktails. I was very disappointed that I could not make it to the Spirited Dinner there for Tales of the Cocktail, unfortunately I was out of town for the entire event.

As for d.b.a. I have always felt that they are not really about cocktails. Yes their selection is as good as or better than Delachaise, but they are more of a beer and straight liquor joint. In their defense, I have not been in ages so this may have changed.

I think another problem we face in some of these bars, is time of night. When d.b.a. or the Bridge Lounge get busy the chance of you getting a well made cocktail are slim. It is less of a problem at places that are smaller like St. Joe's, Loa or the Delechaise, but it can still be an issue. Then again, if you are foolish enough to order a Mojito at 10:30 on a Friday night, you get what you deserve. :smile:

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I think another problem we face in some of these bars, is time of night. When d.b.a. or the Bridge Lounge get busy the chance of you getting a well made cocktail are slim. It is less of a problem at places that are smaller like St. Joe's, Loa or the Delechaise, but it can still be an issue. Then again, if you are foolish enough to order a Mojito at 10:30 on a Friday night, you get what you deserve.  :smile:

That's a good point. Most bars can't be expected to mix carefully when the crowds are huge (although it can be done; recently in NYC I saw the bartenders slamming out careful cocktails at the hipster hangout Freeman's).

This is problem at the Columns, I think. The place is always so packed at happy hour time that the bartenders can barely keep up. This is probably why restaurants do better (that and the fact that they're more likely to have fresh juices).

I would say that New Orleans certainly has some bartenders who care about and know about cocktails, but we have very few bars that have that attitude. The Swizzle Stick is an obvious exception. I'm pretty confident that anyone working there knows the classic drinks and can make them well.

At other places, there might be a particular bartender with an interest in cocktails, but you might be out of luck if you arrive on that person's off night (even the bartender at the Delachaise drew a blank when I originally asked for a negroni, which I thought was a pretty standard drink).

On the one hand, if no one orders anything beyond Bloody Marys, martinis, highballs and Sazeracs, then it's not surprising that bartenders wouldn't be conversant in other cocktails. On the other hand, a good bartender could teach people about the wide variety of cocktails. If the crowds aren't too big, it's easy to discover someone's preferences and turn them on to a new drink. An enthusiastic cocktailian like Chris McMillian at the Library Lounge certainly does this.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Was in NOLA this last weekend with my wife for our anniversary. Had plans to go to the Old Absinthe House, Library Lounge, and the Swizzle Stick. Since we were on Bourbon we stopped at Absinthe first. I ordered three of the specials to which the guy behind the bar replied, we're out of them...

So then I ordered a Sidecar and he said 'We're out of that too.' I asked, "Well, what can you make?" He responded, "I do mixed drinks." I assumed he was talking about rum and coke type drinks. I said, no thanks and we left.

We found our way to the Library Lounge and the place was pretty quiet. We continued to have the best cocktail experience that we had ever had. Chris McMillian poured awesome drinks all night.

The next night we went to the Swizzle Stick and had a similar experience with Lu Brow. Everything was absolutely great.

I would kill for a place like either of those two, here in Houston.

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Was in NOLA this last weekend with my wife for our anniversary.  Had plans to go to the Old Absinthe House, Library Lounge, and the Swizzle Stick.  Since we were on Bourbon we stopped at Absinthe first.  I ordered three of the specials to which the guy behind the bar replied, we're out of them...

So then I ordered a Sidecar and he said 'We're out of that too.'  I asked, "Well, what can you make?"  He responded, "I do mixed drinks."  I assumed he was talking about rum and coke type drinks.  I said, no thanks and we left.

I think that back up my theory that we have some good bartenders but very few reliable bars for cocktails. Library Lounge and Swizzle Stick on notable exception.

I wouldn't be surprised, though, if that's true in most cities. Any sense of how the New Orleans cocktail talent compares to Houston (or any other city that you're familiar with)?

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Was in NOLA this last weekend with my wife for our anniversary.  Had plans to go to the Old Absinthe House, Library Lounge, and the Swizzle Stick.  Since we were on Bourbon we stopped at Absinthe first.  I ordered three of the specials to which the guy behind the bar replied, we're out of them...

So then I ordered a Sidecar and he said 'We're out of that too.'  I asked, "Well, what can you make?"  He responded, "I do mixed drinks."  I assumed he was talking about rum and coke type drinks.  I said, no thanks and we left.

Any sense of how the New Orleans cocktail talent compares to Houston (or any other city that you're familiar with)?

Holy crap the cocktail scene in Houston SUCKS! After looking hard, I haven't found a reliable one yet. I told Chris at the Library Lounge, that I'd be broke if there was a bar like that in Houston.

Other than that, San Francisco seems to have a plethora of good places to get quality cocktails. If you're interested I can give you a couple of favorites in the Bay Area.

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