Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on
Whatever cocktail takes your fancy, New Orleans has just the shot
YOU have to love a city where every night has the atmosphere of a fiesta and where Sunday brunches always kick off to a jolly start with rum milk punches and creole-style bloody marys with an extra charge of Tabasco.
In New Orleans, and particularly its party- central French Quarter, a great deal of boozing goes on, some of it to ridiculous excess, with young drinkers weaving along cobblestoned streets clutching plastic cups of alcohol.
One law enforcement officer from the 8th Precinct tells me with a weary shrug that when the ‘‘spring-break students’’ pass out from one too many potent drinks with names such as voodoo daiquiri, and have to be taken to accident and emergency departments, the police sometimes tell their worried families ‘‘back home’’ that it must have been sunstroke.
But if you can stand the heat and are partial to well-fashioned cocktails and like a sense of tradition with your tipples, then you are in the right place.
There is even a Museum of the American Cocktail in this famous Louisiana city. It’s part of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum at Riverwalk Marketplace and its exhibits celebrate the evolution of the cocktail and everything to do with shaking and stirring, including videos of ace mixologists in action.
New Orleans lays claim to the world’s first cocktail, the sazerac, invented in the early 1800s by pharmacist Antoine Peychaud in an apothecary and named for his favourite French brandy, Sazeracde-Forge et fils. Although other explanations exist, they’ll tell you in New Orleans the term cocktail originates from a (likely slurred) bastardisation of le coquetier, French for a two-ended egg-cup.
Sazeracs are served all over New Orleans (with bitters replacing the original dash of absinthe) but you’ll want to try one at the ornamented art deco Sazerac Bar ( 123 Baronne St) at Waldorf Astoria’s The Roosevelt hotel (pre-Hurricane Katrina it was The Fairmont), with its Paul Ninas murals and rollcall of famous habitues, from Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway to Jack Benny and Bob Hope.
Ti Adelaide Martin of New Orleans’s Commander’s Palace and Cafe Adelaide (and a member of the city’s Brennan dynasty) has authored, with her cousin and fellow restaurateur Lally Brennan, In the Land of Cocktails: Recipes and Adventures from the Cocktail Chicks, which is also the name of a hip website devoted to cocktail lore and fun recipes such as hissy fit, involving vodka, passionfruit syrup, orange j uice and ginger beer. Martin says visitors to New Orleans should try a sazerac and a ramos fizz, which includes gin, cream and egg whites.
‘‘If you have a really well-made old-fashioned, you’ll understand why that drink has stood the test of time,’’ she adds.
There are certain rites of passage with cocktail consumption, New Orleans style. It’s near obligatory to try a hurricane (rum, passionfruit syrup and lime juice) from Pat O’Brien’s (718 St Peter St). Invented in the 1940s, it’s as sweet as a singapore sling and was first served to sailors in hurricane lamp-shaped glasses, hence the name. Pat O’Brien’s still uses those same curved containers and bartenders garnish the drinks with an orange slice and maraschino cherry. O’Brien’s is now a franchised operation and also on sale are packaged hurricane mixes and the distinctive glasses, so it’s all very touristy, complete with a flaming fountain in the rowdy bar’s courtyard.
Things are more sedate aboard the 25- seater Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St), although you will be circling, merry-go-round style. Ask the expert barman Parker to mix you a ramos fizz and watch the world pass by, as Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams did in their heyday.
Napoleon House (500 Chartres St) is famous for its perfectly chilled pimms cup, as is the terrazzofloored Hermes Bar out front at the historic Antoine’s Restaurant (713 St Louis St), especially during the encouragingly long happy hour from 4pm to 8pm daily.
Sitting on wooden stools at Hermes Bar and leaning on a high marble-topped table, I sip a shiny scarlet Campari on ice and my travelling companion a Louisianabrewed Abita Amber as the afternoon light fades and the French Quarter starts to come to life.
There is always j azz playing somewhere off-stage and, heading into the mellow dusk, we pass a tiny corner bar where we smell fresh mint (being cut for juleps) and oranges (for mimosas), but there’s no time to investigate. We have a date for a pre-dinner libation at Cafe Adelaide’s Swizzle Stick Bar (300 Poydras St), where the cocktail du j our is the tequila mockingbird.
Yep, only in New Orleans.
At Hotel Monteleone’s circling Carousel Bar, patrons can sip an expertly prepared ramos fizz
The art-deco Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt hotel
Displays at the Museum of the American Cocktail