Many folks in the spirits industry were in New Orleans last week for the 10th anniversary of Tales of the Cocktail. While there were plenty of imbibing options at the conference itself during seminars and parties, most of the best drinks to be had were at bars and restaurants around the city. This year at Tales, I left plenty of time to explore the cocktails in the Big Easy. Although NOLA is steeped in cocktail tradition, and old standbys like the Carousel Bar and Arnaud’s French 75 are always on my list of go-to spots, there were places I had meant to visit last time I was there and others that are recent addition to the cocktail landscape. Here are five places to put on your list:
Cure — This bar was one of the first to revolutionize cocktails in New Orleans. Neal Bodenheimer, Kirk Estopinal and Matthew Kohnke joined forces to build a modern cocktail bar that paid its due respects to the history of the region. Built in an old firehouse, Cure houses an enormous spirit collection, an array of house-made shrubs, bitters, and tinctures. The bar crew puts them to good use in a rotating list of original, well-balanced cocktails and well-crafted versions of classics. Be sure to check out the “baller” section of the menu — for the price of a normal craft cocktail in New York, or a few dollars more, you’ll get a high-end version of a classic, like a Sazerac made with Thomas Handy Cask Strength rye whiskey.
Bellocq The team behind Cure created their next venture in the newly-opened Modern hotel. Inspired by a photographer’s photographs of Storyville, New Orleans’ red light district, Bellocq’s cocktail menu is also steeped in history. An entire section is dedicated to Cobblers,traditionally a base spirit or wine mixed with citrus, a hint of sugar and crushed ice. Top that off with a selection of punches, a few cocktails from the 19th century, and some juleps, pair that with a luxe lounge space, and you’ve got a winning combination.
SoBou NYC transplant Abigail Gullo relocated to NOLA in part to run the bar program at SoBou — which stands for South of Bourbon Street — in the W French Quarter. The newest in the Commander’s Family of restaurants, SoBou takes it local traditions seriously. They source as much as possible from a hundred-mile radius, including some of the spirits. The Faubourg Punch is a light and easy start to an evening — arl Grey-infused gin, fresh lemon, and cassis, topped with a float of prosecco — and don’t skip the food. If all you have room for is a bar snack, the pork rinds are pure perfection.
Erin Rose — You won’t find any craft cocktails at this favorite of locals and tourists alike just off of Bourbon Street, but it’s still worth a visit. You’ll want to get their frozen Irish Coffee at least once — it’s like a grown-up milkshake, and it sure hits the spot after wandering around in the New Orleans heat.
Maurepas Foods — This Bywater restaurant was originally on my radar for food alone, but I quickly realized that their drinks were on par with the rest of the menu. Their “Chief Intoxicologist” raids the kitchen for seasonal ingredients, herbs and spices — our group tried cocktails with peach brine, sriracha, paprika, and more (not all in one drink). They’ve got a sense of humor too — the cocktail list we saw included the Mofo Cosmo, which was merely a shot of Old Grand-Dad bourbon.