NY Times Enjoys NOLA

The New York Times – Dining & Wine
New Orleans Polishes Its Bars

Published: July 31, 2012

Stand in front of the Hotel Modern, on the dusty New Orleans roundabout known as Lee Circle, and your thirst has a choice. Walk into Tamarind, to the right, and you’ll find a selection of contemporary cocktails laced with Asian flavors to complement the restaurant’s French-Vietnamese cuisine. Take a left into Bellocq and you’ll have your pick of cobblers, an ice-laden, fruit-crested breed of cocktail that was all the rage back in the mid-1800s and is this inventive new bar’s calling card.

The Modern, which reopened last fall after a renovation, captures a sudden advancement in New Orleans’s cocktail culture in which this always happily bibulous city has added newer, fresher ways to drink, while still holding on to tradition. In the process, the city has become a magnet for bartenders and their fans from around the country, particularly New York.

During the cocktail doldrums of the 1970s and ’80s, when vodka swamped the American bar scene and sloppy disco drinks all but obliterated sophisticated tippling, New Orleans held down the fort. The city’s tavernkeepers made certain that a place where one could order classics like the Sazerac and the Ramos gin fizz would not perish from the contiguous 48.

But as the craft cocktail movement began to shake up urban centers from New York to San Francisco, the Crescent City seemed mired in the past, its liquid culture still led, on the one hand, by standard-bearing saloons like the Napoleon House and Tujague’s, and, on the other (seriously shaky) hand, the boozy debauchery of Bourbon Street.

Then, in 2003, came the Swizzle Stick Bar, a modern bastion of mixology attached to Café Adelaide. Cure, which opened in 2009, raised the bar further, giving residents of the Freret neighborhood creative potions employing salt, Italian bitters and other unlikely ingredients. Today, the city is experiencing a boomlet of cocktail spots, including Bellocq, the second effort from the Cure team, and SoBou; and Maurepas Foods, two restaurants where the bar programs stand equal to the kitchen’s.