Friday, July 10, 2009

Tales of the Cocktail - Day One

The Carousel Bar at Monteleone
New Orleans is HOT and by HOT I mean clothes stick to you HOT even in the shade. Occasionally, a thunderstorm rolls through and dribbles rain drops on your body. When you are out walking around the Vieux Carré , you actually hope it rains. This my friends is the opposite from New York which is going through an unprecedented monsoon season. So Day one. What happened? Where did I go? And more importantly what did I imbibe?

My flight was pretty straight forward. I breezed through the TSA checkpoint with my modified Travel Bar. Once on the plane, I ordered a club soda and glass of ice and built an:

Aviation Cooler

- 1 1/2 oz Martin Miller's Gin
- 1 oz Luxardo Maraschino
- 1 oz Fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp of Rothman & Winter Créme de Violette in spritz form
- 3 oz Club soda

Oh it was on! I love the expression on fellow passengers' faces when I bust out the Flight 001 - To Go Bottles. It is a mixture of surprise and admiration. Yes, I am not supposed to smuggle booze on the plane but < I am using TSA approved portion sized plastic bottles. So is it really wrong? At the end of the day, I am have a proper cocktail - gratis - while you are drinking Sierra Mist. I looked around the plane and there were many important industry folks including Phil Ward (Death & Co), the molecular mixology trio Eben Freeman (Tailor), Dave Arnold (French Culinary Institute), and Johnny Iuzzini (Jean Georges), and a half dozen others I recognized. I was traveling in good company. Ok, back to Tales of the Cocktail. Once I arrived, I cabbed it to the Iberville Suites, checked in, and made my way to Meyer the Hat on St. Charles to purchase a straw pork pie fedora. This is my ritual when I am in New Orleans. Meyer the Hat is an institution in this town and clearly I need head gear to protect my chrome dome from the blistering sun. So I bought a Biltmore Milan model on sale!

Next stop was Tales of the Cocktail central aka the Hotel Monteleone. I "checked in" with the Tales folks which was simple since I had not provided press credentials. Next year, I need to send it by March to be considered an official Tales blogger. So they gave me a To Go Cup, a swizzle stick, an events calendar and sent me on my way. No drink voucher? Hrmph! So I left the hectic scene at Hotel Monteleone and grabbed lunch at Acme Oyster House down the block on Iberville Street. I hit this place whenever I am in town, plus they don't serve lunch on the plane these days. So I ignored the "Don't eat oysters unless the month ends with an R" rule and ordered a dozen, a shrimp po' boy, and an Abita beer. It was friggin good. Ahh - finally satiated I headed back to Hotel Monteleone for kick off drinks at the famous Carousel Bar.

Naturally, I ordered the signature Vieux Carré:

- 3/4 oz Sazerac 6 year old rye
- 3/4 oz Cognac
- 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
- dash Peychaud's bitters
- dash Angostura bitters
- 1/4 oz Benedictine
- lemon twist for garnish

Combine in Old Fashioned glass, stir, then squeeze lemon twist and drop in glass.

Once sorted out and bit dizzy from the ride, I retreated to my hotel room and prepared for dinner. White cotton dress shirt french cuffs, white chinos, blue silk Gucci ascot, black wing tips (sans socks), the blue/white seersucker blazer, and the new lid. In other words, Southern Gentlemen Lawyer type causal (no tie) for evening aperitifs!

First stop was the Louisiana State Museum at The Presbytre for the Cocktail "Carnival" Happy Hour which ran from 5:30 - 7pm. 25 of the World's best and up and coming mixologists manned table next to exhibitions. Bulleit Bourbon, Captain Morgan's, Zacapa Rum, Tanqueray, Ketel One Vodka, Don Julio Tequila, and other sponsors provided the booze, while a jazz band played on the second floor. Highlights of the Happy Hour included:

- Discussing The Flip with THE Wayne Curtis, author of "And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails"
- Talking shop and drinks with Max Goldberg and Toby Malone of the Patterson House in Nashville,
- Sampling the tasty cocktails courtesy of vatos Eric Alperin and Matty Eggleston of The Varnish in Los Angeles,
- Tony Abou-Ganim's Cable Cars,
- Chatting with King Cocktail Dale DeGroff,
- Death & Co's Joacim Simo building a cocktail in a bystander's mouth because he ran out of clean glasses (no lie) - he actually spritzed bitters in the guys mouth to kick it off,
- Meeting New Orleans radio personality Tim McNally and his crew. They really made me feel at home and from now on I will have to refer to a seersucker jacket as a "Haspel."

It was a real treat to mingle and talk with so many talented bartenders and cocktail aficionados. Properly toasted, I strolled down to the water to IRIS for a Spirited Dinner.

Allen Katz beverage director of Southern Wines & Spirits was mixing up cocktail pairings with dinner. So I took a bar seat and had a bird's eye of the master at work. Poppy's Choice was by far my favorite drink (Gin, VEP Chartreuse, Lillet blanc)! This gem was a stiff yet crisp aperitif. Allen did not stop there, the cocktails were almost two for every one entree which in my opinion is a damn good value for $100.  Excellent New Cajun food, outstanding service, and drinks for the ages. A perfect evening.

Ended up at Vaughan's Lounge in the Bywater section. This place seemed like 15 minute cab ride and I knew that I was in the real New Orleans. No fancy hanging gardens or stumbling tourists out here (except me). Thursday nights is when trumpet player Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers play so I wanted to check it out this NOLA institution. The music was jumping, the crowd friendly and spirited. I met the DrinkBoston crowd. After 3am shots of Green Chartreuse I knew I was in trouble. So I summoned what strength I had left and flagged a cab. I have to admit that liquor muscles or not, I was worried because I felt like it was the middle of no where and had no idea how to get home. By the grace of God, I was able to get out in one piece and back to "the Quarter". Next year, go to Vaughan's early and with numbers! What a great time - and this was one DAY ONE!

- Fredo

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