You may or may not know, but last week marked the tenth annual Tales of the Cocktail event in New Orleans. It’s a week-long event, largely for those in the bar, cocktail, and spirits industries. There are seminars, awards, pub crawls, and plenty of other things to do, but being a late arrival this year I missed most of it. The trip was amazing though; if you don’t have a good time in New Orleans you’re probably dead.
On our first evening we visited Twelve Mile Limit, described to me as “a bartender’s bar.” Comfortable and a little out of the way for tourists, they make great cocktails and have a wide selection of beer (including Southern Star, which was cool to see). We met a handful of New Orleans industry folks there, and they were really helpful with recommendations. Speaking of recommendations, there’s an art to getting them. Our hotel gave terrible recommendations, as did guidebooks. Yelp didn’t do a whole lot for what we were looking for either. By far the best thing we found was starting with one bar recommendation that we enjoyed, talking to the bartender (or the locals at the bar) and going from there. We got awesome recommendations from everyone at TML. A few of them are below.
Tonique. Good lord, this may be the best bar I’ve ever been to. You know that feeling you get after you find something so amazing that you feel like you just entered a whole new world of awareness? How did I miss this before? There has been line drawn in my life: a life before Tonique, and a life after Tonique. I can’t say enough about it. The reasons why are simple: They make great freakin’ cocktails, and the whole culture of the place is unpretentious and genuinely warm. Simple. No fancy decor, but not a dive atmosphere either. An important point–most cocktail bars are decorated in a particular style. There’s obviously nothing wrong with conscious decor (we spent quite a bit of time on ours at DH), but there was just something inviting and homey about it. They make their own non-alcoholic sodas (we had an Angostura soda and a milk soda) which were awesome, but the drinks were the highlight.
The cocktail list when we visited trended toward classic and New Orleans-centered cocktails: Sazerac, Vieux Carre, Ramos Gin Fizz, Mint Julep, Old Fashioned–but everything I tasted was made so expertly that you could just imagine the number of times they went over the recipe to get it so exactly right. Just shockingly well-balanced and full. And not only that, the tone of the conversation across the bar led me to believe that obviously this was a place that could make any drink you name. The bartenders spoke about cocktails and spirits with intimacy. Wonderful.
Cochon Butcher is not a bar–well, on second thought they did have a cocktail bar. (At a certain point, I began to wonder if the Walgreens was going to have a cocktail bar.) Cochon Butcher is a deli and cafe that focuses on charcuterie. We ate duck sliders, bacon melt, the Cubano, and the Muffaletta with mac and cheese. All were unbelievably good. We also bought our chef Benjy a “Pig Slayer” shirt, which was awesome. Fun place, great food and cocktails.
Bellocq was one of the early recommendations we got from Twelve Mile Limit. I don’t know much about the ownership or history of Bellocq (related to famous cocktail bar Cure, I believe), but the place was beautiful, and they obviously spent some cash on the buildout. Their menu has a focus on Cobblers, a type of cocktail generally made with a base spirit, some sort of wine, sugar, and fresh fruit. Tons of them. We tried the Whiskey Cobbler among others, and it was delicious. They also have a “Baller Menu”–which is pretty much what it sounds like. Really awesome expensive drinks. It was on the baller menu that I had one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had in my life. The Mezcal Cobbler. Made with the Del Maguey Santo Domingo Albarradas, Punt e Mes, Creme de Fraise, orange juice, and some sort of magic potion apparently. This drink tastes like being sucked deep into the ocean by some sort of beautiful sea goddess. The layers in this drink. The balance. Unbelievable. Would this drink have worked with any other Mezcal? I’d be happy to investigate, but the Albarradas is so subtle, so delicate that I can’t imagine a better spirit for this drink.
There are so many more to talk about–maybe for another post–but these were some of my favorite. One thing I found in common with every place we went to is a great attitude from bartenders, a genuine desire to show us their city, and a mature bar and cocktail scene with a wide range of bars. I think about driving back to Tonique pretty much every day. Hopefully I’ll be back soon.