Libation Sensations

July 30, 2019
Legend has it that the cocktail was invented in New Orleans. Whether or not that’s 100% true, there is no denying that many a cocktail has been birthed in the Crescent City, undoubtedly the lodestar of American drinking culture.

In recent years, a new generation of innovative bartenders is mixing up venerable cocktail traditions, farm to bar ingredients, hand-squeezed juices, and homemade syrups and tinctures. Raising the bar means that New Orleans cocktail culture has never been more robust, thanks to these creative stirrers and shakers.

SoBou -- 310 Chartres St.
Bar chef Amanda Thomas is passionate about creating cocktails sustainably. Thomas, who has worked with Chris McMillan at Revel, brings that passion to the bar at SoBou, the chic cocktail lounge in the W Hotel. One of the Commander’s Family of Restaurants, SoBou delivers small crave-worthy plates (try the crawfish boil fried chicken sticks and the shrimp and tasso corndogs) along with a brilliant array of drinks. Since she came onboard earlier this year, Thomas reorganized the cocktail menu into categories like boozy, refreshing, fruity, SoBou style, and labelled alcohol content of appropriate drinks as no or low-ABV--which, in case you didn’t know, is a thing. Thomas takes garnishes to a new level with her commitment to reducing bar waste, first zesting all the fruit before it’s juiced and preserving rinds in sugar, making oleo saccharum, a popular 19th-century bartending trick used to amp up citrusy flavor. Fresh juices and garnishes are showcased in an array of drinks, including Welcome to the Jungle, a lower ABV tiki drink powered by Amaro, Campari, fresh pineapple and lime juice. Tiki and punches are popular year-round, a sign that communal drinking is here to stay.

Royal Frenchmen Hotel and Bar -- 614 Frenchmen St.
The Royal Frenchmen brings some welcome class to the Frenchmen Street scene, a gem of a boutique hotel with 16 rooms, a lovely courtyard and the sweet little Royal Bar where Tyler Daly presides. Situated across from Washington Square Park, the Royal attracts a mix of visitors and locals to its nightly scene of live music and well mixed cocktails. Daly, the bar manager, serves classic drinks to his clientele, with martinis, Sazeracs and old fashioneds among the most popular options. The $3 martini happy hour is a draw seven days a week from 4-8 pm, with Svedka vodka and Seagram’s gin at the heart of classic martinis, lemon drops and cosmopolitans. Daly likes to get creative, adding celery salt to the rim of his excellent Bloody Mary and trying out new recipes like the Roses (and Violets), a floral mix of gin infused with grapefruit peel, pamplemousse liqueur and rose syrup, served up in a coupe with a dried rosebud garnish. If you are local, say so, and a 25 percent discount will be the reward.

Loa – 221 Camp St.
In haunted New Orleans, the title “spirit handler” is ripe for interpretation. But at Loa, the modern bar off the hushed lobby of the swank International House Hotel, the moniker has just one fit. Alan Walter is the bar’s “spirit handler,” and his drinks are indeed otherworldly. Against a backdrop of cushy red velvet and antique stemware and art, Walter works his magic. With a menu that reads more like a Gothic novel than a drink list, Walter hopscotches through time and space. “Steeped, percolated, and distilled over nearly 300 years, New Orleans culture is a joyful one of ritual and romance, food and drink, unlike any other place,” he says, with typical theatrical flair. His menu draws on global influences infused with local ingredients, adding up to a terrific sense of place. Take the Isle D’Orleans, for example, a tasty shake of two Caribbean rums, fresh pineapple, coconut water and meringue from a farm hen egg. As Walter describes, New Orleans is “a city like no other city, a landlocked island that could have drifted right Out of the Caribbean.” One sip of this cocktail and describing New Orleans as the northern most island in the Caribbean is absolutely apt.

Henry’s Gin Bar – 317 Baronne St.
Named for Henry Ramos, inventor of the frothy orange blossom scented Ramos gin fizz, Henry’s Gin Bar is the latest reason to visit the spectacular NOPSI hotel in the CBD. With some 55 gins on the menu, this newly reimagined lobby gin joint is beyond swell. Build your own martini – pick your gin, vermouth and bitters. Savor the impossibly lovely Violet Letter, with its arresting floral notes, or sip on a G&T seven different ways. Whet your appetite with an order of crispy Brussel sprouts with bacon jam, Neapolitan flatbread with marinated Creole tomatoes and mozzarella, or a creamy light pimento cheese with toasted Leidenheimer and house made pickles. Executive chef Neal Swidler’s outstanding menu of small plates is so swoonworthy you’ll want to stay for dinner at Public Service after drinks are done.

The Elysian Bar – 2317 Burgundy St.
Yet another special hotel bar, Elysian Bar, from the team behind Bacchanal, offers a religious experience; and not just because it’s housed in the converted church compound that is now Hotel Peter and Paul in the Marigny. Although the menu is vast and inspired, the offering of aperitivos and tonics is special. “Our space and setting is heavily influenced by European design that encourages long conversations over drinks that are sipped at a slow pace, so aperitivos make sense,” according to Lisa Nguyen, GM and director of the bar program. Priced at $7 from 3-6 pm daily, $9 the rest of the time, aperitivos are low in alcohol but pack a big flavor wallop. Served with a splash of soda and sparkling wine, the spritz incorporate the likes of Aperolfrom Padua, Cocchi Americano from Asti, and Lillet from Podensac. On the tonic side, vermouths with flavor notes from alpine flowers like thyme and chamomile are enhanced with a topper of Fevertree Mediterranean tonic. Work up your appetite in the bar or lovely courtyard, with its towering wall of stained-glass windows, and then have your fill of chef Alex Harrell’s Mediterranean-inspired menu. Next date night? The Elysian Bar won’t disappoint.