A Spirited Stroll

February 12, 2014
Strolling and exploring the French Quarter with its overload of cerebral and sensual attractions - from the history, arts and architecture to food, drinks and music, guests and residents alike are always seeking "the next best thing" or the ensuing extraordinary experience!

With all the fun and anticipation of more head-turning, eye-popping sights and sounds, a little respite may be in order. The always fascinating French Quarter s offers an endless array of places to stop and enjoy a libation and perhaps a light bite while refreshing and reviving.

Favorite watering holes, bars and lounges, are often tucked away and not as obvious to wandering travelers. So, here is an insider's view featuring a quartet of some of the current most popular hot spots for both relaxing and entertaining.

The following establishments noted are also great, places to hang out for cocktail time, meet friends, hear live music, discover new drinks by skilled mixologists and entertain guests. Often, the interiors are structured to provide different types of settings for various customers.

Kingfish Cocktails & Kitchen, 337 Chartres St., (504) 598-5005
One of the newer venues in the Vieux Carre, Kingfish was designed to reflect the era of the legendary, late Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey "Kingfish" Long.

The decor is embellished with framed historical photos and posters, exhibiting "Kingfish" likenesses and memorabilia from the era.

In keeping the decor fairly simple, the place retains the sophistication that 'cocktails' symbolized in Long's era. To complete the retro concept, movies from the 'thirties with subtitles were added on a screen above the bar and a player piano welcomes guests at the front door.

Nationally recognized mixologist, historian and fourth generation bartender Chris McMillian heads the bar program at Kingfish with a capable crew of experienced barmen to add support.

Although the bar menu doesn't list Long's favorite drink, Ramos Gin Fizz, McMillian and staff prepare it upon request. In Huey's heyday, unhappy with his New York hotel bar's rendition of the drink, long flew a New Orleans bartender to NYC to show the Plaza's barmen how to make a proper Ramos Gin Fizz.

Many of the city's most well known drinks such as the Sazerac, Pimm's Cup, Vieux Carre, Brandy Milk Punch, and Absinthe Suissesse are offered along with a slew of other choices.

"Along with the New Orleans classics, we are offering a selection of contemporary drinks and original cocktails," said McMillian, a founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail.

While fashioning his own acclaimed Mint Julep, McMillian, accompanies the preparation with a recitation of a 100+-year-old ode to the drink's perfection. He has also performed the ode in lectures at Washington D.C.'s Smithsonian Museum and to audiences around the world.

In addition, nearly two dozen brews, 60+ wines with 30 of those also offered by the glass are also available.

Executive Chef Greg Sonnier, a Food & Wine Ten Best New American Chef recipient and James Beard nominee for best chef southeast, created a menu showcasing south Louisiana's finest ingredients fueled by own Cajun heritage with a measure of New Orleans' Creole culinary traditions added to the pot.

Bourbon "O" Bar, Bourbon Orleans Hotel, 717 Orleans St., (504) 523-2222
If guests are looking for a classy Bourbon Street bar, the Bourbon O Bar in the Bourbon Orleans Hotel is definitely at the very top of the list.

Fronting Bourbon Street on one side, and Orleans Avenue on the other, Bourbon O's customers have a comfortable spot to view the streams of people walking along"... "the passing parade," literally!

Managed by Cheryl Charming, AKA" Miss Charming," the bar is also the "freshest."

In addition to being smoke-free, drinks are made with hand squeezed fresh juices. Syrups, mixers, ginger beer, Bloody Mary mix, apple cider and other bar items are all crafted in house.

The bar menu reflects historic New Orleans drinks, classic cocktails, traditional toddies and crustas as well as inspired, innovative concoctions.

Miss Charming, an author of more than a dozen cocktail books, credits the bar's success to her talented bartending staff, Becca June, Lynn Burgett, Carrie Dumaine and Steven Lemley - named New Orleans Magazine's 2013 Bartender of the Year. Bar Back Brendan Gaylord also plays a vital role in the excellent service that keeps customers coming back for more.

Just about anything a customer would want can be had at the Bourbon O -- from wine to "mock tails" to a local craft beer flight with twelve 4 oz. sample portions.

Both bar bites and dinner can be ordered Tuesday-Saturday from 5:30 p.m. - 10 p.m. with Orville Redenbacher popcorn always available.

Live performances feature the stylings of songstress Eudora Evans Wednesday through Friday evenings with Gypsy Elise and partner Ryan Way taking over the microphone and piano on Saturdays.

Next to the long, L-shaped bar is a lounge area with wrap-around, leather sectional sofas and cocktail tables.

With six wide screen TVs, customer can follow their varying interests by viewing different sports events, news and classic sub-titled films from Hollywood's golden age. In addition, complimentary Wi-Fi is offered and recharging stations are available for mobile devices.

Hermes Bar, 713 St. Louis St., (504) 581-4422
One of the well-loved French Quarter bars opened just five years ago. But it opened in the city's oldest restaurant!

The former Hermes Room in renowned Antoine's' Restaurant took on a new life -- with permission from the Krewe of Hermes carnival organization, turning itself inside out to morph into the Hermes Bar.

The bar, though still very much in the style of the 175-year-old Creole/French restaurant and embellished with Hermes Krewe memorabilia: programs, crowns, scepters, all preserved in delicate shadowboxes -- somehow manages to combine that old world elegance with new world comfort.

The ambience is contagious! Bar manager Michael Kavanaugh entertains patrons with perfectly prepared classic drinks. The Sidecar is superb, the Sazeracs and Pimms Cups have developed lifelong devotees. The French 75s and Ramos Gin Fizz are often touted as some of the best in a town where high spirits reign along with Carnival kings and queens.

The bar's unlimited supply of resources reaches back into Antoine's nearly block-long wine cellar where thousands of vintage labels can be ordered, even in the bar.

The same goes for the food. Hermes bar menu offers some delicious options, many of which are on the restaurant's full menu. However, bar guests can order directly from Antoine's main menu as well.

Some bar menu favorites are Antoine's Oyster Foch Po-Boy - fried oysters on toasted French bread with pate' and Colbert sauce; Antoine's Shrimp Rueben Po-Boy; Kobe Beef Cheeseburger Po-Boy; warm grilled Chicken salad; and Souffle Potatoes.

In addition, the Hermes bar menu offers Creole Gumbo, Crawfish Bisque or Alligator soup with Sherry; Fried Eggplant sticks with Hollandaise sauce; Shrimp Remoulade, Crab Ravigote; or Oysters Rockefeller, a dish developed at Antoine's in 1899. An appetizer sampler plate is also on the menu.

When scouting sites for libations and perhaps a light bite, there is more than enough to dazzle, delight and deliver a marvelous repast and, often, an excellent adventure.