Modern cocktail culture came to the locals when New Orleans natives and cocktail bartenders Neal Bodenheimer and Kirk Estopinal opened Cure on Freret St Uptown. Not only did the pair bring old-fashioned sexy back to the cocktail bar, but their swanky digs in a renovated fire station led the way for the neighborhood’s resurgence. Almost all the restaurants on that stretch of Freret between Napoleon and Jefferson have killer cocktail menus, the High Hat, Ancora, Company Burger, and Wayfare in particular.
Six years ago, T. Cole Newton purchased an old corner bar in Mid-City because he wanted to offer well-made cocktails at reasonable prices -- the hand crafted drinks at his Twelve Mile Limit are $6-8 whereas at some other fancier bars and restaurants they go for $10-12. The drinks that have caught on from the beginning are Newton’s creations: The Baudin with bourbon, honey, lemon, and Tabasco; and Great Idea, made with vodka, Jägermeister, bitters, lemon, and a local ginger beer.
Downtown, Bar Tonique in the French Quarter and Victory in the CBD have poured classic and creative cocktails since 2008 and 2011, respectively. The vibe at Bar Tonique is casual, with a lot of visitors (and locals) stopping by for cocktails to go. Its cocktail list is huge and divides everything up into its technical category (i.e., “possets,” “slings,” or “true cocktails”) along with the year of creation of every classic cocktail, from 1800 to 1980. Victory is a swanky but low key after-work crowd type of cocktail place with a focus on owner Daniel Victory’s libation creations.
In New Orleans, as with chefs, bartenders are rockstars. Everyone knows the skills of Kimberly Patton-Bragg at the Three Muses, followed Lu Brow at Cafe Adelaide before she moved to Brennan’s, or that Abigail Gullo created the bar program at SoBou before heading over to help create the drinks at Compère Lapin. People can barely keep up with Cole Newton’s bartending shenanigans, and the cocktail glitterati waited with baited breath to see where Steve Yamada would end up after helping to open Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29. (Answer: Seaworthy, an oyster/cocktail bar next to the new Ace hotel.)
They’re part of the city’s cocktail history as well. Paul Gustings worked at the Napoleon House for 20 years and Tujague’s for 15 before moving to the Empire Bar at Broussard’s restaurant.
Chris McMillian, co-founder of the New Orleans-located Museum of the American Cocktail, has been sought out by cocktail lovers for years who followed him from the now-gone Library Lounge in the Ritz Carlton, to the Bar UnCommon to Kingfish, to his own bar Revel, which opened in early 2016.