New book reveals of the secrets of New Orleans cocktails
New Orleans has a well-deserved reputation for debauchery. But many classic, elegant cocktails, like the Sazerac, Ramos Gin Fizz and the Vieux Carré, were either created in New Orleans or preserved by the city when the rest of the country forgot them.
When well-made craft cocktails came back in fashion, Cure, which was opened in 2009 by Neal Bodenheimer, was the first bar in New Orleans to embrace that modern trend.
New Orleans now has plenty of modern cocktail bars, and standards for drinks have risen across the city.
Cure still remains one of the city’s great cocktail bars. In 2018, it received a James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program. Bodenheimer just published “Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em.” The book includes plenty of classic New Orleans cocktails along with modern favorites from Cure. Bodenheimer, a New Orleans native, also wrote a love letter to his entire city and its drinking culture.
Southern Kitchen: What is Cure?
Neal Bodenheimer: Cure is a neighborhood bar that has an unwavering commitment to cocktails and quality. Cure was my dream. It still is my dream. I want it to be a classic New Orleans bar long after I'm gone.
SK: How has New Orleans drinking culture changed since you opened Cure 14 years ago?
NB: We have always, as a culture, done a good job of preserving the things that are dear to us. Maybe you couldn't have always been able to order the New Orleans classics everywhere, but there were still places where you could go get them. Now there are more of those places where you can drink our liquid culture.
More:What makes a cocktail classic? New book serves up modern classic cocktails
SK: What has Cure’s role been in the change?
NB: Cure was at the right place at the right time. New Orleanians were primed for classic cocktails. Cure helped bring the beverage equivalent of the slow food movement into the forefront in New Orleans.
SK: What do bars in other parts of the country get wrong when they make New Orleans cocktails?
NB: Let's use the Ramos Gin Fizz as an example. There are things here that are sacred to us locally, and there are things that we can play around with. What people get wrong about interpreting New Orleans drinks is they take things, like the Ramos Gin Fizz, that we hold pretty near and dear, that we don't view as things we want to play with, and they play with them.
More:What’s shaking and stirring: Atlanta bartending legend breaks down latest trends
SK: In “Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em,” you paint a picture of New Orleans that is more complex than the standard tourist narrative. Did you think a lot about how you wanted to present the city?
NB: I left New Orleans for New York, and then I came back. I think one of the things that I realized when I left is that there is no place like New Orleans. I'm hoping that if a reader can see New Orleans through my eyes a little bit, then they can fall in love with New Orleans.
Note: The interview was edited for length and clarity.
Vieux Carré cocktail
From “Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em” by Neal Bodenheimer and Emily Timberlak
Here’s another New Orleans classic whose first book appearance was in 1937, in Stanley Clisby Arthur’s Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ’Em. According to Arthur — and this is one of those rare instances where I think he got the story mostly right — the drink was invented by Walter Bergeron at the Hotel Monteleone, presumably in the years just following the repeal of Prohibition. Back then, the now-famous revolving Carousel Bar was just a twinkle in some marketing executive’s eye, so guests would have enjoyed their Vieux Carrés gyration-free.
That said, we can’t be entirely sure of when Bergeron first created the Vieux Carré. During Prohibition, he was the manager of a “cigar shop” that was raided in 1924. Bergeron was arrested for a gambling-related crime, but it’s not hard to believe that he was slinging illegal hooch — Vieux Carrés, maybe? — in addition to cigars. Remember, New Orleans was called the “wettest city in America” during Prohibition ... so maybe Bergeron was lucky and his arresting officer was a Vieux Carré fan willing to turn a blind eye.
Our spec at Cure is pretty close to the classic formula, which blends American rye, Italian sweet vermouth, Caribbean bitters, French cognac, and the French liqueur Bénédictine. Some people like to say that the drink is a tribute to the diversity of the French Quarter (vieux carré means “old square”) in those days when people of French, Italian, and Creole descent all lived side by side.
One last thing: If you studied French in school, you’ll probably pronounce this “v-yoo car-ay.” But in New Orleans we say “voo car-ay,” because, well, it’s New Orleans and we mispronounce everything.
Makes 1 cocktail
¾ ounce (22.5 ml) Sazerac rye¾ ounce (22.5 ml) Cinzano Rosso vermouth¾ ounce (22.5 ml) Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac¼ ounce (7.5 ml) Bénédictine14 drops Angostura bitters14 drops Peychaud’s bittersLemon peel, for garnish
Build the drink in a chilled double old-fashioned glass over 1 large ice cube or a few 1¼-inch (3-cm) pieces of ice. Garnish with the lemon peel and serve. Note: Cure uses dropper bottles to precisely measure bitters.