Drinking in New Orleans is a constant, but the culture that surrounds it is constantly evolving. Craft cocktails, local distilleries, and eco-friendly packaging are just a few of the past year's significant additions to the spirit scene.
Downtown has long dabbled with craft cocktails; Tonique and Sylvain provided a beachhead, but when the heavyweights from Cure took over this prime real estate on Decatur St., the ante was upped. A quick, clean, bar staff with an encyclopedic knowledge of libations coupled with a trailblazing brand made for an instant hotspot. Bone up on your bitters.
As 2012 dawned, a new drink was set to inundate Mardi Gras parties everywhere. Lucky Player’s King Cake Vodka became one of the most sought-after – and most fiercely debated – products of the season. The true test will be whether it can sustain itself for another Mardi Gras. Meanwhile, Lucky Player’s creators have already moved on to Fleur de Lis vodka, Lemon Meringue and Candy Apple flavors, and beyond. Owner Alfredo Diaz told us there’s another locally-themed flavor in the works, but it’s still top secret.
3. Homemade Bitters
Three years ago, most of us barely knew a bitter beyond Peychauds and Angostura; however, the quick rise of craft cocktails changed that. After all, how can you make an East India cocktail without Angostura Bitters! The next step is the fusion of the DYI movement into the classic ingredient, and cocktail crafters like Jed Haas from Atelier Vie, Nick Dietrich and his artisanal team, and many more are taking on the challenge. Even frozen Daiquiri buffs like OH NO Co.'s Jeremy Thompson have caught on to the homemade bitters trend. Cocktail enthusiasts are mixing them up in their own kitchens. Get your saucepan ready!
For years, New Orleans was a booze-soaked city, but with only a couple exceptions, the alcohol was shipped in from other places. In 2012, South Louisiana showed it was seriously ready to get in on the production end. LA 31 – Bayou Teche brewery is growing about as fast as possible and rolled out several new offerings this year, giving Cajuns a beer all their own. Within the city, Atelier Vie gave the city absinthe and a new locally-distilled vodka. Meanwhile, NOLA Brewing continued to expand, and made brewery tours the best excuse to leave work early on Friday. All three open 2013 poised for continued growth, and the door now seems open for many more like them.
5. Beer in Cans
Can we can? Allen Toussaint told us the answer for years, but it took a trend in the craft brewing movement to convince the locals to catch up. Mardi Gras was forever changed for fans of decent brew as Abita and NOLA Brewing rolled out their fine alcoholic product in aluminum. In New Orleans, this offered the opportunity for endless enjoyment without fear of police reprisal, as well as the opportunity to recycle. The beer buffs were also satisfied, as the cans keep the brew insulated from defiling forces like light. On second thought, why do we still have bottles again? Look for even more cans in 2013.
A hangout for the collegiates of many New Orleans generations was lost to flames in early September, as the bar and rafters above badly damaged the St. Charles Ave. fixture known for its raucous Mardi Gras crowds. The owners are hoping to reopen the place in time for Carnival’s biggest parades. In the meantime, Uptowners were reminded yet again that New Orleans’ institutions are indeed fragile.
James Michalopolous' Olde New Orleans Rum decided to venture beyond hard liquor into carbonated, alcoholic beverages. Mind you, we're not talking about beer but the unlikely mix of ginger, cayenne-infused rum, Louisiana cane sugar, and carbonated water. The result of the seemingly disparate ingredients is delicious. Gingeroo borders on medicinal offering an almost energetic effect, not to mention a perfect "hair of the dog" remedy. For those wishing to move a little faster, try floating a little Amber Rum on top.
If daiquiris don’t sound classy enough, there’s now a drink on Bourbon Street that might pass muster. Conveniently located just off Bourbon near Preservation Hall, the tropical wine smoothie stand on St. Peter St. is an oasis that proves there is, indeed, room for new ideas on modern-day Bourbon Street. The idea was thought up long ago in the Riverwalk Marketplace, but the dreamsicle of the French Quarter seems to be its true home.
The year’s prime sign that Hollywood South may have jumped the shark wasn’t in all the arrests, but in the transactions. They’re putting down roots, ma! Channing Tatum came to the unthinkable revelation that Bourbon Street is a good place to open up a nightclub. The Magic Mike star wasted no time installing the stripper pole at his Storyville send-up, Saints and Sinner’s. Meanwhile, Robert Watters opened Backspace Bar.
The Carousel Bar is a New Orleans classic, but the Monteleone's iconic revolving bar was not content to sit on its laurels. Instead, the bar itself was restored, the lighting improved, and most importantly, the back area was completely remodeled. New windows onto the street lighten up the space have served to transform the area from overflow destination to destination. Lagniappe is the great space for nightly music that resulted from the added space.
The beloved guy pulling the cooler by the side of the parade route was forced to go legit this year, as Mayor Mitch and the City Council passed a measure that requires second line vendors to get a permit. After a lot of cuttin’ up, the fee was reduced to the final number of $25, and an initial wave of protest quieted down. But with the Super Bowl around the corner, don’t expect to resell a 12-pack without a fight.
Last Mardi Gras, Sailor Jerry was everywhere. The rum brand payed homage to tattoo pioneer, Norman “Sailor Jerry,” Collins, and all that accompanies contemporary tattoo culture which is to say lots of throwbacks. There were Sailor Jerry windows in bars all over the quarters, a Sailor Jerry classic car, and a Sailor Jerry photo booth hidden in an airstream trailer. However, as fast as the sailor Jerry blitz began, it waned. The rum is still around, but in the end, Jameson retained the throne.
Thirteen to Watch for in 2013:
1. More Wine
Finishing off the bottle has never been a problem in New Orleans, and even the politicians seem keenly aware that this has the makings of a great market. Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson-Palmer recently test-drove some new legal-speak that defines a wine bar, and cleared the path for Faubourg Wines to open up shop on St. Claude. Wine bars aren’t allowed to have smoking, live music or gambling. There may be a critical mass for this business model, but with the definition just put in place, New Orleans is unlikely to reach it for a long time.
2. Little Gem Saloon
A storied jazz landmark in the middle of the CBD, the Little Gem Saloon is looking to reintroduce New Orleans to an old-time jazz hall in the new year. Featuring upscale Creole cuisine, cocktails that date to the early 1900s and a multi-million dollar renovation rooted in the same time period, this new addition should be a bright light along a once-great corridor badly in need of a shot in the arm.
3. Craft brewing from the Parishes
Bayou Teche and NOLA Brewing proved that while Abita is going national, New Orleans is not a one-beer town. Leading the charge of new craft brews is Parish Brewery, whose excellent Farmhouse IPA is already winding its way onto the local scene. This is a national trend that’s slow to make it to Louisiana, but, as you’ve probably guessed by now, we welcome it with open arms.
We may have lost Daiquiri Place Cafe in 2012, but New Orleans’ favorite concoction seems poised for a more organized return in 2013. The Save the Daiquiri campaign is giving the drink a cause it never knew it had. Heck, even Gabby’s has grown into a successful spot that can sustain itself on St. Claude. Daiqs will never go away. No, they will only grow stronger. Now many bar owners and mixologists are going back to classics, trying their hands at hand shaken daiquiris.
Super Bowl visitors might forever think a hotel in New Orleans is owned by Bud Light, and we’re accepting it. For four days, the Super Bowl’s top sponsor is rearranging over at the Wyndham Riverside during the first weekend in February. While it may not be the ideal sponsor for local-loving locals, it’s yet another spectacle that will probably be hard to avoid checking out. They’re transforming the outdoor valet area into an enclosed party tent with the capacity for over 300 merrymakers. Even if we wanted to, locals won’t be able to get a room during the Bud Light’s reign at the Wyndham. Rooms are reserved for faces like Dave Koechner, and a few lucky contest winners.
6. Ice Snobs
If you haven't heard of a Kold Draft machine, get ready for an education. With the rise of a craft cocktails comes the rise of ice. It seems that not all cubes are created equally (in fact, some cubes are balls). Different drinks require different ices, but for the most part a dense, clear ice is best. Also important is reducing the surface area of ice to reduce melting, but counter-intuitively, larger cubes result in lower overall surface area. NOLA is starting to see a stream of dense ice solutions, some bars are installing high end ice makers, while others are ditching the machine for large blocks of ice literally chiseled into each drink. It’s a slippery slope kids.
7. Drink-Inspired Pop-Ups
Company Burger was at the forefront of booze-first pop-ups in 2012, hosting a series from Joe Briand called BTG in the early part of the year, then island hopping with Cure’s Nick Detrich for the Tiki-flavored The Offshore. With the growth of pop-ups and experts like Briand and Dietrich heading further downtown, look for more of these special pairings in 2013.
8. Nuisance Bar Battles
By taking out the aforementioned Daiquiri Place Cafe, Mayor Mitch and co. showed they were willing to do battle with so-called nuisance bars, no matter how popular or centrally-located. In the case of the Daiquiri Place, the bar was a stop on second lines and right on St. Charles Ave. As the city continues to crack down, more high-profile showdowns seem certain at this point.
9. Red’s Uptilly Tavern
As a new year dawns, Carrollton Station is no more. But a couple of blocks away, the owners are setting up shop at the former location of Bruno’s. Red’s Uptilly Tavern isn’t a replacement to the Station by any means. But, at 7601 Maple St., you’ll likely be happy to know you’re in familiar company. Look for more on this bar as it gets closer to opening.
10. Credit Cards in Bars
Call it historical accuracy, but previously plastic never really took in NOLA bars. The cache of cash met little resistance from tavern owners and employees in no rush to increase their tithe to DC. However, these times, they are a changin. Mayoral mandate is putting plastic in cabs, and cheap technology like the Square Reader have made credit cards almost commonplace. More significantly, as the tourism industry continues to explode, the financial benefits of taking plastic are hard to deny. Even border of the quarter stalwart, Buffa's was forced to change their iconic "Cash Only Bitches" sign. Next trend: the dangers of running a tab.
11. Cocktails in a Bottle
Ready-made might not be the realm of only Kahlua for long. The rash of craft cocktails at bars has created the demand for them at home, and the early buzz around Old New Orleans Rum’s Gingeroo proves that producers can pull off a quality product for the masses. Purists are likely to skeptical. But in a town where to-go rules, having a bottle on-hand is never a bad thing.
12. Donner-Peltier Distillery
Out in Thibodaux, the Donner-Peltier distillery quietly opened up shop toward the end of the year, and they head into 2013 raring to go. A pair of products – Rougaroux rum and Oryza rice vodka (made with Louisiana rice!) – are now on the market, and the distillery is set to open for tours. Along with Atelier Vie, new laws appear to be creating a new market for local booze around the state. The demand, as we know, has never been the issue.
13. Drink and Drive?
Take a Ride in the BATmobile – NOPD is after drunk drivers with DUI arrests up 39%. Cop presence is visibly beefed up on St. Claude. We may be learning from our more responsible stepsister, Baton Rouge. Checkpoints aren't their only tactic; Superintendent Ronal Serpas has revealed the $350,000 vehicle that facilitates on-site testing, "a mobile breath alcohol testing unit." Beware, don't go running toward the next party bus you see; it may just end your night.