The Intoxicology Report

Welcome to the Intoxicology Report, a drinking journey with a few recommendations and a few lessons. This column is dedicated to my experience consuming one variety of alcohol for seven days straight. This time, we take on gin, my favorite spirit. No, it doesn’t always taste like Christmas trees. Yes, it is the basis for some of the best cocktails from which you ever need take a lingering sip.



Day 1

I’m feeling cocky. It’s very possible that I have accidentally satisfied the parameters of this edition of the Experiment in some boozy week of my past. That prejudicial confidence was likely displayed on my face when I met Jess, owner of Lula Restaurant Distillery located on a picturesque stretch of St. Charles. The operation, the first of its kind in New Orleans, is housed in a large airy space with a gleaming copper still situated against the back wall. It is visible from all angles and takes on a rose gold quality in the late afternoon sunlight. I’m smitten with the vibe, and I could use a drink.


Lula makes vodka, gin, and crystal rum currently, with plans to add an an aged rum in the near term. Jess, who has a background in food science and chemistry, also worked for years in the kitchen at Commander’s. Something about his personality – direct and observant, but never stern – underscores these details of his resume. Lula’s gin, one of the only on the market distilled from sugar cane, is as light as the space from whence it came. If you are the type to turn your nose up at Beefeater or others of the London dry style, this is an excellent bottle to try.


Jess treats me to a double feature of their pre-bottled gin cocktails (a gin and house-made tonic, and a negroni) after a taste of the pure product. They are 10 ounces a piece and available only in the restaurant. I slurp them both down and admire the thoughtfulness behind them, the gin and tonic is served in a champagne glass to preserve the bubbles, the negroni lacks the sometimes unapproachable bitterness that is the cocktail’s signature. Take note brunch-goers of the world – this is a far more sophisticated (and higher octane) way to enjoy your morning booze than  what passes for mimosas most places out of a pitcher.



Day 2

On an especially oppressive afternoon post-office, everything in the Quarter seemed sticky. Running my finger along any surface leaves my hand feeling as if I had snuck a taste of a glazed lemon cake – but far less fragrant. This fact manifests itself on my evermore irritated countenance as a grimace. On the bright side though, this grimace fits the uppity clientele of my next stop, the Sazerac Bar. I’m here to have what else – a Ramos gin fizz!


This is a cocktail with a time and a place, but the the theatrics of it are absolutely undeniable. The creamy head of mine (which was perfect by the way) descends with each sip, and I start to imagine myself with a Grace Kelly-like poise that I do not possess. For the few of you who may not have visited the Sazerac Bar, you really should. It feels (barring any guests that belong to a wedding party) like stepping back in time. Plus, if you’re clever, you can hit Domenica (also attached to the Roosevelt Hotel) for happy hour pizza afterwards.



Day 3

Originally intent upon traipsing back through the Quarter after work, I make a detour at the Cellar Door, mainly because I feel the need to fortify myself for the sweat I’m about to lose. I have been treated for dehydration before and have decided this is a perfectly acceptable proactive method, but of course, proceed with caution should you choose to imitate this.


I order the “Green Light District” which is a combination of gin, lime, basil and cucumber. It’s highly refreshing and I get that signature, one drink in rush of optimism that always seems to say, “don’t worry about the details Nina, wouldn’t you rather spend all of your time in the throes of intoxication, or passion, or both?!” Yes, yes I would, but this voice has led to many a misstep.


The next stop on my self-styled tour of essential gin drinks is Napoleon House for a Pimm’s Cup. Generally speaking, I put the Pimm’s Cup in the category of cocktails that I would order for a person that repeatedly tells his or her companions the phrase, “I’m not a big drinker.” It’s takes several of these to get a decent buzz, so I have one and then a Bombay and tonic, and then another, and then I sit outside and my thoughts become languid.


While my final drink disappears down my sweaty gullet, “I Can’t Get Started” plays in the back of my mind. Not only is this song a classic, like many gin cocktails, it is also the best love song of all time. Its rendering of the inevitabilities of failure, the boomerang effect of poor choices, reminds me of a lonely hangover. Frank Sinatra’s version is my favorite, and ‘ol blue eyes had it right when he crooned, “life’s a bore, the world’s my oyster no more.” Drink enough on a pretty little patio full of couples, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.



Day 4

I don’t venture out until quite late after accidentally taking a three hour nap. Whenever this happens, I try not to revisit my college ways and drink more alcohol more quickly than normal to “catch up” but that’s what happens. You know, those poor choices again.


However, all seems to take a turn for the better when I pick up a young man who hails from my hometown of Philadelphia. We trade neighborhood landmarks and stories, get drunker, and I find myself yelling (playfully?) about how I plan to teach him to appreciate gin. We stumble into Bar Tonique for this purpose and I order three cocktails while perched on his lap – a Ramos gin fizz, a Botanist gin martini (2-1 please) and the Last Word (one of the only cocktails I like that contains Chartreuse). All classics, but with different flavor profiles. He tells me he enjoys them all, mentions that he’s in town with his girlfriend, laughs awkwardly, and I dismiss him. The bar is about to close. I let him off the hook and cover the whole tab, because, karma.



Day 5

It is time to discuss martinis. I drink martinis frequently, usually at my regular spot, Sidney’s Saloon. Note that the longsuffering ears to my crude jokes, Kory, makes a perfect one.


Please, if you fancy yourself of drinking age, know how you like your martini or be prepared to have your bartender bring you what they think your martini is and do not complain. In my humble opinion, any way is fine as long as that way means gin. Vodka martinis are for people that own multiple pairs of $100 yoga pants and frequently discuss the gentrification of a neighborhood they’ve occupied for less than a year, you don’t want to be that person, do you? I have three martinis (Beefeater this time, still 2-1, with a twist) and walk home to the sound of my own self-critical inner monologue.



Day 6

I popped a bike tire on my way around town earlier in the week and haven’t fixed it yet, so my journey to Seven Three Distilling in Treme (right by the Claiborne overpass) from my place in the Marigny is on foot and on fire. Inside, I meet Jennifer and Dimitri behind the bar, who are expecting me and kindly pour me tastes of Seven Three Distilling’s Gentilly Gin, chilled and neat. It’s super smooth and mild, a bit like Lula’s offering. Also like Lula, it has a Louisiana-specific signature due to the inclusion of elderflower and persimmon, ingredients the makers say mimic “remedies from the Cajun medicine bag.” I’ll tell you, there’s nothing medicinal about this gin, and I would personally enjoy it just with a splash of soda and a lime wedge. After a quick tour of the distillery itself, I head back out walk aimlessly until I reach Iggy’s. I spend the rest of the evening shelling out all of the cash I had handy inside that establishment, alternating between gin and tonic and gin and soda. My head was already pounding when I collapsed in bed a few hours later.



Day 7

On the final day, I visit Jedd, owner and operator of Atelier Vie distillery, tucked away inside the ArtEgg building on S Broad. This is a tiny operation but, if you come visit for the tasting and bottle sale hours (Saturday and Sunday 10-2) you’ll find no shortage of expertise here. Jedd tells me that he has always had an interest in manufacturing, but it was just a matter of decided what he wanted to manufacture. When he decided on booze, a series of laws (that sound suspiciously like they were written to benefit a single distillery) prevented the project from taking shape until 2012. Since then, Jedd’s Euphrosine Gin #9 has collected a variety of awards, including Gold Medal and Best of Category in the Contemporary Rectified Gin at the American Distilling Institute’s 8th Annual Judging of Craft Spirits. However, what I must sing the the praises of here is the barrel-aged version of Euphrosine Gin #9, what Jedd calls his “sipping gin.” That shit is outrageously delicious, and if you have a stalwart whiskey drinker in your life, pour this for them and watch a grin grow.


Back at home in the humid and seemingly airless interior of my apartment, I stare out the window. Fifteen minutes of indecision pass and I decide to fix myself a martini. There’s a half-empty bottle of Beefeater tucked away in the kitchen, and enough vermouth in the fridge to get by. Are my martinis expertly crafted? No, of course not, but they are cold and made of gin, and that’s what counts when you’re laying across your bed trying not to slosh it out of the glass.


There is a place for restlessness, but this isn’t it. Before the plague of social media and the death of true personal separation between past and present, there was just you, cocktail in hand. To quote Charles Bukowski in his quintessential poem, Young in New Orleans: “There was something about that city though, it wouldn’t let me feel guilty that I had no feeling for the things so many others needed. It let me alone.”


So sit alone my friends, let the crispness of good gin infuse your addled brain, and be well.


Promotin’ the General Welfare

When DACA kids were spotlighted as part of the larger illegal immigration discussions during the Obama presidency, it may have been the first time many Americans were introduced to the subtle, yet significant, distinctions among those who were not legal citizens. Over the years working alongside people whose families came to this country both legally and illegally, I have come to understand well what troubles lie ahead for someone who was not a citizen, especially someone who had difficulty securing a green card or getting a visa extended. 


There were just as many people from Europe as they were people from the oft-disparaged Central American, South American, and Caribbean countries. At one point, while living in the northeast, I probably knew as many Irish “illegals” as I did Latinos caught up in the same dilemma, and to a lesser extent, quite a few from the Middle East and Eastern Europe.


If word got out that ICE raids were taking place, more than a few persons might be missing in action from their daily routines and had to go into hiding until things calmed down. Needless to say, those of us, their friends, were left to wonder if they’d been caught up in the dragnet. 


For some people, the immigration debate is cut-and-dry: either you are a citizen or you’re not, circumstances be damned. And for them, there is no debate about the status of DACA kids, who aren’t kids anymore – they’re adults now, adults who’ve spent almost their entire lives in this country. Culturally, they may have been raised in families whose heritage has ties to other than “America”, but they are no different than most Americans in that respect. They are essentially as American as all other Americans.


As Congress continued to leave unresolved the status of so many as resentment against illegal immigrants has risen, President Obama decided it was important to grant a measure of comfort and reprieve from being deported automatically provided they meet certain criteria – hence, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, which began in August of 2012.


It was hardly a perfect solution, but to those “illegals” who were here through no fault of their own, perhaps they could breathe a sigh of relief – but for how long?


Ultimately, Congress will have to address the matter, but Obama’s action upset so many in that divided body, there seemed to be a faction resolutely opposed on principle alone, those who refused to heed reason and consider a more rational approach. After all, a glance at DACA requirements reveals they are hardly flimsy, and seem to create a profile for the model American.


And let’s face facts: Congress knows well how much our economy depends on labor from so many illegal immigrants. Even business leaders have been chiming in on fair and compassionate immigration reforms for those working in all sectors of our workforce, from farming and manufacturing to service industries and tech companies.  


Stubbornly, some members of Congress can’t be budged. As a result, now under President Trump, approximately 800,000 Americans, who took a chance on the good word of the former president, are at risk of deportation.


Why should we be surprised?  


Marginalization is so engrained and normalized in the United States that we often overlook how it impacts those so affected. Even with all the effort to eliminate discrimination, there remains the tendency of human beings to act in accordance with norms. We learn to “see” people when they fill the roles we’ve come to expect them to fill, but not beyond those parameters, and if they dare desire to move past those boundaries, games of manipulation and machinations of the gatekeepers work together to keep out certain groups of people, by race/ethnic group, gender, class, creed, or orientation.  


More importantly, when segments of the majority population feel threatened by people not knowing their place in the society, even as they are allowed to move up and down in certain professions, those hates which lie dormant or close to the surface often find voice and expression in anxious times. Then, we learn that the ugly underbelly of racism has hardly subsided and must be dealt with even further.


Like racism, marginalization starts at home, and if members of the majority population choose to  marginalize and discriminate among their own, then it follows that all others should expect no better treatment down the road, regardless one’s station or situation.


While living in New England just after finishing college, the town I lived in was faced with a dilemma: how to distribute the population of the “poorest” school, located near the town center, proportionately among the remaining, better-performing schools in its district. Racially, the community was almost entirely “White.” The core issue seemed to focus on this question: if any one school took on too many “poor” kids, how might those kids alter the “balance” – the school environment, the performance, etc. – and, thus, success of that school?


This was public education, mind you. You’d like to think it should follow that the well-being of all kids is at stake in such a moment. But “those” kids weren’t “their” kids, and it was clear what “they” meant as “they” worked hard not to offend and maintain a modicum of decency while denigrating other people’s children.


Sadly, it was a sentiment I was all too familiar with as a New Orleanian. All the “good” kids attended the “good” schools, and with a few “exceptions” – those lucky enough who fell through the cracks, at least not too many lucky ones to upset the balance – the social order was maintained. Not long thereafter, returning home in 1992, for four years, I saw up close how families from marginalized communities in New Orleans had to fight harder and longer for a place at the table for their kids – and this was not as simple as a “White” v. “Black” thing; it was complicated even more so by the divisive segregation practiced among blacks themselves, the derisive and unbecoming attitude toward “other” Black children simply because they were not welcome.


When affirmative action became the whipping boy for those in the angry white electorate in the 80’s, each of us walking the campuses of Tulane, Loyola, and UNO heard the nasty words pointed in our direction. But as the old adage goes about sticks-n-stones, our immediate detractors failed to appreciate that it was not their ignorant and prejudiced words which posed the greatest harm; rather, it was the action, or inaction, of those in power who could grant or deny access to full participation.  


First, it was necessary to be in the know; once in the know, one had to apply to join. Once the criteria was set before you, the question was, “Can you meet the requirements?” And once you did, one’s admission was challenged. It was not enough to want to participate. Were you willing to take that chance? Well, how else were you going to “get there” unless you trusted and tried.


And even when you play by the rules, upon coming to the table, you often learn the rules may have changed, sometimes unannounced, and if that was unfair, it didn’t matter. It was a consequence born from circumstances in that moment, that region, that company, that environment. How high you dared to climb depended on your perseverance. Hopefully, being marginalized, you knew it was going to take just a bit more – your character would be tested, questioned, even before you showed what you could do. And even when you demonstrated your competence, that you belonged, the place to which you’d come was not so welcoming after all.


Take the recent stories of sexual harassment and discrimination coming out of the tech industry. As we learn more and more about the predominant macho-chauvinist-sexist culture of so many major tech companies, many may have to thank Ellen Pao for her courage. Ms. Pao, who sued her employer, was recently profiled on NPR.


“In 2012, tech investor Ellen Pao sued her employer, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, for gender bias. She accused her bosses of not promoting her because she was a woman — and then retaliating against her when she complained.”


She lost the case, but “the legal battle garnered national attention, prompting a closer look at gender diversity and inclusivity in the tech industry.”


In August, Anita Hill penned an op-ed for the New York Times regarding the once-anonymous Google misogynist’s memo.  “The recent leak of a Google engineer’s screed against the company’s diversity initiatives is a reminder that the notion of Silicon Valley as the seat of human progress is a myth — at least when it comes to the way the women behind the latest in technology are treated.”


Where you are born and to whom you were born are still, perhaps, the most significant factors impacting one’s route to success. Yet, though you may achieve and excel beyond expectations, there remain forces at work which complicate your path on the way to that slice of American pie. Sometimes, all they want is your gratitude ‘cuz you got your seat at the table. Now, you wanna be a VIP, five-course meal and meringue on your pie?


Even when we welcome people to our country with the promise of full participation, provided they “do the right thing,” they run the risk of rejection by members of the majority population because they are not welcome everywhere, even when their safe passage has been granted, secured, and guaranteed by their employers.


Earlier this year, two male Indian engineers were shot in an Olathe, KS, bar by a local man who was not pleased they were in America.  He threatened them with a familiar taunt (“You don’t belong here”) before leaving the bar. There were other patrons who called him a jerk and did not share his views, but he’d departed with a purpose and returned with a gun. Unfortunately, one of the men, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, died from gunshot wounds, leaving his wife, who’d moved to the United States from India, to question, “Do we belong here?”  


For DACA kids, all grown-ups now, the answer is a simple, resounding “YES!”  For the many who support them despite the road they have had to travel, through no fault of their own, when answering the question — “Do they belong?” — the answer, overwhelmingly, is “YES!” But to those who do not see their humanity, and coldly, hatefully view them as unwanted undesirables, they are no better than the alcoholic Kansan who shot the engineers at that bar, no better than the tech chauvinists who make things uncomfortable for their female counterparts, no better than the better-off townspersons in that predominantly white New England town wanting to keep their nice White kids separated from those poor White kids, no better than those people who say, “Assimilate!” but wish not to accept those who do when they arrive.


So, why care about DACA kids, or DACA grown-ups, whether or not you know any?  


Our quality of life as a nation is contingent upon the success of all persons from all parts of society, marginalized communities included. The dilemma surrounding the status of DACA kids is the same dilemma all persons from marginalized communities face as they hope and work hard to enjoy a future that can be navigated with fewer, if any, hurdles or obstacles, where injustices are lessened or quashed, and where they can enjoy the fruits of full access and participation without enduring dehumanizing acts or suffering violence.


The “DACA kids” dilemma is not just about deciding the eligibility of DACA grown-ups to remain in this country. It is about how we treat human beings, our fellow Americans – for they are Americans in every sense of the word — and whether we will honor those virtues and values as a moral and ethical society.


You don’t have to know a “DACA kid” to understand the current anxiety or distress, or hurt; you just have to know the history of people from marginalized communities in America – their struggles, their successes, and their setbacks, and how they enrich our culture when given a chance to prove their worth.  


And if you don’t know that, they you don’t really know America.


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The text above is a column and expresses only the opinion of the author, not NOLA Defender or NOLA Defender’s Editorial Board.