Southern Sippin'

Let us get something straight from the outset. Bourbon Street is not named for the whiskey, but the French aristocratic and royal family, the House of Bourbon. The city was established in 1718. The Bourbon monarch Louis XV ruled France in 1721 when the royal engineer Adrien de Pauger designed the city’s street grid. No fool about the realities of power, he named many streets for French royalty. Burgundy is another; the street is not named for the wine.

Such errors about our street names are natural, however. New Orleanians have early and often deeply appreciated alcoholic spirits, low and high: the drive-through daiquiri shop was outlawed only a few years ago; each July, New Orleans hosts the internationally famous Tales of the Cocktail, five-day celebration of the history and practice of drinking.

Bourbon has always played a leading role in the city’s romance with booze. The recently created “New Orleans cocktail” combines bourbon, orange Curacao and Peychaud bitters. (Antoine Peychaud was a local apothecary— that’s 19th century for “druggist”—who some credit with inventing the cocktail.  For a fascinating look at the drug store in his day, visit the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum on Royal Street.)  Bourbon also is the spirit in the iconic Southern cocktail, the Mint Julep. Just add it to crushed ice, simple syrup and a mint garnish for a soothing taste of the South. And just what is a julep? It is a sweet drink made from sugar syrup, used sometimes to make the medicine go down for children, sometimes to combine with alcohol, often probably both for adults.   

Pat O’Brien’s perhaps makes the best Mint Julep in town. Pat O’s, as locals call this historic restaurant and bar next to Preservation Hall in the French Quarter, provides wonderful opportunities—an expansive French Quarter courtyard, a two-fisted piano bar that encourages sing-alongs and private rooms with balconies over Bourbon Street for special events— to sip in the genteel South and sup. New Orleans bartenders are among the best in the world, however, and a Mint Julep that would satisfy a Kentucky Colonel on Derby Day can be ordered all over town.

Ironically, the booze touted on Bourbon Street runs to rum mixed with sweet flavors. A fine bourbon cocktail may be found here, however. Saints & Sinners, owned by actor Channing Tatum, would be a top spot to enjoy a crafted concoction and still groove to the Bourbon Street beat. This classy joint, “Where the red light is always on,” serves up fine music and food, as well. Here the New Orleans party at its best is always on.  As with many spots around town, celebrity sightings are always a possibility here.

For another fine cocktail made with bourbon—whether a Julep, Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour and more—head down the street of the same name towards Canal Street and stop at the Penthouse Club, a gentleman’s club. Bourbon Street has many such establishments, but only this one really has class. It outdoes all others in elegance and a welcoming spirit. From its dancers to the drink crafters, Penthouse always serves up the best. Here is where Don Draper would be found after landing his latest account. Is that Old Blue Eyes at the bar?

At the bottom of the Quarter on Decatur Street, partyers can let their hair down while still enjoying a fine bourbon cocktail at Coyote Ugly, memorialized in the year 2000 film of the same name. (Piper Perabo, currently the lead in TV’s “Covert Affairs,” stars.) The Coyote concept was created by a twenty-four-year old stockbroker’s assistant who supplemented her Wall Street secretary’s income by waitressing in a dive bar. She found her wild and confrontational but engaging antics made the tips pile up. A concept was born, with bar top dancing, insults to customers and more the staple of this joint’s controlled chaos. Do not order a Cosmopolitan, however. Todd and Muffy are not drinking here. The bartenders insist your drinks be basic. Bourbon is always approved.  

Sometimes visitors benefit by taking a tour. Sure, exploring and discovering on one’s own is exciting, but why not let an expert lead the way? The Creole Pub Crawl takes tipplers to a number of A-list New Orleans bars and restaurants for drinks and engaging history of New Orleans and its signature cocktails—the Sazerac, Pimm’s Cup and Ramos Gin Fizz—and more. Enjoy a bourbon libation on your way.
[q]New Orleanians have early and often deeply appreciated spirits[/q]
Bourbon is at the heart of a raging debate in the New Orleans “cocktail community.” (There’s a fun concept to ponder!) Without a doubt, historically the Sazerac is the drink most-associated with New Orleans. Ask any traditional bartender what spirit graces this refreshing drink and the answer will be, “Rye whiskey.” Recently, however, a move is on to make the Sazerac with bourbon. The debate rages over whether such would be an authentic Sazerac.  The controversial change shows that the city’s love of bourbon surely will continue.

Finally, TRAVELHOST not only knows where to enjoy fine bourbon but which to order. We recommend an award-winning, craft spirit distilled in the clean air of West Virginia with pure mountain water and local grains milled at the distillery—Smooth Ambler. Cracking the New Orleans liquor market is not easy; standards here are the highest in the world. Smooth Ambler, however, is served in many bars and restaurants around town, whether on Bourbon Street or off.

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15 Feb 2014

By TRAVELHOST Contributing Writer