Road Notes: Day 114
Today we spoke with Chris Hannah at Arnaud’s French 75 in the French Quarter. This is what Bon Appétit magazine had to say about Chris just last year:
“In a town bursting at the seams with world-class bartenders, Chris Hannah is the undisputed king.”
Everyone we’ve spoken to in New Orleans thus far has pretty much said the same. Given this ubiquitous and near religious reverence for the man’s abilities and the fact that modern bartenders are famous for putting on airs (earned or not) we expected Chris to be at lease a little bit of a douche. This could not have been further from the truth. Chris was kind, and humble, and even a tad shy. He gave us a taste from one of his original bottles of Ojen - a Spanish anise liquor with a long history in New Orleans (more on that later) that was only recently brought back to life by Buffalo Trace (the new one is pretty close but not perfect).
After the interview we toured the upstairs Mardi Gras museum which is essentially a collection of the opulent Mardi Gras gowns worn by Germaine Wells, the decadent socialite daughter of Count Arnaud Cazenave. We took the liberty of exploring probably more of the second floor than we were authorized and in so doing stubbled upon a few of the infamous private dining areas that have been around since prohibition. If those walls could talk I think they would have to whisper in your ear.
We returned to the French 75 to have, of course, a French 75 and also a Creole cocktail (a sort of vieux carré riff with the addition of housemade Amer Picon). There seems to be some rule that states that if a bar becomes famous for a particular cocktail they must forget how to make it properly (looking at you Floridita). This was not the case with the French 75 we had at the French 75. It was delicious (as was the Creole).
Based on the suggestion of a waiter—complete with notes scrawled on no fewer than three cocktail napkins (thanks Paul!)—we left the French 75 and headed to Mid-City for a crawfish boil at Clesi’s. Sitting down at one of their outdoor tables just as the sun was starting to set with 2lbs of crawfish and two local beers that had been walked over from the corner bar (love this town) I was reminded again why we do this. We made some new friends who helped us perfect our crawfish peeling technique (always suck the heads, big claws are worth cracking open).
After Clesi’s we headed to Revel, the new(ish) spot opened by bar icon and Museum of the American Cocktail co-founder—Chris McMillian and his incredibly charming wife Laura. Chris made a series of videos in the early 2000s while still at the Library Bar that explained the preparation and history of a number of classic cocktails. These videos were invaluable to me as a young bartender who found himself thoroughly over his head with his first real bartending job in Los Angeles. I sheepishly told Chris just that when he perched himself in front of us to ask how we were enjoying the Ramos gin phizz that Laura had prepared. Chris then explained at some length that the videos were mostly off-the-cuff and never intended for a mass audience. I figured I said but I still benefited immensely. Chris spent the next hour or more chatting with us about cocktails and New Orleans and the considerable overlap between the two and making us several of the latter, including a couple works in progress. He and Laura were both very generous hosts. Getting to talk cocktail history with the man who really introduced me to the concept was an honor for which I am incredibly grateful.
After Revel we ended up in an old “desanctified” church down the street that is now a trendy restaurant and cocktail bar called Vessel. We shared a blood & sand and a satan’s whiskers and discussed what the process of desanctification must involve. Then "Mother" by Danzig came on over the sound system and I concluded that that was probably it (or at least a booster shot) and we finished our drinks and went home.
Tomorrow we are heading to the home of Wayne Curtis to watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade and hopefully catch a cabbage and some Moonpies.
Road Notes are timed entries—written in thirty minutes or less at the end of each day.