Square Root’s Private Dancer
Best Cocktails in New Orleans 2014
Photos and article by Virginia Miller
The new Barrel Proof
Back in my beloved New Orleans. Newcomers are minimal enough in a given year that I can catch up on them on my annual visits. Restaurants open at a steadier clip (though not at all like the pace at home), while new cocktail bars are few. Alongside the likes of Treo (better for food than cocktails) and Barrel Proof (a very cool, expansive space, ideal for groups of friends and boasting a good whisk(e)y selection, though mediocre cocktails), I visited bars that opened between late 2013 and 2014 and returned to a number of favorites, like Sylvain, Kingfish, SoBou, Bar Tonique and classic greats like Napoleon House and French 75.
Here are my top New Orleans cocktails this year from both newcomers and favorites:
Square Root’s upstairs lounge
Square Root is easily the most exciting newcomer to New Orleans on the dining side — and the same holds true for its upstairs bar/lounge. The lovely space in a historic building boasts a balcony and a wrap-around bar from which bartenders turn out impeccable cocktails, dishes and bites akin to the creative quality I love at their parent restaurant, Root.
Two initial delights? Zwack to the Future (love that name), a mix of funky-beautiful Smith & Cross rum and Hungarian Zwack herbal liqueur with Cherry Heering (a cocktail by NYC guest bartender John Henderson) and house cocktail, Private Dancer, a light, refreshing-savory mix of blanco tequila, Cocchi Americano, lime, hibiscus and pink peppercorn.
Cane & Table
Romantic and ethereal, the multi-roomed CellarDoor, tucked down a CBD (Central Business District) street in an 1800’s brick building, would be my other strong recommend of the newcomers. It feels oh-so-New-Orleans with its historic, candlelit, chandelier-draped look, yet it stays current with playful, Asian-influenced food, like curried plantain chips in Malaysian satay sauce ($5) or ginger shrimp heads ($7) doused in scallions, miso crème fraiche and wasabi roe.
Since 1797, the great Napoleon House
There’s a strong wine list of Rieslings, Txakolina from Basque region, wines from Rioja, Spain, and Jura, France, and the fantastic Movia Rebula from Slovenia ($75 bottle). Cocktails stick to the straightforward classics, like an Old Fashioned ($9) with hand cut ice, while house concoctions might by the likes of Summer Sling ($11), a bracing combination of Rittenhouse Rye, Smith & Cross Jamaican rum, Licor 43, Herbsaint (an anisette similar to absinthe), hopped grapefruit bitters and lemon.
St. Lawrence’s Pimms Cup Slushie
Dive-y but not dingy, St. Lawrence is a welcome addition to the Quarter. It’s open all day and night, offering affordable comfort food made with quality ingredients and the best damn boozy slushies in a neighborhood famous for bastardizing the category. Just try their bracing, delicious Pimm’s Cup slushies and try not to be converted. Or there’s straightforward, refreshing drinks like Beet Belief ($8), a blend of Junipero gin, lemon, beet syrup and sparkling wine (I wish there was more earthy beet taste).
Sip a slushie on a hot day alongside a platter of heartwarming fried chicken ($15) mashed potatoes and braised collard greens or an 8 oz. Creekstone Angus beef burger ($12) on a Kaiser bun with white cheddar ($1).
Always a must-stop when in Nola: Loa
At Loa, a mix of Diplomatico rum, tangerine, grains of paradise, rosemary
I can’t be in Nola without returning to Loa, which I first wrote about in 2012, for Alan Walters creative cocktails, among the best — and certainly the most visionary — in the city.
This year I savored the gorgeous, extreme bitter of Amaro Dell’Erborista mingling in a wine glass with watermelon, citrus and Stappj bitter soda. I was fascinated by Walters use of grains in a Toasted Wild Birdseed Old Fashioned ($12), where he toasts millet, quinoa and other grains, infused in Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon and accented by xocolatl mole bitters. The Twice Worn Kilt ($12) is an earthy, booze-forward combination of Smooth Ambler Old Scout bourbon, saffron, sage, Bitter Queens Marie Laveau tobacco bitters (from my hometown of SF) with a smoky Scotch rinse. Loa is a not-to-miss cocktail destination in New Orleans.
Bellocq’s Improved Jefferson Bamboo
Another spot I return to each time I’m in Nola, Bellocq is a haven for all things Cobbler, with many variations on a classic Cobbler cocktail, including a nutty, refreshing Sherry Cobbler ($8.95). But they go well beyond. This year I was delighted by Tomato, Tomato ($9.95), showing off their house tomato lemongrass shrub, vibrant and lively with a splash of Champagne. Another standout was an Improved Jefferson Bamboo ($14.99), showing off my beloved Madeira with bitter Italian Montanaro bianco vermouth.
Cane & Table’s Boss Colada
Back at Cane & Table again, I like it better as it passes the year mark with strong bartenders and an Old World vibe.
One their most popular drinks is the Boss Colada ($12), a long, tropical mix of pineapple, lime and Baska Snaps, a bitters Swedish malort. But I particularly enjoy a rosy, pink Eastern Cottonwood ($12), essentially a Madeira punch punctuated by herbal, citrus notes from Curacao and Yellow Chartreuse. They do right by Madeira here with another off-menu standout (when I asked for more Madeira) made with a Bual Madeira, funky-beautiful Smith & Cross rum and house falernum (and almond, ginger, clove syrup).