If your idea of a New Orleans cocktail is a Kool-Aid-colored high-alcohol concoction served in a plastic hand grenade or a novelty glass resembling a hurricane lamp, stop thinking like a college freshman on his first trip to Bourbon Street and take
If your idea of a New Orleans cocktail is a Kool-Aid-colored high-alcohol concoction served in a plastic hand grenade or a novelty glass that looks like a hurricane lamp, stop thinking like a college freshman on his first trip to Bourbon Street and take a look at upscale bar owner Neal Bodenheimer’s new book.
“Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em,” by Bodenheimer and food writer Emily Timberlake, is filled with cocktail recipes created at Cure, the craft cocktail bar Bodenheimer founded in 2009. The bar is widely recognized for be modern. New Orleans’ first destination bar for craft cocktails. The book has recipes for sours, Manhattans, and bittered slings interspersed with some New Orleans history, its drinking culture, and the men and women of the Cure who created the drinks.
Bodenheimer, whose family first settled in Louisiana in the 1850s, was a bartender in New York with plans to open a cocktail bar there. But then hurricane katrina It happened in 2005, and like many New Orleanians who watched the catastrophe unfold in their hometown, Bodenheimer felt the immediate need to return.
“I just decided that I wanted to…go home,” he said during an interview with The Associated Press.
Cure opened in 2009 on Freret Street, far from more well-known tourist spots like the French Quarter or Magazine Street. The bar became a key anchor as the street not only recovered from the heavy damage caused by Katrina, but also became a thriving culinary thoroughfare. In 2018, Cure was honored with a prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Lawyer Program. It is also the first of many bars and restaurants that Bodenheimer is now involved with.
There’s Cane & Table and Peychaud’s in the French Quarter, Vals restaurant on Freret Street, and last year his first venture outside of New Orleans: Dauphine’s restaurant in Washington.
New Orleans’ reputation for drinking and a love of partying is well known. During Prohibition, New Orleans was known as the wettest city in the country. Today, in some New Orleans neighborhoods, people can legally drink a cup of alcohol while walking down the street.
The book includes recipes for many of the classic cocktails associated with New Orleans, including the Ramos Gin Fizz, Vieux Carre, and Sazerac (Bodenheimer sadly but firmly refutes the local tradition that the Sazerac was the world’s first cocktail). But the vast majority of the drinks are creations by Bodenheimer and the Cure staff. With a few exceptions, each season, Cure introduces a new drink list that Bodenheimer attributes to the diverse and creative staff.
“I have the opportunity to work with incredible people,” he said. “It’s just amazing how someone brings their own… talent to beverage making. And that talent is unique”.
There’s an exactitude to the book and its recipes that may surprise readers who expect a laid-back, “let the good times roll” approach to New Orleans drinks. The Ramos Gin Fizz is shaken for exactly 2 1/2 minutes. Cure uses unscented hand soap in the bar so as not to interfere with the smell of squeezed citrus. Bitters are added to drinks using a medicine dropper instead of a crusher bottle.
Liz Williams, the founder of the Southern Food and Drink Museum and one of the authors of “Lift Your Spirits: A Celebratory History of Cocktail Culture in New Orleans,” said Bodenheimer and Cure don’t make the “super complicated crazy drinks” you sometimes see elsewhere. There’s no Bloody Mary with a jungle’s worth of fruit and vegetables on top, for example.
“There is a lot of elegance in the way the drinks are presented,” he said.
Williams credits Bodenheimer with promoting people who have worked at Cure by helping them fill new positions in a way that the late New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme he was known to do: “He understands that high tides lift all ships.”
The book is interspersed with essays by Bodenheimer’s friends and contemporaries that showcase various aspects of the city’s drinking culture and reflect the college history student’s obsession with history. One section describes New Orleans photographer and writer L. Kasimu Harris, who documented in the book the remaining black-owned neighborhood bars in the gentrifying city. “Fading black bars and lounges.”
Another section details Bodenheimer’s calendar and recommendations for Mardi Gras, including a recipe for the punch of the same name. Essentially, the book is, as Bodenheimer describes it, a “love letter from me to the city.”
“It’s really meant to honor … the city and honor the work of the people who have graced us with their talent behind the bar at Cure,” he said.
Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.
Rebecca Santana, The Associated Press