Big Easy Soda

Two days in New Orleans is insufficient, however anytime in New Orleans is better than none at all. This was the case with my presentation at the Museum of the American Cocktail. What made up for the short time was the stir* of bartenders from some of the finest New Orleans bars that showed up to help prep the session and others that showed up to take it in.

With a brief 4 hours of sleep, I headed out the door with my personal chauffeur (my Dad) to make my way to the Flint, Michigan airport. After a relatively fast flight, I set up camp at the Royal St. Charles and then proceeded to do my best impression of a phone operator. After dividing up my time, I proceeded to work and socialize.

First up, Christina and Kelly from Tales of the Cocktail, who took me out for lunch, courtesy of Ann, as thanks for helping out with some Tales 2010 planning. Next up was Bruce Tomlinson, who drove from Illinois to take in the session. We first hit the Carousel bar for a Vieux Carre and a chat with Marvin the bartender. From there Bruce and I headed out to the Museum to prepare for the session.

Chris McMillian and Laura McMillian were already at the Museum preparing. I was still feeling pretty good considering I’d been up since 1:45AM central time to make my flights. I would have arrived in New Orleans earlier but the Easter weekend put a wrench into those travel plans.

The session and cocktail prep went extremely smoothly because of the impressive bartenders that provide the help to get things ready, and I can’t thank them enough for their efforts.

The actual session went well. Even though there wasn’t a slide presentation because of the setup, I still use presentation software to keep track of my notes and discussion topics. I usually have a presentation remote, but I misplaced it which made it hard for me to keep a steady pace to the presentation. Other than that little hiccup, I felt the session went really well. There were a ton of great questions and many of them I had no problem answering. It is also gratifying to know that some of my research on the history of New Orleans was new to many locals.

After the session, the team that made things happen decided to hit Luke’s Restaurant for a late night bite. When you have that many bartenders in a room the conversation flows like water over Niagara Falls. Chris McMillian is a natural conversationalist with an impressive capacity for cocktails and drink history.

At one point the discussion turned to the Cosmopolitan and whether it was a drink that should be served at high end bars. My position on this has always been pretty clear – yes it should. But it shouldn’t just be served without some form of professional intervention. A new guest should get what they want, within reason, because that will be their first impression of the bar. If the first thing a bartender does is refuse to make a drink because it’s below them – then we just joined the wine snob category. Ick.

Plus many people can be intimidated by bars that take their cocktails seriously. The people that order Cosmo’s are the people we need to seduce, not offend.

My preferred method had always been to make the Cosmopolitans as good as possible for the first night, even if they order 5, in an attempt to get the customer back next week. When they return and ask for one of those Cosmopolitans again, I make it without question. When they order the 2nd Cosmo on the 2nd day I intervene. I’ll usually say “lets mix things up because I have this great drink I’d like you to try.” Works every time. By this point, I’ve earned their trust and they are more willing to try new things. That’s when the religious conversion begins.

“Welcome to the Cocktail Temple, please leave monetary offerings on the bar.”

Anyway, great conversation and intelligent debate is what I love about bartending and bartenders. Well, at least bartenders that take it as a profession.

After being up for 22 hours and flying 1600 km, it was time to crash.

After waking and finding a good cup of coffee, Chris McMillian proceeded to be my personal tour guide for the day. I can only say it was the best tour of any city I’ve ever had, and probably ever will have. Chris is a walking archive of information and has an absolute passion about New Orleans, which makes for a great tour. Plus he knows how to pick some great food from local joints that would never hit the tourists radar.

I’ll be heading back to New Orleans in July, and ya, the city and the people are definitely making me feel at home. If you want to know more about the session I’ll be combining the MotAC and Tales of the Cocktail Soda sessions into one presentation on Art of Drink. Until then you can pick up a copy of Fix the Pumps and check out some the cocktails served during the session.

* Blair “Trader Tiki” Reynolds coined the term “stir” as a description for a group of bartenders. Used in a similar fashion to “a herd of elephants” or a “gaggle of geese”.