New Orleans is likely not the city where the cocktail was invented, as the long-held myth claims. But it is the city where the cocktail was perfected. Bartenders today serve nineteenth-century concoctions like the Sazerac, the Brandy Crusta, and the Ramos Gin Fizz alongside Bourbon Street novelties like the Hurricane, the Hand Grenade, and the Shark Attack. These drinks and countless others are the product of the men and women who have tended bar and run drinking establishments across the city, across the centuries.
In the bars of New Orleans, history comes alive. Antoine Amédée Peychaud was not a bartender but an apothecary, a drugstore chemist. Sometime in the mid-1800s, he began selling his Peychaud’s Bitters blend to a local bar, the Sazerac House, for use in their Sazerac cocktail of Cognac and bitters. Today, by decree of the Louisiana state legislature, the Sazerac is the city’s officially cocktail. Joseph Santini, designer of the Brandy Crusta, died well over a century ago, but modern bartenders periodically make a pilgrimage to his tomb. They honor the man while shaking graveside tumblers of brandy, orange and maraschino liquors, lemon, and sugar.
Here are the stories of the bartenders of today, the men and women who work on and off Bourbon Street, stirring and mixing cocktails that are both classic and peculiar.
~ Rien Fertel