In honor of Mardi Gras next week, we are taking this blog post to New Orleans. The Big Easy is not only ground zero for Fat Tuesday celebrations but also the American cocktail. In 1838, Antoine Amadee Peychaud played around with brandy, bitters and an egg cup (called a coquetier in French, some maintain this is the origin of the word cocktail), and the American cocktail was likely born…in New Orleans. Almost 170 years later, the Big Easy still serves this concoction known as the Sazerac. The drink itself has seen a few changes, but one thing remains the same: New Orleans is ground zero for the cocktail. Much has been written about this liquid history, and many are familiar with the establishments that offer one libation or another with names like the Hurricane, the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Mint Julep. But not a lot of attention has been paid to the folks who combine all of the proper the ingredients and pass them across the bar. The men and women of New Orleans who carry on these traditions and serve the thirsty masses are the keepers of this history. Whether it’s the tableside performance of the Café Brulot or simply popping the cap off of an Abita, these folks are good at what they do, and they have been doing it for a long time. Cocktail recipes are recorded in books, but the history of drinking in New Orleans is standing just on the other side of the bar.
Michael Smith, featured in the oral history above, is the drink-mixing, dancing and singing wizard at the Columns Hotel and has been voted Best Bartender five years in a row. For more oral histories of New Orleans bartenders, click here. Make sure to try out these drink recipes during the festivities next week!