REBECCA SANTANA Associate Press
If your idea of a New Orleans cocktail is a Kool-Aid-colored, alcohol-heavy concoction served in a plastic hand grenade or a novelty glass that resembles a hurricane lamp, stop thinking like a college freshman on his first trip to Bourbon Street and check out Neal Bodenheimer’s new book, owner of a posh bar.
“Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em,” by Bodenheimer and food writer Emily Timberlake, is filled with recipes for cocktails made at Cure, the craft cocktail bar Bodenheimer founded in 2009. bye New Orleans’ first destination bar for craft cocktails. The book features recipes for sours, Manhattans, and bitter slings interspersed with some history of New Orleans, its drinking culture, and the men and women at Cure who made the drinks.
Bodenheimer, whose family first settled in Louisiana in the 1850s, was a New York bartender with plans to eventually open a cocktail bar there. But then Hurricane Katrina happened in 2005, and like many New Orleanians who saw the catastrophe unfold in their hometown, Bodenheimer immediately felt the need to return.
People also read…
“I just decided I wanted to … go back 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 an important anchor as the street not only recovered from heavy Katrina damage, but also became a thriving culinary thoroughfare. In 2018, Cure was honored with a prestigious James Beard award for Outstanding Bar Program. It is also the first of many bars and restaurants Bodenheimer is now involved in.
There’s Cane & Table and Peychaud’s in the French Quarter, the Vals restaurant on Freret Street, and last year his first venture outside of New Orleans – the Dauphine’s restaurant in Washington.
New Orleans’ reputation for drinking and a penchant for partying is well known. During Prohibition, New Orleans was known as the wettest city in the country. Today, people in some New Orleans neighborhoods can legally have a cup of booze while wandering the streets.
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 local lore that the Sazerac was the world’s first cocktail). But the vast majority of the drinks are creations of Bodenheimer and the Cure staff. With few exceptions, Cure introduces a new range of drinks each season with Bodenheimer credits for its diverse, creative staff.
“I work with incredible people,” he said. “It’s just incredible how someone brings their own… talent into making drinks. And that talent is unique.”
There’s an exactness to the book and recipes that may surprise readers who expect a loose, “let the good times roll” approach to New Orleans drinks. The Ramos Gin Fizz is shaken for exactly 2½ minutes. Cure uses unscented hand soap at the bar so as not to disturb the scent of expressed citrus. Bitters are added to drinks using a medicine dropper instead of a dasher bottle.
Liz Williams, the founder of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and one of the authors of “Lift Your Spirits: A Celebratory History of Cocktail Culture in New Orleans,” said Bodenheimer and Cure sometimes don’t make the “super complicated insane drinks” elsewhere seen. For example, there is no Bloody Mary with a jungle of fruits and vegetables on it.
“There’s a lot of elegance in the way the drinks are presented,” she said.
Williams credits Bodenheimer for promoting the people who worked at Cure by helping them advance to new positions in a way that the late New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme was known to do: “He understands that rising tide lifts all boats .”
The book is interspersed with essays by friends and contemporaries of Bodenheimer that show different aspects of the city’s drinking culture and reflect the history student’s obsession with history. One section details New Orleans photographer and writer L. Kasimu Harris, who documented the gentrifying city’s remaining black neighborhood bars in the book “Vanishing Black Bars and Lounges.”
Another section describes Bodenheimer’s schedule and recommendations for Mardi Gras, including a recipe for the eponymous punch. Essentially, as Bodenheimer describes it, the book is a “love letter to the city from me.”
“It’s really meant to honor the city and to honor the work of the people who have graced us with their talent behind the bar at Cure,” he said.