If your idea of a New Orleans cocktail is a Kool-Aid-colored, high-alcohol concoction served in a plastic hand grenade or novelty glass designed to resemble a storm lamp, stop liking it on its first visit to Bourbon Street a freshman think, 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 packed with recipes for cocktails created at Cure, Bodenheimer’s craft cocktail bar founded in 2009. The bar is widely credited with being modern. day New Orleans’ premier craft cocktail bar. The book includes 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 created the drinks.
Bodenheimer, whose family first settled in Louisiana in the 1850s, was a bartender in New York and had plans to later open a cocktail bar there. But then Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and like many New Orleansans following the disaster in their hometown, Bodenheimer felt an urgent need to return.
“I just decided that I want 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 a major anchor as the street not only recovered from the severe 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’s also the first of many bars and restaurants that Bodenheimer is now involved in.
There’s Cane & Table and Peychaud’s in the French Quarter, Vals restaurant on Freret Street, and just 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 considered the wettest city in the country. Today, in some New Orleans neighborhoods, people can legally have a cup of liquor 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 disproves local lore 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, the Cure presents a new selection of drinks with Bodenheimer credits to the diverse, creative staff every season.
“I work with incredible people,” he said. “It’s just amazing how someone brings their own…talent to beverage making. And this talent is unique.”
There’s a rigor in the book and its recipes that might surprise readers expecting a casual, “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 at the bar to avoid spoiling the smell of squeezed citrus. Bitter is added to drinks using a 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 crazy drinks” seen elsewhere. For example, there is no Bloody Mary with a jungle of fruit and vegetables on top.
“There’s a lot of elegance in the way the drinks are presented,” she said.
Williams credits Bodenheimer with promoting the people who worked at Cure by helping them take on new positions, as the late New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme knew: “He understands that rising tides are everyone lift boats.”
The book is interspersed with essays by Bodenheimer’s friends and contemporaries, highlighting various aspects of the town’s drinking culture and reflecting the history student’s obsession with history. One section features New Orleans photographer and author L. Kasimu Harris, who documented the gentrifying city’s remaining black-owned 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 punch of the same name. Basically, the book is, as Bodenheimer describes it, a “declaration of love from me to the city”.
“It’s really meant to… honor the city and the work of the people who have graced us with their talent behind the Cure bar,” he said.
Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.