I was contacted earlier this week with information that Lu Brow was in New York and available to meet with me. I jumped at the chance. Being here in New York almost all of the time, I always like to talk with people working in different cocktail markets.
Lu works as bar chef for Cafe Adelaide and The Swizzle Stick Bar in New Orleans.
"I want my bar to be a love letter to this city," Lu said about her work at Cafe Adelaide, and in the hometown of classics such as the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz, classic cocktails play a large part on the menu. Lu said she likes to feature "vintage cocktails that say you're in New Orleans."
She also likes playing with the classics and is even working on creating her own adult version of the New Orleans Snowball. Though there are some cocktails where she thinks the original way is good enough.
One summer Lu was able to feature an entire Tiki menu recreating drinks from the famed, but now defunct, Pontchartrain Beach tiki bar Bali Hai. She was able to do this thanks to recipes supplied to her by the grandchildren (one of whom just happens to be Bryan Batt of AMC's "Mad Men") of Bali Hai's proprietor.
The tiki drinks appealed to the locals' nostalgia, and it was a great opportunity to serve some good drinks. Lu said Ted "Doc Cocktail" Haigh gave his approval for a Fog Cutter she made using a Bali Hai recipe, calling it the best Fog Cutter he'd ever had.
Even though the city is the birthplace of some hallowed classics, promoting handcrafted drinks isn't always easy in a city like New Orleans where some people might more readily recognize the quantity of drinking that takes place. Lu talked about one instance where she polled some of the younger employees to name a New Orleans cocktail, and she got a lot of answers that named the Hand Grenade. Not that a Hand Grenade doesn't have a time and a place. In fact, Lu doesn't believe in cocktail snobbery, but she does believe in cocktail education. It's more about expanding rather than restricting, so education shouldn't be about shutting down guests.
Good education is part of good service since you're required to listen to a customer and work with what they like. It doesn't matter who well a cocktail is made if the elements don't reflect what a customer likes. They just won't drink it.
And Lu says she'll often nudge guests towards trying something new, taking into account things from their drink of choice, by offering, "Try this cocktail and if you don't like it, it's on me and I'll make you anything you like."
So far, she said, she has yet to make someone a make-up cocktail.
Naming the Sazerac as the official cocktail of New Orleans was definitely something else that helped with increasing awareness of New Orleans cocktails.
"New Orleans is known as a city for great food, but I want it to be known also as a city for great cocktails. Every city's got great restaurants with amazing wine lists...What other city has an official cocktail?" Lu said with a smile.
She said that she's definitely seeing more customers who come in and ask to try a Sazerac thanks to the drink's now sanctioned status in the city. They might not know how to even pronounce it, but they're willing to try it because they've heard about it.
The menu at The Swizzle Stick Bar changes seasonally and uses a lot of fresh and local ingredients. Lu said that with the economy affecting things like transportation costs "local is more important than ever."
According to Lu a lot of people don't realize that there's a lot of local citrus in Louisiana, like satsumas. Other fruits such as strawberries and blueberries are also cultivated in the state.
Lu also talked about other efforts in spreading the good news about good cocktails from Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan. In the Land of Cocktails, a new site which shares its name with the 2007 book by Ti and Lally.
Lu explained that there were some friends in the film industry in L.A. who were out of work due to the writer's strike.
"They didn't have a whole lot going on and weren't doing anything but standing in picket lines," Lu said, so after discussing what sort of message they wanted to send out, it was decided that the site would provide a little glimpse of New Orleans while providing information about cocktails.
The site launched late last year and features recipes as well as a blog and video episodes. Lu said there were many more webisodes to come and the site was a natural extension of what she, Ti and Lally try to do.
The site is meant to appeal to both consumers as well as bartenders. While both bartenders and bar enthusiasts will enjoy the recipes and videos with industry big names like Dale DeGroff, Ti and Lally's declaration of the "No More Bad Cocktails" revolution urges those in front of the bar to not be afraid to send back their cocktails if they don't enjoy them, with concrete reasons why. Thus making the call for better cocktails a two-way street.
As Lu put it, "We want to preach cocktails...so you will value a good cocktail."
And that's for everybody out there in Cocktail Land.