Bar Tonique — New Orleans
For the record, I have never understood the term “happy hour” or why people believe drinking must wait until 5pm. It’s obvious that “happy hour” comes from the idea that people are happy to finally take a sip of the martini they’ve been craving since lunch, but the whole concept seems a bit strange to me; maybe it’s because I work at night, which means my happiest hour is 2am, when I’m no longer expected to pour drinks for someone other than myself. All of my rantings lead to one happy realization — Bar Tonique says why happy hour when it can be a happy day? Amen. Scratch a three hour cocktail special that you’re always just a few minutes too late for, and head over to Bar Tonique where drink specials are categorized daily. . . seven days a week. That’s right, there are no hourly restrictions and there are no days that are excluded from the specials menu. Monday is $5 Pimm’s Cups [Pimm's No. 1, Citrus, Sparkling Water]; Tuesday is $15 Whiskey Flights from around the world; Wednesday is $5 Moscow Mules [Vodka, Ginger Syrup, Citrus, Sparkling Water]; Thursday is $5 Caipirinhas [Cachaça, Lime, Grapefruit Bitters]; Friday is $5 Punch specials; Saturday is $5 Bacon Bloody Mary’s [Housemade Bacon Infused Vodka, Fresh Tomato Juice, Garlic, Tabasco, Bacon]; and Sunday is $5 Mai Tai’s [Rum, Curacao, Lime, Orgeat]. Oh happy day!
Did I mention the bar is less than a block away from my front door? It’ll be a miracle if I can get anything done, especially on Saturday (Bacon Blood Mary!). Well we’d been craving one of those darn Bloody Marys since we saw a menu in the bar’s window on our way back from the laundromat, so we put all things aside this past Saturday to do some “research” in the name of Medicinal Mixology. Two rounds of research to be exact.
Let’s start by talking about the ambiance. It’s a charming little neighborhood tavern with exposed brick walls, chalkboards that list exceptional spirits, and bottles of house-made syrups lining one side of the bar. When we visited Bar Tonique, a mixologist was making some ginger syrup from freshly cut ginger and Demerara sugar on a hot plate at the end of the bar. Citrus, ginger root, mint, and other herbs fill bowls and glass containers that are scattered about. It’s a cozy pour house that begs you to sit down and stay a while. So you oblige and sit down so as not to appear rude (after all, in New Orleans you can walk the streets with a cocktail in your hand — or a cocktail in both hands!), and then you open a cocktail menu. Oh boy. Now you’re hooked, because Bar Tonique’s menu will make you salivate and wish your alcohol tolerance (and your wallet) were strong enough to sample nearly every healthy cocktail they can pour.
We started with the Saturday special (Bacon Blood Marys) and The Last Word.
The Bacon Bloody Mary is made with House-made Bacon Infused Vodka, Fresh Juiced Tomatoes, Lemon Juice, Garlic, Onion, Jalapeño, Worcestershire, Tabasco, and Bacon. They had us at bacon. Seriously, I know what you’re thinking. Bacon is so trendy right now; bacon dipped in dark chocolate, bacon and maple ice cream, bacon lollipops, bacon cupcakes, bacon, bacon, bacon. I only have one thing to say in response — what is the problem? Bacon is good in almost everything. Yes, merging bacon and ice cream or any other sweet dessert is pure genius. Something even more genius? Infusing a spirit with bacon. Here’s to the bartender that decided eating bacon wasn’t enough fun, and that we need to mix it with booze and drink it through a straw. Now we’ve had Bacon Bloody Marys before (The Red Headed Stranger at Frank’s in Austin, TX), but this Bloody Mary was different. The fresh tomato juice gave this cocktail a clean, light texture that provided a nice contrast to the richness of the bacon flavor. It’s an interesting remix of a Bloody Mary that is unlike any other Mary you’ll get elsewhere. Refreshing with the perfect amount of heat. Breakfast in a glass.
Alongside the Bloody Mary, we enjoyed The Last Word. We had just eaten a heavy lunch, and I wanted something herbal to ease my stomach. The Last Word is made with Aviation Gin, Green Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino, and Lime Juice. In case you have not experienced Green Chartreuse, it is a 110 proof liquor made from over 130 botanicals by Carthusian Monks in France. The unique liquor takes its color naturally from the chlorophyll of the macerated herbs used in making Green Chartreuse, and the flavor is a one-of-a-kind balance between sweet and vegetal. Additional sweetness is added to the cocktail by the Luxardo Maraschino, a fine liqueur made from a sour cherry distillate that has aged for two years in wooden vats and then sugared. Don’t confuse this liqueur and it’s cherries with the neon-colored cherries stocked in almost every bar, because they are very distant cousins with almost no relation. Unless you’re making your own brandied cherries for cocktails, the cherry flavor doesn’t get much better than this. So how was the cocktail? I had hoped for a concoction with a little more herb and a little less sweetness, but every bartender is different. Be forewarned that if you prefer less-sweet drinks, ask the bartender to lighten up on the maraschino. Overall, the flavor was very refreshing and went down smoothly . . . and a little too quickly. Cocktails with Chartreuse always disappear quickly around us. A great cocktail to enjoy in the afternoon.
And then there were two empty glasses. Round two, please. Our final drinks at Bar Tonique included The Whiskey Kiss and the Blood and Sand.
The Whiskey Kiss was our favorite cocktail of the libations we sampled. It is made by mixing Rye Whiskey, Green Chartreuse, Bénédictine, and Lemon Juice. Béné-what? Bénédictine is another herbal liqueur produced at an Abbey in France from a cognac base and a mixture of nearly thirty spices and herbs from all over the globe. A cocktail with two boozy, medicinal elixirs produced by monks in the mountains of France? It’s heaven on earth for us sinners. Absolutely delicious. Potent in comparison to the other cocktails we sipped, which is a darn good thing because the warmth of the whiskey is a welcomed contrast to the sweet and herbal notes of the Chartreuse and Bénédictine.
The Blood and Sand is made from Dewar’s 12 Year Old Blended Malt Scotch, Cinzano Italian Vermouth, Luxardo Cherry, and Orange Juice. If you like Amaro or Vermouth, you will love this cocktail. In a perfect world the Scotch would have been a little stronger, but c’est la vie. It was delicious. I wanted to close my eyes, take a sip, and be transported to a luxury train car winding through Europe during the 1920s; to sit and drink that cocktail in a gemstone-colored evening gown with jazz music pouring over me while I shared a cigar with a mustached British aristocrat . . . wouldn’t that be fun? I suppose a more appropriate fantasy would be to envision myself in a bull-fighting arena in Barcelona, spending my time with famous matadors (the cocktail is named for the 1922 movie based on the novel “Blood and Sand” about a matador’s rise to fame and his torrid love affair with a sultry, seductive widow). This cocktail takes you places, and I wish it could take me to a time when I could drink 12 year Old Blended Malt Scotch and Vermouth every day.
Our time at Bar Tonique was enjoyable indeed. I’ve already got my eye on a few other cocktails I want to try during my next visit: The Bitter Harvest [Bernheim's Wheat Whiskey, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Averna Amaro, Orange Bitters] and the Red Light Fir [Erven Lucas Bols Genever, Clear Creek Douglas Fir Eau de Vie, Lemon, Bitters]. All this talk of medicinal cocktails has made me thirsty.
Drink to good health!