photo on the left: Cure’s cocktail menu; photo credit for the right: Will Blunt
If you’ve never enjoyed an afternoon or late evening at Cure cocktail bar in New Orleans and you are undecided as to whether or not you should make the trip, just take a moment to read the bar’s entrancing dogma:
“Traditionally cocktail bars have been bastions of civility and sophistication. Different from saloons where the point was to become inebriated rapidly and economically, the cocktail bar was a place where ladies and gentlemen went to socialize in a productive and cultured way. Inspired by the historical period when cocktails grew out of medicine and home remedies, our idea at Cure is to reintroduce our guests to another time where the experience of having a cocktail and a bite to eat was both healthful and enjoyable.”
If that concept doesn’t hook you then I don’t know why you’re reading this blog. Cure has been at the top of our I-can’t-believe-we-haven’t-been-there-yet list since moving to the Big Easy, so we hopped on the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar last night to escape our French Quarter apartment (and all of our unfinished work).
We sat on a wooden bench in the famous streetcar and enjoyed the warm breeze through the large open windows as we rolled past some of the oldest and most expensive mansions in all of New Orleans. When the streetcar stopped we continued our pilgrimage to Cure by walking several blocks through beautiful, picturesque neighborhoods with sidewalks lined by citrus trees, palms, and banana trees. The night was warm and we were thirsty. And then, there, behind a few palm trees, it was — a converted fire house with large windows and a narrow door. We paused; there was no sign. But from the sidewalk, we could see dozens of bottles – different colors and sizes — stocked on shelves against the back wall. We were home.
Almost the entire main wall of Cure is lined with an array of bottles that shine from soft back-lighting. Scattered along the wooden bar, labeled glass bottles give names to various tinctures, homemade syrups, and essences that are placed nearby bowls of fresh citrus or house-made punch. We found two empty chairs at the long bar that stretches the entirety of the space, and then . . . showtime. Watching bartenders craft complex cocktails is the perfect entertainment for a couple of cocktail geeks; and two amazing mixologists, Kirk Estopinal and Nick Detrich, just happened to be working the night we visited the beloved watering hole. If those names don’t make you at least a little excited then let me explain why you want either of them to be the person mixing your drink: they’re damn good; in fact, Kirk has published 2 cocktail recipe manifestos (rogue cocktails and beta cocktails) and he’s now a partner with Cure co-founders Neal Bodenheimer and Matt Khonke (we recently met Neal at bellocq – the newest venture from the minds behind Cure). Kirk was our main bartender for the evening, and we were happy it was so because we have been told he could mix a fabulous cocktail custom tailored to flavors and spirits you prefer. For the first round we selected cocktails from the intriguing menu, but we consulted Kirk for our second round of libations.
If you’re a believer in all things that make you curious “and curiouser” (thank you Alice), you’ll fall in love when you carefully read Cure’s fascinating cocktail menu. How is the bar’s cocktail menu so intriguing? Well, the menu will surely make you feel curious, and curiouser, indeed.
Concoctions to cure your thirst and remedy your ailments include (creator’s name listed with cocktail):
The Twee Barber [Michael Collins Single Malt Irish Whiskey, Red Wine, Licor 43, Lemon, Demerara Sugar, Orange Bitters]. D(i)etrich Brothers. A Spanish spirit made with 43 ingredients — herbs, spices, citrus, aromatic plants– mixed with Irish whiskey and red wine? More please. Brilliant.
Flora Italia [Barsol Primero Pisco, St. Germain, Demerara Sugar, Angostura Bitters, Grapefruit Peel]. Kirk Estopinal.
Nervous Bride [Barsol Primero Pisco, Pages Verveine du Velay Extra Liqueur, House-made Grenadine, Grapefruit Peel, Spring Elixir]. James Ives.
The Bandito [El Charro Blanco, Sombra Mezcal, Lime, D'Aristi Xtabentún Liqueur, Grapefruit, Strawberry, Absinthe]. Neal Bodenheimer. This cocktail is for ancient Mayan royalty . . . or for inducing a ritualistic trance experience. After all, you’re bound to see God when you mix smokey mezcal with a honey liqueur made in Mexico’s Yucatán region from anise seed and fermented xtabentún honey (produced by honey bees from the nectar of xtabentún flowers).
The Fire Within [High West Double Rye, Chinaco Blanco Tequila, Carpano Antica, Kümmel, Créme de Cacao, Orange]. James Ives. Any cocktail with the descriptive terms fire or spicy has our attention; this one will get your blood pumping.
Instead of listing the whole menu, I want to describe the four amazing cocktails Kirk poured for us last night. After reading the menu several times I felt more confused than ever; how was I supposed to choose just one cocktail to start? I wanted to order three cocktails immediately and then see how the night progressed. Curse you economy for robbing of me of the ability to order every craft cocktail Cure can pour. After consulting Kirk, we decided on the Vixen’s Heart [Glenlivet Nadura 16 Year Scotch, Cynar, Luxardo Amaretto, Salt Tincture, Smoked Grapefruit Oil] and a Gin + Green Chartreuse libation of Kirk’s own creation. When he delivered the drinks, Kirk explained the gin cocktail he mixed for us — Gin, Lime, Mint, Green Chartreuse.
left: Vixen’s Heart cocktail and Green Chartreuse cocktail; right: housemade tinctures and essences.
After tasting the first sip of the Vixen’s Heart we both agreed: that could be the best cocktail we’ve ever had. Now we know Cynar (an Italian bitter infused with artichokes and herbs) has artificial coloring, and we hate that the Campari Group felt compelled to ruin such a tasty bitter, but we’re not calling the shots here. We’re guests, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell Kirk how to tweak his own personal creation so that I don’t have to ingest artificial coloring. That being said, Cure has Gran Classico and a number of other bitters on the shelf, so ask for a more natural substitution if you’re truly concerned. If we were mixing this drink at home, I’d reach for the Cardamaro as a substitute for the Cynar. But if you’re like us and you want to taste Kirk’s cocktail in its original form, then sit back and enjoy aromas of candied grapefruit and cola, and flavors of citrus peel and herbs. Negroni lovers will be delighted, and Scotch drinkers will be charmed by the Vixen’s Heart.
The Gin + Green Chartreuse cocktail was refreshing, peppery, citrus-y, and tart. Yum, yum.
After Kirk cleared the empty glasses, we gave him simple instructions: mix two drinks made from whiskey and bitters or amaro. Using jiggers, quality spirits, carefully calculated tinctures delivered via glass droppers, and a few spritzes of homemade essences, Kirk mixed two mysterious amber drinks served in coupe glasses.
left: Red Hook cocktail and Growing Old and Dying Happy is a Hope, Not an Inevitability; right: octopus bowl.
The first was a Red Hook [Rye Whiskey, Punt e Mes Vermouth, Maraschino Liqueur, Mint Essence]. Aromas of caramel, spiced rum, mulled cider. Autumnal flavors with a pastry spice, molasses finish. A seductive cocktail perfect for sharing with a lover. This cocktail makes you want to kiss someone.
The second was Growing Old and Dying Happy is a Hope, Not an Inevitability [Rittenhouse 100 proof Rye Whiskey, Cynar, Herbsaint Rinse, Salt]. Sweeter than the Red Hook, but delicious all the same. The perfect ending to a night of drinking.
left: Kirk Estopinal; right: Nick Dietrich; photo credit: Will Blunt
After chatting up Nick and Kirk for a while, and asking them tons of questions about certain cocktails or unfamiliar booze, they poured us small tastes of an experimental cocktail and a delicious Guyana rum we’d never tried. These guys really know how to make you feel welcome.
Although we loved, loved, loved our cocktails at Cure, one question was on our minds — what’s up with all the artificially flavored and colored bitters and vermouths? We’re not knocking Cure, or their highly-skilled mixologists, but we are questioning the producers who make the stuff. Cure has amazing booze and puts hours of labor into creating house-made mixers, syrups, and extracts, yet avoiding a liqueur or bitter without any artificial ingredients seems next to impossible even for the mixologists with the highest standards.
Cynar and Punt e Mes (and that pesky bright red color) aside, thank you Kirk and Nick for making our experience at Cure a memorable one. This is definitely one of our favorite finds yet. We’ll be back to see you again soon.
If you’re craving a night full of new experiences, head over to Cure for impressive cocktails that will inspire you.
Happy Hour [5 to 7 pm]: $5 Classic Cocktails
Mulled Wine ❖ Pimm’s Cup ❖ Sazerac ❖ Rum Old Fashioned ❖ La Paloma ❖ Champagne Cocktail ❖ House Wines
Drink to good health!