This is the first installment in a series that will highlight classic New Orleans cocktails, their origins, and the best places to drink them. Today we will begin with a refreshing daytime cocktail named the Ramos Gin Fizz.
Like many other cities, the New Orleans bar scene has happily jumped on the craft cocktail wagon that took the United States by storm in the 2000s. Though improved, craft cocktails are nothing new in this city.
New Orleans not only happens to be the city where the term cocktail was first termed, but also where many of the quintessential drinks every true bartender must know were originally concocted. Thus, as the passionate drinkers New Orleanians are, we must not only have a standard for the cocktails we drink, but also know why we drink them today.
In this installment we will discuss the Ramos Gin Fizz, a refreshing daytime cocktail perfect for almost any occasion.
The Ramos Gin Fizz is a complex and frankly annoying drink to mix, but for all the effort that goes into it, there is no other drink like it. First invented by Henry C. Ramos in 1888 at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon which used to stand on St. Charles on Gravier St, this refreshing daytime elixir has been a New Orleans exclusive since its creation. Most notably, this was famed Louisiana despot Governor Huey P. Long’s drink of choice. The cocktail was so vital to his everyday life upon travelling to Manhattan he called up his favorite bartender to come to New York and teach the Yankees how to make his special drink correctly, knowing that no other bartender outside of New Orleans could make a proper fizz. As a good politician does, he seized the opportunity to make a publicity stunt out of it as well, speaking out against FDR and New Deal legislation all while pounding them back. Sadly for some, happily for others, within the year of this event, Long would be assassinated in the Louisiana State Capital building
The ingredients behind the creamy concoction are as numerous as they are frustrating to bring together. The Ramos Gin Fizz consists of gin, lemon and lime juice (freshly squeezed of course), powdered sugar (simple syrup works ok too), heavy cream, orange flower water, an egg white to congeal everything, vanilla extract, and finally, a little soda water on top for a proper fizz. For history’s sake it must be said that the addition of vanilla extract is debatable, but who doesn’t like a little vanilla, so we will assume its presence in the drink.
The plethora of ingredients makes this drink labor intensive enough, but the most annoying as well as important aspect is mixing the drink. The classic recommendation of shaking time is about ten minutes total. Most bartenders will recommend what is called a dry shake first, which means shaking the build without ice first, then adding ice and shaking again. Therefore, if you ask a bartender to make this drink, be sure to tip graciously. In fact, during Mardi Gras and other special occasions, the Imperial Cabinet Saloon was so inundated by orders of this popular drink, it would hire “shaker boys” whose only task was to shake the drink once the bartenders had mixed it, allowing the bartender to continue to make drinks while the shaker boy performed the arduous work.
Once the drink is shaken, it is strained into a Collins glass with no ice and the soda is added to yield a beautiful bubbly top. This drink is perfect for brunch and daytime drinking during New Orleans summers because of its cool rich flavor, but can also easily be enjoyed at night. Those who are watching their figure should probably abstain, though, considering the drink is primarily sugar, heavy cream and alcohol.
Where to drink it
Because this drink is about as expensive as it is tedious to make, the only places that are worth ordering it have bartenders that are talented enough to make a good one. Though many bartenders in the city can make a great fizz, there are a few bars that make the Ramos Gin Fizz consistently worth the money:
The first spot is a newer restaurant with an old school New Orleans cast. Kingfish Kitchen & Cocktails opened up a little more than a year ago and is headed by two titans of New Orleans food culture. Those two are bartending legend Chris McMillian and the tremendous Chef Greg Sonnier. Chris McMillian is the vanguard of New Orleans bartenders. Chris can tell you the history behind each drink he makes as well as he can mix them. Named for Huey P. Long’s nickname, this classy and delicious establishment is located on the corner of St. Charles and Conti in The Quarter.
Another great bar to get this frothy drink is the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. The Carousel Bar is one of the best piano lounge style bars in the city, not to mention one of the most unique. The name refers to the beautiful rotating bar that has been revolving for sixty five years. If you think that a merry go around combined with drinking alcohol is a terrible idea, don’t be intimidated. The bar rotates at only one revolution every fifteen minutes, so you don’t even notice it moving until you are on the other side of the bar with half your drink empty. It’s actually kind of exciting to drunkenly realize you are not in the same place you were ten minutes ago physically and in terms of sobriety. The seasoned purveyors at this bar have been making Ramos Gin Fizzes for years and pour one of the best fizzes in the city.
Finally, the greatest and most traditional place to order the Ramos Gin Fizz is at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Bar. Once inside you may feel like you were transported to 1935. The Kingfish himself used to live at the Roosevelt Hotel and headquartered his political empire from the building, even including a campaign donation box in the lobby which I’m sure would have made paying his bar tab quite convenient. Though pricey, this is the bar where the Ramos Gin Fizz was perfected after the Imperial Cabinet Saloon closed its doors. It is also the same bar from which Long pulled his trusty bartender to teach New York how to do it right. As you sip your fizz you may even notice a small bullethole in one of the walls, the result of a failed assassination attempt on Long.
So there you have it. The Ramos Gin Fizz. If you have the money, the time and the right bartender, this is the cocktail for you.