Cocktail Series: The Vieux Carré

As we age, as does our palette. Every person’s drinking career tends to begin with the same simple drinks in life. Light watery beer, the lowest quality liquor maybe with a single mixer, whatever that red syrupy stuff in the cooler at that house party was — primarily the cheapest options available.

We all have had these experiences in the early years and gradually begin to improve our selection once the novelty wears off as we realized that drinking can be enjoyed, instead of taken as a full frontal assault upon the liver. As we age we find ourselves yearning for drinks with maybe more than just two ingredients, beer that doesn’t taste like every other watery yeast substance out there, and maybe some food that actually complements the drink instead of just attempting to hold it down (I’m looking at you Rally’s).

Here we would like to help further that mentality by providing a bit of a helpful nudging, a coaxing towards the finer things to be imbibed in this wonderful historic city. Here we have the second installment of New Orleans cocktails in detail.

Today our focus will be upon a whisky based drink with enough bite to be responsibly effective as well as a smooth blend of aromatic and palatable ingredients to ease it down. The Vieux Carré.

A Classic Cocktail.
A Classic Cocktail.

The Vieux Carré is a twist on the essential New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac. Though it is a classic cocktail, the Vieux Carré has not been around quite as long as many others. First mixed in 1938, the drink obviously took the name for the ubiquitous French term for the Quarter Vieux Carré meaning ‘The Old Square’. The Hotel Monteleone was birthplace of this child of the Sazerac. In the midst of the Great Depression, Walter Bergeron was the head bartender at the Swan Room when he created this more flavorful version of New Orleans’ classic drink. Though invented at the Monteleone, the drink arose a good eleven years prior to the installation of the ever-revolving Carousel Bar which was built in 1949. The timing of the opening of the Carousel Bar could have not been better. Built during the post-war golden age, the Carousel Bar was a hotspot with the Vieux Carré as its featured cocktail. It was a time where hotel bars were all the rage, numerous, and in fierce competition with one another. Each hotel had their drink, nightclub, and bar of choice. The Roosevelt had the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Blue Room, and Sazerac Bar as we discussed last week, while the Montleone had the Vieux Carré,  the Swan room, and Carousel Bar. The clubs featured some of the hottest national acts such as Liberace, Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ray Charles.

What’s In It

Vieux Carré with Armagnac and Few Rye.
Vieux Carré with Armagnac and Few Rye.

Interesting as the story is, it’s time to discuss the contents of the drink. At its heart, the Vieux Carré is a Sazerac with an international twist to it. If you enjoy Sazeracs but tire of their simplicity and sometimes stronger taste, the Vieux Carré is an excellent alternative that actually contains more liquor with more flavor. The cocktail is a build stirred not shaken.  You begin with a glass of ice and first add your French ingredients of one ounce of Benedictine Liqueur and one ounce of Cognac. Next your American ingredient is added, a half ounce of rye whiskey. Then your Italian component is featured with a little sweet vermouth. Finally add a few dashes of Haitian inspired Peychaud’s bitters and Trinidad and Tobago’s Angostura bitter for an aromatic cocktail spice. Stir with a cocktail spoon and you have your drink. Generally served on the rocks, but some prefer the way of the Sazerac and rather it up.

As you can tell the Vieux Carré is quite a step up from the whiskey, sugar, and bitters combination that comprises the Sazerac. The addition of more liquor makes this drink potent, but the flavor tends to mask the strength, so proceed with caution because these can be easily consumed but will quickly show their effect.

Where to Drink it

Most finer bars and restaurants will serve the Vieux Carré. It’s numerous ingredients make sure that a bartender will have to take a decent amount of time to mix it, so due consideration for effort should be reflected in the tip. One aspect to be wary of is not all bartenders tend to stir the drink fully especially if hurried so before you deem your drink too strong or nasty give it a quick stir yourself and you may be proven wrong, but the following bars are sure not to make this mistake.

Bar Tonique

Bar Tonique.
Bar Tonique.

One bar that never fails to make an apt Vieux Carré is Bar Tonique. Tonique was one of the first in the new wave of craft cocktail bars in the city. Located on Rampart directly across from Armstrong Park, Bar Tonique sports cocktails both old and new. A dark candlelit type environment with a beautiful old-style back mirror behind the bar and subtly lit liquor shelves remind you of a 19th century watering hole with an elegant modern touch. This bar that features the Vieux Carré is a must try

Treo

Treo.
Treo.

This mid-city jewel was started recently by the owners of Finn McCool’s and diverges from the normal mid-city bar scene by serving up handcrafted cocktails and small plates. The bar is headed by Tyler Chauvin, a native New Orleanian with multiple bachelor degrees as well as a Masters degree from UNO’s English Literature program. Chauvin brings an impressive regimen to Treo’s cocktail offerings. This modern style bar located on Tulane and Scott Street has an almost Mad-Men esque new age feel to it but pours classic drinks like the Vieux Carré just as well as its contemporary concoctions.

Carousel Bar

A Vieux Carré at Carousel.
A Vieux Carré at Carousel.

As the birthplace of this cocktail, Carousel Bar is an essential stop for the drink. Professional purveyors of inebriation at Carousel Bar make possibly the best incarnation of the Vieux Carré. When you drink Vieux Carré at Carousel keep in mind the long storied history behind the experience. Imagine the glory days of the hotel culture as you spin around and remember the heyday of the city that care forgot.

About Kenny

Kenny is a native of New Orleans, Loyola alum, and Tulane Law student. Originally hailing from Lakeview, Kenny enjoys time on the water, uptown living, gin and tonics, and being consistently frustrated over politics.

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