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Photo by Daymon Gardner
In our May/June 2013 issue, Wayne Curtis explores the evolving cocktail scene of New Orleans, where the past and future find common ground. One of the city's best-known bartenders is Chris Hannah, twho helms the bar at Arnaud’s French 75 in the French Quarter. We caught up with Hannah to talk coffee, classic cocktails, po’ boys and gypsy jazz. When he’s not behind the bar, you might find him in one of these neighborhoods and at one of these local haunts.
Hannah likes the bohemian Bywater neighborhood so much that he once named a cocktail after it. His main reason for visiting the artsy nabe? Coffee and brunch at Satsuma Café. “It’s a funky and cool shop in a funky and cool neighborhood,” he says. “It’s a really beautiful room, and the food and drinks—all local and green—make the trip across town.” For a late lunch, he recommends a stop at neighborhood newcomer Maurepas for their goat tacos. But if it’s cocktails you’re after, Hannah is partial to Booty’s, whose menu he describes as a “delightfully inventive street food journey around the globe.”
CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT
The Central Business District is home to some of the city’s best hotel bars—a treasure trove of classic New Orleans cocktails. Hannah’s typical drinks tour starts with a visit to Loa for one of Alan Walters’ creations. Nearby NOLA classic, Sazerac Bar, is a must-visit, but he also favors Swizzle Stick Bar, where bartender Lu Brow holds court. Lately, he’s been frequenting newcomer Saint Marie for their Monday afternoon Chartreuse Happy Hour, and “when I’m famished, their tuna tartar and delicious gnocchi.”
Besides Arnaud’s French 75, Hannah’s main French Quarter haunts are the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, where he likes to spend afternoons bellied up to Marvin Allen’s bar; the Erin Rose Irish bar, where he and other French Quarter bartenders often wind down with after-shift beers. Lately, St. Lawrence, a new late-night food and drink spot, has been winning over the service industry crowd with great food until 2 a.m. nightly. Hannah is especially partial to their frozen Pimm’s Cup. Hannah can also be found sipping cocktails at Bar Tonique or Sylvain.
GARDEN DISTRICT/IRISH CHANNEL
Hannah lives in the Lower Garden District, but he regularly walks over to the Irish Channel neighborhood for a roast beef po’ boy at Tracey’s. “Tracey's is an Irish Channel neighborhood po' boy tradition,” he says. “It’s as encouraged as the Garden District Walking Tour. If you're wise, you'll do both. Your traveling party might split up between Tracey’s and Parasol’s, but that’s okay. In the end, no one loses.” If you’re looking for a sit-down setting, Coquette has a steal of a three-course lunch that’s become a neighborhood staple. Hannah suggests a post-lunch walk up to the Lafayette Cemetery to see some of New Orleans most iconic mausoleums.
LOWER GARDEN DISTRICT
In Hannah’s own neighborhood, you might find him at The Saint, a favorite local dive bar; Stein’s Market and Deli (“Order your delectable deli sandwich to go and sit on a curb near the grand homes of the Garden District,” Hannah suggests.); or Surrey’s Café and Juice Bar, one of his favorite spots for a late breakfast—“For us bartenders who wake up at a normal time and still want breakfast when the real-world wants lunch, this is the place,” he says.
Situated just downriver from the French Quarter, the Marigny area is known for its bohemian vibe and colorful food and music. For good soul music and gypsy jazz, Hannah heads to the “eclectically cool” upper level of Mimi’s tapas bar. And if he’s peckish after a show? “Late-night food at Buffa’s happens more often than it should. It’s par for the course. Not good for my waistline, but that’s life down here.”
MID-CITY/BAYOU ST. JOHN
Another of Hannah’s favorite neighborhoods, Mid-City’s quaint Bayou St. John is home to Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, a tranquil mid-morning respite. Hannah’s other neighborhood picks include Finn McCool’s Irish Pub, the “best neighborhood bar in Mid-City,” where he gets his morning fix of English football; Pal’s Lounge, a “hip, cool beer bar” where he takes out-of-town visitors for red beans and rice; Parkway Tavern and Bakery, “a New Orleanian staple in regards to the po' boy;” and Twelve Mile Limit for a well-crafted cocktail. Last, but not least, Serendipity has Chris Debarr, whom Hannah considers to be one of the most interesting chefs in town. “It’s hard to show up without ordering the Shrimp Wearing a Grass Skirt. And a Pimm’s Cup, of course.”
If you head down Carrollton Avenue (you can take a streetcar from the French Quarter), you’ll come to the Riverbend, where you’ll find some of the city’s best food. Hannah often makes the trip for the southern-styled Boucherie. “Boucherie was once a food truck that became so popular it ended up at a permanent address,” he says. “The menu changes monthly—right now the blackened shrimp cake to start and duck confit po' boy to finish is the way to go.” Jacques-Imo’s is another great choice for food, which Hannah especially likes for its proximity the famous Maple Leaf bar, a must-stop—especially on Monday and Tuesday nights—for music and good times.
Not far from Boucherie is the cocktail shrine Cure, a converted firehouse where you can find some of the best drinks in the country (check out their Thai tea–inspired Rum Cha-Yen cocktail recipe). Another happy result of the Freret Street resurgence are the reliably good sandwiches to be found at Company Burger and High Hat. Hannah also like Dos Jefes Uptown Cigar Bar for its live jazz music and large selection of cigars, whiskeys, rums and tequilas; and Il Posto Café, where the coffee and bagels are sourced in New York, Hannah’s former home.
The Warehouse District, also known as the Arts District, is full of old industrial spaces that have been renovated to house galleries, restaurants and bars. Once a well-kept secret, Cochon and the adjacent Cochon Butcher have become one of the biggest draws of the neighborhood. “It’s a must for old-school Southern lunch fare,” says Hannah. “They even pack your picnic for you if you'd rather pick it up and take it to the river.” Hannah’s pick: the muffuletta with deer sausage and mac ‘n’ cheese. And check out the recipe for their Cajun Bloody Mary.
Check out the May/June 2011 issue for a profile of Chris Hannah.