Masters of Leisure: Experience an afternoon in the life of a New Orleanian with writer and bartender, Hadi Ktiri.
From the outside, it’s easy to think that New Orleanians don’t do much of anything. We eat, drink and dance with brass bands. People casually stroll down French Quarter streets like time doesn’t exist. And to be honest, it stood still here for some time. But the residents of New Orleans do so much more than people assume. They just do it in a different way. In the Big Easy, leisure is a lifestyle, and keeping up with the hustle of modern life is far less important than building relationships with the musicians, chefs and bartenders we often worship. I set out to experience a typical afternoon in the life of a New Orleanian about town and enlisted the help of the city’s most famous bartenders — Chris Hannah of the French 75 Bar and Paul Gustings of Empire Bar.
“Early” Monday morning (11 AM is early in New Orleans) I met up with Hannah. He walked up in a vintage olive green pinstripe suit — finished with a felt hat from Meyer the Hatter. Easily recognized by his eclectic suits, the man is a style legend. He spends his days off scouring New Orleans for red beans and rice, neighborhood dives and great music. I asked Hannah to write down some of his favorite don’t-miss spots for visitors to New Orleans, like he does so many times at his bar.
Chris Hannah’s Don’t-Miss Spots for Food/Drink:
Cocktails: Barrel Proof, Black Penny
Coffee: Spitfire, Arrow, Church Alley
Dinner: Coquette, MeauxBar
First things first, we chatted about where to have an afternoon drink, because nothing ever gets done in New Orleans without a cocktail. The Erin Rose, a legendary neighborhood bar popular among bartenders and chefs, seemed like the perfect choice. This early in the day the bar was already humming with drinkers. Here, they’re famous for their Frozen Irish Coffee. And some of the regulars put a shot of Branca Menta on top, which makes for a delightfully minty first drink of the day.
Hannah needed to get back to his bar to set up for the night, so I said goodbye and walked next door to the famous New Orleans restaurant — Broussard’s, a local destination since 1920. It’s fitting that one of the most storied bartenders in the city works here at the swanky Empire Bar. The man behind the legend is Paul Gustings. Part curmudgeon, part cocktail wizard, Gustings consistently makes some of the best drinks in town, all while grumbling about whatever the annoyance of the day happens to be. Gruff exterior aside, Paul is one of the nicest and most honest bartenders in New Orleans. And I do mean honest. If you are in any way inept or lacking in faculty, Gustings will give you hell for it. But if you happen to be a pretty girl, well, let’s say he’ll light up like Christmas morning.
My favorite cocktail that Paul makes is the Sazerac, which is traditionally prepared with rye whiskey, bitters, sugar and absinthe. The maestro got to work preparing the cocktail with a style one can only compare to an alchemist concocting a cure-all potion. All of the ingredients were poured into an ornate mixing glass, and then with a vaguely aggressive stabbing motion they were “stirred” together to create the cocktail. The end result was a Sazerac so divine that many cocktail aficionados say it’s the best in New Orleans.
The Sazerac can trace its roots back to the innovation of the Creole apothecary, Antoine Peychaud. At the time, he used his bitters as a cure for what ailed you. Soon, he discovered that if he added Cognac (the brand he used was called Sazerac de Forge et Fils) the drink tended to sell better. Certainly no surprises there… The Sazerac, one of the oldest known cocktails, is now considered to be the official cocktail of New Orleans.
After consuming an unknown amount of Sazeracs, I stumbled out of Broussard’s and into the cool French Quarter evening. I strolled past tourists wearing flip-flops (which is a terrible idea in New Orleans, by the way), and locals donning bowties and seersucker casually made their way to dinner. There were buskers playing gypsy jazz, and a lone opera singer with a lute singing Nessun Dorma. I even had the good fortune to catch clarinetist Doreen Ketchens playing an incredible rendition of “Basin Street Blues”.
Famous local writer Ian McNulty once said, “People don’t live in New Orleans because it is easy. They live here because they are incapable of living anywhere else in the just same way.” After a relaxing day of eating, drinking and listening to music, I am convinced that he has it right.
2 OZ Rye Whiskey
.25 OZ Simple Syrup (1:1)
6 Dashes Peychaud Bitters
Splash of Herbsaint
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into frozen, Herbsaint-rinsed glass. Garnish with lemon.
Words by Hadi Ktiri. A seasoned eater early on, Hadi grew up eating curry, tagine, and boudin. So when he moved to New Orleans in 2009, devouring crawfish by the pound seemed natural. He currently is a regular contributor to Travel & Leisure Magazine and spends most days scouring the city for the best in dining and cocktails.