August 10th, 2007

Tales: shout outs & magic moments

Ernie K-Doe's Mother-in-Law Lounge

Indulge me while I dredge up more memory fragments from the sotted swirl that was Tales of the Cocktail 2007. The event still lingers in my mind, and I’m not alone. Paul Clarke over at Cocktail Chronicles admitted, “Yes, I’m still going on about it,” in a recent post. Specifically, Paul welcomed readers who landed on his blog from, which interviewed him during Tales week for a recent article called It’s always cocktail hour somewhere. Way to go, Paul! Then there’s poor John Myers over at the Thirstin’ Howl, who is poetically “wracked and paralyzed” with longing for New Orleans now that he’s back home in Portland, Maine. Oh, dear. Read his ode to NOLA, then post him a comment with a few cheery words, will ya?

Now for some of the things — ah, the magic moments — that made my short visit to New Orleans stick in my head.

Freelance tuba. I’m at Vaughan’s Lounge at around 2:00 a.m. Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers are in mid-set, and the crowd on the floor is pretty densely packed. Suddenly, a shiny tuba is being carried by its owner above the dancers’ heads, and the band is beckoning this guest musician to join in. The guy apparently keeps his instrument on hand whenever he goes out, just in case the evening’s musical act needs someone to sit in and provide low brass notes. In Boston, you might see a sit-in musician go out to his car during a show and grab a guitar. Maybe a saxophone. But a tuba? Only in New Orleans.

Ernie K-Doe HeadErnie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge. This might be the most wonderfully weird bar I’ve ever been in. It is a shrine to the R&B performer who looked a bit like Little Richard, sang the 1961 hit song for which the lounge is named, and prototyped the modern hip hop alias by changing his last name from Kador to K-Doe. K-Doe died in 2001, and his widow, Antoinette, keeps the place going. This involves maintaining an Ernie K-Doe mannequin dressed in some of the outfits the singer actually wore. There are tons of photos and memorabilia of the K-Does and their friends on the walls and, best of all, a giant Ernie K-Doe head that I’m guessing makes appearances in Mardi Gras parades. The Hurricane Katrina flood badly damaged the lounge, but luckily, friends and fans donated money to renovate the place. (Read a recent USA Today article about the bar.)

Taggart hugs a fan. As I mentioned in my previous post about Tales of the Cocktail, Chuck Taggart was among the featured panelists. His writing about cocktails (and food, music and politics) on the Gumbo Pages has attracted many admiring readers over the years, including Jackson Cannon, the mixology guru at Eastern Standard. After a seminar on vermouth, Cannon walked up to Taggart to introduce himself. He did this by handing Taggart an actual cocktail menu from Eastern Standard — a cocktail menu that happens to credit Taggart for a drink called the Hoskins. At first, Taggart merely perused the menu with admiration for a bar that would serve up obscure classics like the Brooklyn, the Alaska and the Vieux Carré. Then his eye fell upon the Hoskins, with his own name next to it, and the look of admiration turned into one of open-mouthed surprise. So tickled was this L.A.-inhabiting New Orleanian that a bartender in Boston, Massachusetts, paid tribute to him, he reached up and gave Cannon a big bear hug. And you thought a cocktail convention couldn’t be touching.

Texting at the Carousel BarDistance bartending. My companion in drink during the week of Tales was fellow Bostonian Misty Kalkofen. She is much more familiar with New Orleans than I am, and she served as my guide to the coolest bars and restaurants in the city, for which I was immensely grateful. Every afternoon, when we finished drinking cocktails for educational purposes, we climbed aboard the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone to drink cocktails for fun purposes. Remarkably, Misty remained alert to respond to emergencies at Green Street, the bar she manages back in Cambridge. Once, while sitting at the Carousel Bar, she helped out a co-worker by text-messaging him the recipe for a Fort Washington Flip. The words on her phone screen in the photo read, “applejack, benedictine, maple syrup, egg.” Go to Green Street and try one.

Those who served us. On a more bittersweet note, I have to mention the fact that even in the touristy, unscathed French Quarter, the repercussions of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans’ psyche were apparent. There was an undercurrent of wariness and suspicion in the demeanor of bar and restaurant folks we encountered. (They were totally competent and professional, nonetheless.) Mario at the Napoleon House curtly serving us Pimm’s Cups… Paul at Tujaques sizing up the Sazerac-fueled Boston tourists as potential jerks… Antoinette gruffly asking who we were before letting us enter the Mother-in-Law Lounge for a birthday party… Who can blame them? Maybe these individuals’ circumstances were bad in the aftermath of the storm, maybe they weren’t. But it was clear that a person didn’t have to live in a FEMA trailer to feel beaten down with worry over the fate of his/her city. There was nothing we could do except be polite and leave big tips. It seemed to work a little. By the end of our visits with Mario, Paul and Antoinette, a glimmer of camaraderie appeared in their hardened expressions, and we were glad for that.

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4 Responses to “Tales: shout outs & magic moments”

  1. Jamie Boudreau

    Nice post.
    I also can’t stop blogging about Tales; I still have another at least another two weeks of material to share. Maybe if we’re lucky we can keeping posting about NOLA until it rolls around next year and then we can start fresh with new tales from Tales….

  2. ljclark

    OMG, you’re not kidding, Jamie. I didn’t mean to make that post so bloody long, but I just had to. See you at Vessel sometime if I’m lucky.

  3. Natalie (aka: The Liquid Muse)

    Shoot – I wish we had met at Tales! I would have loved to clink glasses with fellow female cocktail bloggers!!

    I also have more posts to put up about the fun and interesting tidbits from Tales! Man – so much awesome stuff, so little time!!!

    I’ll add you to my links list on TLM.

  4. Diana Lily

    Hi – I came across your site thanks to the Globe article (A sentence you will no doubt hear a lot in the coming weeks) and am so glad someone’s taken it upon themselves to bring to light the fact that all Bostonians are not teetotaling puritans nor frattish swillers of beer-lite.

    It’s this post that invites me to write. As recently as May of this year, I used to bartend in New Orleans. My den of iniquity was The Circle Bar, a fantastic, low-key. retro-kitch neighborhood place that hostes all kinds of rock and roll. Alas, after I left, the bar changed proprietors and is no longer the home it used to be. Like much of the city.

    So it was with a bit of surprise that I read what you have to say about encountering wary and suspicious bartenders. Emotionally battered and poor, yes, but wary is an odd thing to hear. Maybe less-so at the Carousel, where I once had to instruct a bartender on how to make an Irish Coffee (“It doesn’t contain Kaluah.” I wish I was kidding). But the bartenders in more local places like Vaughan’s are typically more friendly, especially when tipped well as you did.

    The next time you visit New Orleans, I would love to provide you with a list of watering holes and bartenders who will treat you with the camraderie that is still typical of the city. Like me, all my peeps know how to make a fantastic Sazerac, so you’ll feel right at home. Cheers – d.

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