Monday, July 20, 2009

A Visit to Cure

Cure has been open for only six months, and is in an out-of-the-way New Orleans neighborhood called Freret. I didn't have high hopes upon visiting on a recent Friday. Three hours and four cocktails later, however, I was ready to call Cure the best cocktail bar in the city, and one of the best in the country.

I met the co-owner and head bartender, Neal Bodenheimer, briefly. He's a native New Orleanian who lived in New York for several years and came home after Hurricane Katrina. Cure lives inside an old firehouse and is as slick and swank as any night spot in Manhattan, though the lonely intersection it anchors gives it the feel of a frontier outpost.

The website says, "Inspired by the historical period when cocktails grew out of medicine and home remedies, our idea at Cure is to reintroduce our guests to another time where the experience of having a cocktail and a bite to eat was both healthful and enjoyable."

This view in born out in the cocktail list, which is one of the more unusual and inventive I have seen. Cure is serious about bitters and Italian amari and believes they should play starring, not supporting, roles in drinks. One drink uses Peychaud's bitters as its base, another is built on Angostura. I tried the former. It was brisk, biting and delicious, not to mention a gorgeous color. Similarly, you'll find many drinks utilizing Averna, Cynar, Aperol and similar products.

I first tried a special called The Art of Choke, which featured Cynar, Flor de Cana 4 rum, lime juice, green Chartreuse, mint and demerara sugar, serves on the rocks. This is one of the best uses I've seen Cynar put to, simultaneously herbal and sweet, with the rum offering a nice earthiness in which to plant those greens. From there I went to a kind of amari-based Sazerac called the Black & Bluegrass. In it, Sazerac rye, was joined by Averna, Aperol, Peychaud’s bitters, Angostura bitters and a grapefruit twist. Couldn't have been better. Looking at the ingredients of some of these drinks, it's hard to believe they work. But Cure's bartenders somehow find the right agents to count the astringent characteristics of the amari.

A Praha Punch came next: Evan Williams single barrel bourbon, Tiffon VSOP, fresh lemon juice, raw apple cider vinegar, soda, St. Elizabeth's allspice dram. Deceptively simple and absolutely refreshing. The only misstep of the evening was the Defend Arrack, which tried to sell an Arrack base through the drafting of Marie Brizzard Apry, lime juice and allspice dram. The effect was interesting, but ultimately acrid and offputting.

Others at my table, meanwhile, were raving about the Start & Finish, a combo of Averna, Lillet, Obsello absinthe, Noilly Prat dry vermouth and orange bitters serves on the rocks. A took a sip. It was dry and deep and dark. A fascinating drink you could get lost in.

I wish I had had time to visit again and make my way through some additional selections. Cure is making a name for itself by exploring the lower, darker end of the cocktail keyboard. There are some surprising bright chords down there.

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