Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Napoleon Is In The House

There are worse places you could start your Tales of the Cocktail itinerary than The Napoleon House, the iconic saloon at the corner of Chartres and St. Louis streets. That's where I chose to attend my first official function of the week, to take in the David Wondrich-hosted history lesson about the famous tavern.

I arrived early and didn't wait for permission to order a Pimm's Cup, the NH's signature drink. Everyone there seemed to be waiting for the talk to begin, but no one was complaining, since it was a good place to wait. Soon enough, we were ushered upstairs, once the living quarters of the Impastato family, longtime owners of the building.

The gathering was a much more casual than I expected. TOTC invitees and paying guests milled about happily gabbing for a half hour or more. Finally, around 5:45, Wondrich took the floor, exuding a very personable charm. He told how, a while back, Esquire asked him to put together his list of the top ten greatest bars. Napoleon House topped the tally. Reasons? "No TV," for one. Two: they make a few simple drinks very well, rather than a lot of complex drinks badly. He then rattled off a list of "Things I don't think about when I'm at the Napoleon House." Among the items: "Blackberries, i-pods, blogs, bloggers, celebutards, Lohans" and my favorite, "vodka."

Wondrich then introduced NH owner Sal Inpastato, a modest, moustachioed man, who related his family's long history with the address. We learned that his father was a religious man and this was one of the reasons he pushed the low-alcohol Pimm's Cup. It's a "conversational drink." The recipe for the renowned thirst-quencher was taken from the back label of an old bottle of Pimm's. "Probably Pimm's itself doesn't know the recipe now, because they stopped printing that label," he said.

The drink is the bar's most ordered refreshment. (Duh.) The second most popular? The Sazerac. (Also, duh.) Interestingly, he referred to a Sazerac as a conversational drink, too, even though you can can hammered a lot quicker on rye than you can on Pimm's.

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