James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Everything New Orleans Is and Everything New Orleans Ain’t

Everything New Orleans Is and Everything New Orleans Ain’t

Pimm’s Cup in New Orleans

The Napoleon House has always been too good for me. Maybe it’s the white shirts and black bow ties. I’m sure everyone is smarter and cooler than me. I’m afraid to order a beer. No one else seems to care if I’m there. I love this place.

Napoleon House is named after a guy who blew off his invitation to hide out here when he was high-tailing it out of France. That’s right, he never stepped foot in the place. But it’s filled with Napoleon this and Napoleon that. Mozart and Beethoven plays softly in the background. I’m sure it makes the 200-year-old walls yearn for the emperor’s arrival.

The signature drink is the Pimm’s Cup. It’s a wuss of a drink by any definition. I don’t get it. This is a bar. This is New Orleans. What gives?

Sicilian immigrant Joseph Impastato opened the building as a grocery store in 1920. It took him six years to realize that the grocery business wasn’t working and turn it into a bar. Joe’s younger and more devout brother, Peter, took over after World War II. He made the Pimm’s Cup the house drink because the low alcohol content discouraged drunkenness. A bar that doesn’t encourage drinking. Now there’s a plan.

New Orleans, known as one of the great drinking holes of the world, is the home of the Sazerac—America’s first cocktail—and the Hurricane and the Ramos Gin Fizz. How did a milquetoast drink manage to get tucked in with these legends? And yet, it works.

This year, the Impastato family, which has owned the bar for a century, handed over the keys to a new owner, Ralph Brennen. It’s a new chapter for one of the greatest bars in America. I love this place. It’s everything New Orleans is and it’s everything New Orleans ain’t. The best places there are the ones that tolerate you.

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