James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Drinking Family Style in the Crescent City

Drinking Family Style in the Crescent City

Bloody Marys in New Orleans

I came for music. I came for food. I came for drink. I conquered. Visiting New Orleans requires a determined mind, but a lack of discipline is always advantageous.

Nawlins’ is one of the great drinking towns on this lowly spit we call Earth. Many notable places there endure the test of time, but the rest of the renowned boozy establishments cease to matter after your first sip of the Bloody Mary at Pierre Maspero’s.

Maspero’s, at the corner of Rue Charters and Rue St. Louis, is rich with history. The building dates to 1788, when it operated as a slave exchange.

They claim that Andrew Jackson met Jean and Pierre Lafitte here in 1814 to plan the Battle of New Orleans, but so does the Absinthe House, four blocks away. That’s just the way things are in Louisiana. And in classic New Orleans style, they went to court over the matter. The judge threw it out.

Mapsero’s holds a special place in my heart. My father was a merchant marine officer, and in the late 1970s, Dad dropped anchor in New Orleans working as a port captain for a shipping company. Whenever one of his kids came to visit, he’d want to go to Maspero’s. Back then, it wasn’t much more than a sandwich shop and bar. During World War II, student mariners from the US Merchant Marine Academy could sign a logbook and find a place to rest their heads in the loft.

I come from a family of experts. Our knowledge of New Orleans food, music and drink has no equal, just ask us. But plop my crowd down in the Crescent City together and it is near-impossible getting out of a hotel room when a consensus is needed on the aforementioned subjects. The Maspero’s Bloody Mary gives us common ground.

During a morning rendezvous at Cafe du Monde to plan the day, my family decided to meet at Maspero’s at 5 pm. It began raining a little before five and there wasn’t a spare seat in the house when I arrived, but I spied an opening at the bar and placed my order. I headed outside to find my family taking shelter against the building, all sipping on Bloody Marys. Yes, life is sweet.

Joe the manager told me that the large, glass dispenser of vodka sitting center stage on the bar contains pearl onions, spicy pickled green beans, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives floating eight inches deep, infusing the liquor. A nondescript container holds what I am told are “our spices.” Topped off with Zing Zang Bloody Mary mix, the drink is garnished with a stick of celery, spicy pickled beans, an olive, and a wedge each of lemon and lime. My family may not agree on everything, but we can all attest that Maspero’s makes the best Bloody Mary in the world.

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