From banks to bars (and a book). It’s been 18 months since Kent Westmoreland gave up a plush bank consultant gig to become a bartender. On July 15, he was among the city’s premier bartenders slinging drinks at State of the Art, a MOTAC fundraiser.
He’d been in the corporate world for decades, managing projects and dozens of staff as an IT guru for a global bank. Finally tired of “working as a drone” and missing the banter with bar customers (he’d bartended in college), Kent made the leap. “I was nervous at every aspect,” he says, though it helped to map out specific goals and benchmarks. He met them all.
He took catering and banquet jobs, read everything he could on the classics, and watched others for technique. “You want to develop your own style, though,” he says. “You have to believe in what you’re doing.”
These days (after a stint at Bar UnCommon), you’ll find Kent at the Windsor Court’s Polo Club Lounge.
For his State of the Art drink, Kent made The Argentina, a wet martini (because the vermouth stays in the glass) spiced with Cointreau, Benedictine, orange and Angostura bitters. “It’s an established drink, but I want to make it a classic,” says Kent.
He used flowery Hendrick’s in The Argentina, though Bombay Sapphire was the gin of choice at his summer series of book signings. The Sapphire and tonic (with a Rose’s float) figures in Kent’s crime thriller, “Baronne Street”, about detective Burleigh Drummond’s search for his ex-girlfriend’s killer.
Moves. Besides Kent’s move, you can now find Jason Lee behind the stick at Maurepas Foods. Scot Mattox has left Iris to focus on El Guapo, his growing bitters and tonic syrup business.
Sweet news. After expanding their brewhouse earlier this year, Georgia-based SweetWater Brewing Company has likewise taken its beers into three more states: Virginia and Kentucky, and now Louisiana. Here, you can find select SweetWater brews – namely, their blueberry-infused, IPA and pale ales – on tap at Avenue Pub, Company Burger, Publiq House and Mid-City Yacht Club.
Master a secret drinks menu. In 1978, a kung fu flick followed the making of a Shaolin master, who then created a special martial arts class for beginners: the 36th chamber. Remember this the next time you ask for a drink at Lucky Rooster, the much buzzed-about Asian fusion spot with a killer drinks list.
Head bartender Christine Jeanine Nielsen crafted the regular menu, offering an Asian twist on the classics (Old Fashioneds made with Japanese whiskey) and seasonal, recognizable styles, like sherry cobblers and a beer cocktail currently built on China’s Tsingtao (and named for the Wu Tang Clan’s Ghost Face Killah).
You can also customize housemade sodas (cardamom, strawberry-Thai basil) with a ladder of booze (I’m partial to the sultry cardamom cola spiked with spiced rum).
But you, Grasshopper, should ask for their hidden “36 Chambers” drinks list, which debuted during Tales of the Cocktail.
“It’s been a plan of mine to have an ever-evolving ‘secret menu’ since before we even opened,” Christine Jeanine says. “On this menu, we get to have a bit more fun, and feature spirits that might be off the beaten path for most consumers. It’s the equivalent of asking for the ‘real’ Chinese menu.”
The whole bar staff helped create “36 Chambers” (all the drink names come from Lucky Rooster’s general manager and wine expert Joe Briand), and it features exotic and high-proof spirits, and mind-bending cocktails.
You’ll find an inverted whiskey-wine sour (here, tonic wine is the base, with a rye float); gin paired with chamomile and cherry liqueurs; a tiki-like doubling of base spirits (gin and rye; gin and rum); and a shot that softens overproof gin with cardamom cola syrup and the extract of Gotu Kola, a tropical plant used in ancient Asian remedies (it’s rumored to boost collagen and lower blood pressure, among other things).
From “36 Chambers” I had La Femme Akita, written by bartender Ryan Asay. It’s a plummy shake of sake and pisco and Asian-herbed white vermouth with a dry, long and clean finish; a grapefruit rinse and citric acid give it brightness, and, I like to think, another step in my own training.
- Happy birthday. Bar chef Abigail Gullo and SoBou have been lighting up the French Quarter for just over a year now. Here, five fresh ways to celebrate:
- Trouble Tree. Four generous shots fit into this wire tree, a tradition borrowed from Commander’s Palace. The tree is a great way to sample SoBou’s cocktail list, which changes with the seasons. These shots are bargains at $1 each, because you don’t knock them back – they’re meant for sipping.
- Happier Hour. SoBou recently added bar specials that run 3 – 6 p.m. and feature small, well-priced plates of Cajun queso (use the cracklin’ to dip it), shrimp and tasso, pulled pork tacos, and smoky, grilled gator corn dogs (my favorite). Happier Hour drinks also range from $3 - $6, and include a rotating punch.
- Rolling along. SoBou’s been using bourbon barrels to age their Vieux Carrés and Vespers; now they’re adding a charred vessel from Old New Orleans Rum. The Chet Baker cocktail (rum, sweet vermouth, and honey syrup) was the first to rest in the old rum barrel, and uncasked for Tales of the Cocktail.
- Give a Flying Fig. As a judge at NOLA Locavores’ “Garden to Glass” cocktail challenge, I was lucky to sample Abigail’s beautiful blend of Donner-Peltier’s rice-based vodka, lavender syrup, lemon juice and a muddled fresh fig. It’s not currently on the SoBou menu, as figs are only in season a short time, but it’s an example of the bar’s seasonal specials. Just ask, and the bar team will share their latest libation.
- A serenade. If you spend any time at SoBou, chances are that Abigail (a theater major in college) will sing to you. Ask for the Phil Collins (Dutch-style gin, triple sec and bubbly lemonade), and you’ll get a song by the former Genesis front man.