Louisiana looms large in the history of drinking in America. New Orleans is the birthplace of countless drinking traditions, home to the Museum of the American Cocktail and host city of Tales of the Cocktail, the largest convention dedicated to bartending in the United States. When the current craze for craft cocktails and pre-prohibition era drinks began to sweep through bars across the country – sometime around 2012, by most accounts – Louisiana had a head start. We didn’t need anyone to tell us that it was cool to order a Sazerac again; we’d never stopped ordering them in the first place.
But, beyond a small handful of drinks that have become a part of the cultural fabric of Louisiana, it can be tough to find classic cocktails on local menus. Request a French 75, a Ramos gin fizz or a sidecar at many local drinking establishments and you may be met with a blank stare. A small but growing contingent of bartenders at restaurants in Shreveport and Bossier City are pushing classic and craft cocktails to the forefront. We spoke with three of them about their efforts to change the way that Shreveport-Bossier imbibes.
Nathaniel Loggins, Bar Manager and Sommelier at 2Johns Steak & Seafood in Bossier City, oversees what very well may be the most outstanding bar program in northern Louisiana. Certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers and a five-year veteran of the kitchen at iconic New Orleans eatery Commander’s Palace, Loggins relocated to Bossier City in 2009.
“Most places don’t have anyone that has the passion that Nate has. His knowledge is just unparalleled,” 2Johns owner John Montelepre, Jr. told me. “The really creative drinks on our menu, this is the only place to get them.”
Among those really creative drinks are granita martinis, available in peach and grapefruit versions, as well as barrel-aged old-fashioneds and – a real rarity – barrel-aged margaritas. The granitas, made by pouring a cocktail of Aperol, St. Germain and vodka over a scoop of fruit-infused shaved ice, are the restaurant’s top-selling cocktails. On a busy night, the bar can serve up more than 75 of the icy beverages.
While the granitas are popular and the incredibly smooth barrel-aged cocktails are delicious, Loggins truly shines in the area of pre-prohibition era cocktails made with a craftsman’s attention to detail. The best way to experience his skillset is by confidently ordering a classic cocktail such as a traditional rum daiquiri, a Sazerac or a sidecar.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m doing anything groundbreaking,” Loggins told me. “I’m just executing things properly. The general approach here is ‘don’t cut corners,’ execute at a very high level.”
“BEING ABLE TO SEE SOMEONE CRAFT YOUR COCKTAIL RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU – THAT’S THE KIND OF INTERACTION WITH A BARTENDER THAT HAS BEEN LOST OVER TIME.”
EATERY & DRINKERY
Black cherry caipirinha, dandelion number three, beer cocktails
It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday night, and the bar and patio at Zocolo are packed. If bartender Aulden Morgan is feeling the pressure of constant drink orders, it doesn’t show. At the center of a whirlwind of activity – with customers calling out his name and servers swinging by to pick up drinks or turn in orders – Morgan remains calm at the eye of the storm. Watching him assemble cocktails from Zocolo’s seasonal list of signature drinks, it’s clear that he takes pride in this work.
Judd Smith, beverage director for Cadre Hospitality Group, oversees the bar programs at Wine Country Bistro and Bottle Shop and Zocolo. Smith, who also blogs about wine and spirits, doesn’t take any credit for Zocolo’s cocktail program.
“Aulden’s creativity is off of the charts,” Smith said. “A lot of his most outstanding cocktails start with a simple syrup, not a base spirit. He makes these incredibly creative simple syrups and then figures out ways to build cocktails around them.”
“I TRY TO WORK HAND-IN-HAND WITH THE KITCHEN. IF THE KITCHEN IS USING PEACHES, I’M GOING TO TRY TO THINK UP A COCKTAIL THAT GOES WITH THOSE PEACHES”
BLACK CHERRY CAIPIRINHA
He makes these incredibly creative simple syrups and then figures out ways to build cocktails around them
Morgan agrees that handmade simple syrups and carefully infused liquors are at the core of his approach to cocktails. On a recent visit, I counted 11 different infused spirits perched on the shelves, including jars with labels reading “lavender vodka,” “dandelion” and “red bell pepper.” His most notorious infusion is a vodka infused with Carolina Reaper chili peppers, which he uses to make an infamously hot Bloody Mary. T he Guinness Book of World Records has rated Carolina Reaper peppers as the hottest in the world since 2013.
“An idea starts with a simple syrup. I’ll think ‘What would go good with that?’,” Morgan said. “Then, I’ll infuse the liquor to go with it.”
Ramos gin fizz, The Moulin Rouge
While the cocktail menu at Abby Singer’s Bistro doesn’t advertise many classic cocktails by name, bartender Kelli Sizemore has been serving sidecars, gin fizzes and other classics for half a decade. One of the bar’s most popular drinks, the Moulin Rouge, “is actually a brandy sidecar,” Sizemore said. Her Ramos gin fizz, which made waves when it debuted during the inaugural Louisiana Film Prize weekend, is easily the best-known local version of the iconic New Orleans cocktail.
At just 26 years old, Sizemore is one of the youngest stars of the local bar scene to have stepped forward with an interest in classic cocktails. She learned to mix drinks from her older sister, Wendi, who some will remember as a popular bartender at Abby Singer’s Bistro and Windrush Grill. Since then, the younger Sizemore has taken home top prizes while representing Abby Singer’s Bistro at the Bossier Arts Council’s Artini cocktail competition in 2012 and 2014
Her most indispensable item behind the bar? “Fresh lemons. You can add fresh-squeezed lemon to pretty much any cocktail and it is immediately a better drink. Lemon cuts down on the sweetness and brightens the drink with citrus flavors.” Flavors are important to Sizemore, so she’s careful not to wreck a drink’s flavor profile with overwhelming amounts of sugar.
“I don’t use a lot of simple syrup in anything, really,” Sizemore said. “I love sour and savory flavors in cocktails, so I don’t really make my drinks overly sweet.”
Sizemore sees the Shreveport bar crowd as slow to warm to the pre-prohibition and classic cocktail craze due to the fact that dining and drinking at many of the establishments where classic cocktails are offered can be expensive. However, she’s seeing more and more locals ordering adventurously.
“Slowly but surely, we’re coming around,” she said.
GET RID OF ALL THAT SUGAR. YOU’LL TASTE MORE OF THE FLAVORS IN YOUR DRINK, PLUS YOU’LL BE SPARED THE HANGOVER!
DRINKING MADE EASY
Not all of Shreveport-Bossier’s outstanding cocktails are carefully crafted libations served in fine dining establishments. Some are quick, affordable and fun drinks that can be had in casual restaurants across the city. Here are a few:
TWISTED ROOT BURGER CO.
THE TWISTED MULE
Perhaps Shreveport’s most affordable craft cocktail, Twisted Root Burger Co.’s Twisted Mule is a chef-developed spin on the traditional Moscow Mule. The recipe includes ginger beer, vodka, tea syrup and fresh-squeezed lemons. “It’s like an Arnold Palmer combined with a Moscow Mule,” Twisted Root Burger Co. owner Grant Nuckolls said. The cocktail is kegged and kept chilled at forty degrees. For just $5 each, this refreshing creation is easy drinking in more ways than one.
MARISCHOS LA JAIBITA
BOSSIER CITY, LA
It is surprising how many fans of historic local seafood joint Herby-K’s are not aware of the restaurant’s house cocktail, the pink flamingo. A sneakily potent drink (“One isn’t enough and two is too many,” it has been said), this simple but delicious cocktail of pink grapefruit juice, vodka and grenadine is served in Herby-K’s signature icy beer goblets. It may be the quintessential Shreveport libation.
MARISCHOS LA JAIBITA
BOSSIER CITY, LA
Beer cocktails are a new trend in the U.S., but this 100-year-old Mexican cocktail may be the best of them all. Made using an entire Mexican lager, TABASCO® sauce, fresh-squeezed lime and a variety of spices, the Michelada served at Mariscos La Jaibita somehow manages to be both fiery hot and refreshing at once. It is the perfect complement to a plate of fresh shrimp ceviche, one of the best dishes served at this off-the-beaten-path eatery.