Words by Jeb Gavin, Photos by Nicholas Karlin
For the responsible adults in the room, today is actually known in less reputable quarters as Fat Tuesday- your last chance to act like you normally do before you’re supposed to be guilty about it for a month and a half (if you’re Catholic at least. Rather, feel more guilty. If you’re Jewish, continue maintaining your current level of irrational guilt. Do not bother to call that aunt back. I’m sure she’s fine.) In honor of the second favorite holiday of amateur party animals everywhere, Service Bar on U Street has metamorphosed into a New Orleans enclave for the next two months, complete with fancy new snacks and cocktails.
Despite the belief New Orleans only exists once a year (and is only the French Quarter,) the city is known for its cocktail culture year round (and for a hell of a lot better drinks than your average alcoholic slushy.) If that’s what you’re looking for though, Service Bar will oblige. Served in an authentic Pat O’Brien’s hurricane glass (with a tropical drink umbrella) is their Patty O’s Hurricane, a suitable version of the classic. Dark and light rums, citrus, some tropical fruit juices make for a tasty rum punch (though not as good as a goombay.) Not my favorite drink in the world, nor of the evening, but as with all proper rum punches you don’t notice exactly how much rum you’ve had until you’re dancing.
In the same vein the Creole Punch- a mix of rhum, Sazerac rye, and Martell VSOP brandy comes with a pineapple chip garnish. The drink mostly tastes of pineapple and orange juice, but smells so much better. A mix of herbes de Provence and Cajun spices gives off this floral, heady finish after every sweet sip.
More in my wheelhouse was the goodhearted though questionably named Beads & Boobies. This concoction of cognac and yellow chartreuse tasted of yuzu and golden raisin, a combination which worried me upon reading it, but tastes wonderful together. Bridging the flavors was the addition of a small amount of Serrano chili pepper. It’s not enough to make the drink spicy, but I’m always a proponent of the flavor of peppers rather than their indiscriminate heat. Serranos give off this slightly musky, grassy flavor wedging itself between the sweetness of the raisin and yuzu. You’d more notice if it was missing than its addition to a less carefully constructed cocktail.
My favorite of the evening was the Antoine Amedee, the given name of Dr. Peychaud of Peychaud’s bitters, and essential ingredient for making a proper sazerac cocktail. The herbalist mixed both bitters and an eponymous aperitif, here combined with cherry liqueur, lemon, cinnamon, vanilla, and shaken with egg whites in the style of a Ramos gin fizz. The resulting light lavender foam and dark lavender drink aren’t overly sweet and have this spectacular bouquet, the vanilla, cinnamon, and lemon up front and a lingering, acerbic, pleasantly medicinal note to the finish. The point of an aperitif is to stimulate the appetite, and I can see housing three or four of these and polishing off seven or more courses at Commander’s Palace.
In addition to the timely new beverages, the kitchen has started preparing both red beans and rice and a soy sausage gumbo over rice. I cannot more strongly advise for eating red beans and rice, especially after a half dozen cocktails, but as a sausage maker I take umbrage with their vegetarian gumbo. Don’t get me wrong, the flavor is good- this would be a wholly different matter if there wasn’t a roux involved. It’s a decent gumbo, but I want seafood and chicken and real andouille. Regardless, the party at Service Bar (well, this party at least) starts tonight for Mari Gras, and runs at least through Lent. Or so I’m told. I’m gonna go call my Aunt back now.