Sunday, April 25, 2021

Unraveling Mint Juleps, Pat O'Brien's Patio, Julep Bar, Anvil Bar and Refuge

Mint Julep on Patio at Pat O' Brien's New Orleans.
Image from Pat O Brien's Instagram #patobriens

"It was back in 1938 that Derby big-wigs consecrated the Julep as sacred hooch for the race..."

Unraveling Mint Juleps, Pat O'Brien's Patio, Julep Bar, Anvil Bar and Refuge

Utterly seduced by the vine-covered antique brick walls, fountains and greenery on Pat O’Brien’s patio, I’ve been going there since 1973. The fact that the establishment’s original structure has existed since 1791 never fails to excite me. When there, I occasionally drink a Mint Julep.

For the last few weeks I’ve been unraveling Mint Juleps. It’s probably because the Kentucky Derby is around the corner. It was back in 1938 that Derby big-wigs consecrated the Julep as sacred hooch for the race. 1938 by the way was a doozy of a year for cocktail innovation, this was the year the Hotel Monteleone’s head bartender Walter Bergeron concocted the Vieux CarrĂ© cocktail, an implausibly smooth mix of strong Rye, Cognac, Sweet Vermouth, Benedictine, Peychaud’s & Angostura Bitters, a couple of which I tossed back in the Carousel Bar in the early 70s, during a time when nobody gave a damn I wasn’t yet eighteen. Currently here in Houston, bars are promoting up-coming Kentucky Derby day celebrations. Attendees can watch the race, drink Juleps from silver cups and stare at chicks in hats. Some bars will offer sweet prices for Juleps which probably means instead of Makers Mark or expensive Rye, the Julep will have a less expensive bourbon.

The Julep has exalted history. Its name evolves from the ancient Persian word for rose water, “Julab.” Persians use rose water in drinks, and in desserts such as sorbet. Americans knew the Julep by the 1700s, a fact I find as thrilling as the fact that Americans knew the Bourbon Milk Punch by the 1700s, evidence of which is Benjamin Franklin’s correspondence in which he bragged about his Milk Punch recipe. In the 1800s, United States Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky (b. 1777), the story goes, introduced the Julep to honchos in Washington D.C.’s Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel. When the Prince of Wales came to town, it is said, he downed a few, discounting the fact that his pious Mother Queen Victoria was partial to Bourbon Milk Punches.

A booze historian referenced a Yankee drinking Juleps in the south during the Civil War, which I once heard an old woman call “the War of Northern Aggression.” That lady’s voice was low-toned and stately and pronounced “war” and “northern” as “whawh” and “naw-then.” F. Scott Fitzgerald who had a similar accent, and who was drunk a great deal of the time, gave the Julep literary fame in “The Great Gatsby,” and I excavated from biographies that Gerald and Sara Murphy mixed mint into cocktails when Fitzgerald visited them in the south of France. Gerald’s humanist education would have taught him that mint surfaced in Greek mythology as a symbol of hospitality. Although the Murphy’s occasionally suspended hospitality when the inebriated Fitzgerald behaved like a jackass and rudely offended people. But before Fitzgerald, the short story author O Henry wrote about the Julep in 1902, setting his narrative soon after the Whawh of Naw-then Aggression. In other words, the Julep traipsed an honorable path to warming the veins of puffy pink-face seersucker suit-wearing Big Daddies on verandas, me on New Orleans patios, and younger people in Houston’s hip bars.

Years back I ordered a Julep in the bar at the Crillon, even though the condescending look on the bartender’s face told me it was dumb, not to mention the extra cost for the imported bourbon. Ernest Hemingway made the same mistake. According to “Garden and Gun,” a Paris bartender served Hemingway a Julep so sorry he threw it against the wall. That same magazine said that aside from the martini, the Mint Julep may be the most iconic cocktail in America.

The last time I drank a Mint Julep was in October of 2018. Donnie and I were on the patio at Pat O’Brien’s, seated near the vine covered antique brick wall and a fountain, and the weather was glorious. Luckily we had nailed dinner reservations for that evening at Tommy’s Cuisine on Tchoupitoulas Street where Donnie likes the Osso Bucco. The next day was equally satisfying. After drinks at the Chart Room, we had dinner at Irene’s Cuisine at 529 Bienville Street where I like the lamb chops and where the dark wood trim and wainscoting and columnar architectural details on the bar are exquisite and the patio is breathtaking. Lunch that day was at Gallier’s Oyster Bar and Restaurant on Carondelet Street. But before lunch we hoofed it to an Uptown neighborhood located south of Tulane where I photographed the house my great-grandfather built in 1905. My great grandfather immigrated to New Orleans from the French Pyrenees in the 1890s, and built this house for his 1905 marriage. I have the 1905 furniture store receipt for the bedroom, living room and dining room furniture he purchased to fill it up. He made his own wine and my mother remembers seeing the large wooden barrels. When Donnie makes me a Julep here at home in Houston, he uses Makers Mark or Bulleit Bourbon and mint he grows in pots outside.

A popular place to have Juleps in Houston is Julep Bar on Washington Avenue. Julep Bar gets a lot of press because its owner Alba Huerta is a popular mixologist whose 2018 book got mentioned in the New York Times. Julep Bar is having a Kentucky Derby day celebration. Another popular place to have a Juelp is Anvil Bar and Refuge on Westheimer in Montrose neighborhood. I enjoy going to Anvil because it has a comfortable interior. The owners turned a hideous building into a cozy spot. Another reason I enjoy going is it is not very far from my home and I can walk. The last time I walked to Anvil, I drank a Vieux Carré cocktail. It was bad-ass.

Mint Julep at Julep Bar. Image by Julie Soefer @juliesoefer
 @julepHOU from Julep Bar facebook
Anvil Bar and Refuge Mint Julep @anvilhouston
Image from Anvil Bar and Refuge facebook

(Selected Articles on BOUDINANDBOURBON.COM)

Romano’s Pizza - Houston Italian Restaurant - Vinny Quarto, Frank Fragale - History of Calabria Italy - Montrose Neighborhood Houston

Eating Oysters at Topwater Grill in San Leon at Galveston Bay

A Tribute to Jim Bob Moffett - An Edgy Wildcatter

Norbert’s Restaurant - John and Lillie Mae Norbert - Interview - Broussard Louisiana History 
A Talk with Food Guru George Graham about - Graham’s New Cookbook “Fresh From Louisiana: The Soul of Cajun and Creole Home Cooking” - Interview

Morvant’s Bar and Grill - Formerly Bero's Youngsville Louisiana - 96 Year History

Ryan Baptiste - The Light Beyond The Blight - Redbud Gallery - Echoes of New Orleans

Bar Boheme - Houston Bars - Drag Brunch - Architectural Preservation

Bayview Inn, Cypremort Point Louisiana, Cranking Up

Billeaud's Too, Calvin Trillin, and Jacking with Cajun Boudin

Martha Stewart Visits Lucullus Antiques - Patrick Dunne - New Orleans

Jimmy Domengeaux Chats about His Louisiana Wetlands Photography Exhibition – Interview

Long Live Irma Thomas - Essay

Notes on van Gogh’s Irises, Walter Annenberg, Louisiana Politics - Essay

A Closer Look at Christy Karll’s Painting “Swerve” –  Interview

A Closer Look - Beef Empanadas with Olives - Seco’s Latin Cuisine - Essay

Giacomo Restaurant's Foradori, Rotaliano, Trentino 2015" - Red wine produced by Elisabetta Foradori in Trentino Italy - A Closer Look

No comments:

Post a Comment