Straight Up AND On the Rocks

I have to send out some props to my man Master mixologist Chris McMillian who just created magic for me and Markie L. last night. I had remembered my cocktail obsession as we were about to head out after Jazzfest last night, and did a quick series of searches and requests for info in NOLA about classic cocktails.

Here’s what I love: I can actually send emails to people I’ve never met asking them for some recommendations for places to go in a city that I’m unfamiliar with. How cool.

So the upshot: We headed over to the Ritz-Carlton because based on this page, I thought that to be the home of cocktail master Chris. Well, he’d moved on. We got expensive, extremely average martinis from the plebe behind the swanky bar and then I pressed for info: turns out Chris had moved shop to the Pere Marquette, just a couple of blocks away. Thinking I was wearing Markie (hell, anybody) thin, I puppy-dog eyed him and asked if we could just real quick swing by, in case this guy was there. Thank god for the both of us, Markie was happy to oblige.

So we rolled into Pere Marquette, and up to two stools at the trés moderne bar and I shook the hand of a cocktail celebrity, who was about to be seriously in the weeds. (more on that in a minute) Chris seemed honestly pleased to see us, and as I stammered out an explanation for two dudes knowing his name, he smiled and informed us that we were “drinkies,” the term coming into currency for people who are curious and interested and thirsty for expertly crafted cocktails. And holy shit, y’all. Did we get that in spades.

I cannot express the joy, gentle reader, of being placed in the hands of a master mixer, whom I’m calling “Chris” like we go way back, and letting him put drinks in front of us. Not drinks we ordered, mind you, but drinks he was choosing.

Oh. My. Godz.

Look at this picture. This was a religious experience. Chris was so nice and so happy to have appreciative hands on the shimmery flecked glass bartop. He mixed up delight upon delight, even catering to Markie’s predilection for vodka and mine for gin. He hand-crushed ice. He muddled fresh ginger. He garnished with blackberries. He put mother-fuckin’ blueberries on a swizzle stick, okay??

I can’t remember the names of what we had, but here’s the crazy part: Into “round two,” the bar started heating up some. Chris was flying around, a couple Lesser Beings were also back there, slinging beers and Boring Drink Requests, and Chris actually apologized to us, saying that he’d really like to chat, but that a party was beginning … um, for Stevie Wonder. Hooo-kay.

Markie and I were stationed square in the middle stools at this glorious bar, with a god of a barkeep, and apparently Stevie Wonder was eating next door and due in within a few minutes. Another round please, Mr. McMillian.

I won’t say the ensuing time was a blur — exactly — but the short version is Markie and I each had four of the most spectacular cocktails I do ever EVER expect to have, made with gusto by a master. I took the initiative a couple of times with some casual folks getting drinks to grab them forcibly by the lapel and hiss into their ears “You may not know this, but this guy is one of the greatest bartenders in the United States.” Meaning: Please take your bourbon and coke and GO.

And then in came Stevie Wonder. That’s right. First his band, many onlookers and then Stevie Mother-Fucking Wonder. He was ensconced at a vaguely cordoned-off table a couple dozen feet from us. And what do you do? It’s Stevie Wonder over there, and Chris McMillian behind the bar. Me and my old mate are, as I said, sitting square in the middle — kings, really.

Eventually, after being rebuffed at attempts to shake Stevie’s hand (would have helped, I’m sure if Markie and I were hot 20-something betties), we decided that — master mixologist aside — we simply were flirting with disaster to have MORE THAN four lightning power cocktails. So we bounced on out and into the French Quarter.

Drunk, yes. Happy, absolutely. The French Quarter, I find to be a good place to breathe. It’s so easy just to amble along, looking this way and that aT the mayhem, the cheer, the flesh, the revelry, really. And that’s what we did some..

We decided to wander over to this one place, because Markie (always on top of the billings) knew that P-Funk was playing there. We arrived close to the end of their set, and were told that the cover was still $35. So we walked down the street, circled around and came back. In a golden moment, I breezed in the “out” door and Markie didn’t. I felt bad, but — Bam! — there was Parlament-Funkadelic quote-unquote tearin’ the roof off and how could I leave? Besides they were going to be done in five minutes, was the word. Five minutes later, I hustled towards the door to see if my old pal would ever forgive me, and happily bumped into him, having sweet-talked the door into a $5 cover. THAT was a feat, not me slipping in when nobody was looking.

Dag, what a night.

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