Before Hurricane Katrina, there were three kinds of bars in New Orleans: Bourbon Street for getting crazy, neighborhood bars for everyday drinking, and classic spots if you were feeling upscale. Of course, there were bars that pushed these boundaries, but many spots fell within these three. The city was accustomed to these options and, as in many aspects of its culture, was suspicious of anything outside them After Katrina, the paradigm shifted. With 80 percent of the city under water, it become possible to imagine new directions for pretty much every aspect of life. While many folks were rethinking what schools should look like, what City Hall should become, or hell, what the city itself should become, some folks were rethinking what drinking here could be.
Cure opened in 2008 and was one the first of this new kind of bar that offered the city a new way of drinking. The first time I visited, everything about that bar felt unfamiliar, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it. The drinks had names I had never heard of. They had ingredients I had never heard of. They certainly took longer to make than any drink I had ever ordered. And the care and attention the bartenders took in making the drinks felt unfamiliar. There was a dress code (no shorts), and people were actually asked to leave if they weren’t dressed up to snuff. I thought that was rude. Some of their servers were not friendly when you asked them to explain any portion of the menu. Much as I struggle with the southern obsession with hospitality, I found this exclusionary stance distasteful. Even the design of the bar felt, well, foreign. Its subway tile felt straight from New York, and its Edison lights were not yet common. Even its name, Cure, which pointed to cocktails’ historic connection with pharmacies, was odd.
CURE NEW ORLEANS Photo Gallery
But then I had a drink. It was amazing. This was certainly not the Old Fashioned that I had been sipping on ever since my mother let me try hers when I was still a child. And I understood then what this new category of bar was: cocktail bar. And for good or bad, I knew that drinking in the city was going to change. But since then, Cure has changed a bit, too. They ditched the dress code. Owner Neal Bodenheimer acknowledges its enforcement might not have won them friends, but at the time they were trying to set themselves apart as a new game in town. They have also worked on training the staff to be more approachable, and though you can still get that guy who only makes a face if you order Crown Royal (which they don’t have), you are more likely to get someone who gently recommends another whiskey. The only common link between my observations about Cure back then and Cure now is that they still serve amazing drinks. In the eight years I have been drinking there, I’ve never had a bad drink.
So many spirits at Cure
Cure brought New Orleans another kind of drinking that is now so much a part of the city’s scene, many of us have forgotten what a big deal it was when they opened up.
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