Tag Archives: New Orleans

Pete

Like most of us, my dad had a best friend. His name was Pete. They grew up together in the neighborhood along Orleans Avenue near City Park. Pete’s folks owned a barroom at the end of Orleans and North St Patrick where Orleans meets Marconi Drive. The building is still there and now occupied by an insurance agency. After the Casteix family decamped from the pharmacy/residence on Bourbon Street (the place where MB tried to launch the squeezin’s from his Cherry Bounce from the attic across Bourbon Street—and failed), they moved to a house on Orleans. This was in the thirties. Since neither MB nor Pete is here to ask, I assume that is when they met.

Both played baseball, and Pete went semi-pro for a while. MB was a semi-pro boxer in the featherweight division. Then came World War II, and MB went to the European Theater of Operations, and Pete went to the Pacific. They reconnected after the war and remained fast friends for the rest of their lives.

Pete was a very interesting fellow. He worked for the Post Office and did contracting jobs on the side. He had a 1957 Chevy BelAir (Sea Foam Green, of course) and a 1957 Chevy former telephone service truck for his contracting jobs. More on that later.

MB and Pete almost never bought anything new. They were “tight” and bought (or scrounged) used and/or fabricated what they needed. MB did buy a new boat, but he had mismatched scrounged motors on the back, and not even the same brand. One was an Evenrude and the other a Johnson. While the stuff they “manufactured” might have been functional, it wasn’t pretty, but “pretty” wasn’t their objective. This was definitely a case of function over form.

Pete helped MB build our “summer house” in Waveland. This was back in the mid-1950s.  In fact, Pete had a bedroom designated as his own in that house. Most of the materials came from a house Pete tore down. They stacked all the salvaged windows onto a trailer to haul them from New Orleans to Waveland, Mississippi. Since it was an “MB and Pete enterprise,” the trailer was homemade (function over form, remember?). It carried stuff well enough, but lacked that final je ne sais quoi—in this case, shocks. In other words, it bounced a lot. Also, notice that I said they “stacked” the windows. They were not stood on end or edge as they should have been but laid flat for traveling. Mistake. After the hour and a half drive over Highway 90 to Waveland with all that trailer bouncing, there was not an unbroken pane of glass left in the windows. They had to re-glaze them all.

MB and Pete did all the electrical wiring in the house themselves (neither was a licensed electrician as we shall see in a moment) and finished the job late in the evening about suppertime. We were staying in my uncle’s house nearby, so they ate supper and returned to the construction job after dark to test their wiring. Yeah, you guessed it. The switch in the kitchen turned on the front bedroom lights. The switch in the bedroom turned on the bathroom lights before it blew all the fuses, throwing them into the pitch black Waveland night. MB tried to walk through the walls between the studs to get to the fuse box and forgot they had put spreaders between the studs that day. One caught him right across the bridge of his nose.

Pete was a consummate scrounger and always looking for some “free prize” in life. Other’s cast-offs might be his diamond-in-the-rough. After a weekend in Waveland, we had to carry our garbage to the dump—no county garbage collection back then. Pete always managed to find some “prize” at the dump, and the standing joke was we always came back with more than we hauled to the dump.

Pete’s garage was a tinker/scrounger’s dream and full of just about anything you could think of that he had accumulated from various scrounging expeditions—like to the Waveland dump. That ’57 Chevy BelAir was in there after he moved up to a newer model. It had a cracked block, and I have no idea why he kept it. He lived on a busy street, and every time he left the garage doors open for any reason, someone would stop and ask about buying that ’57 Chevy. He also kept that ‘57 truck, but it was in the yard. When Pete’s wife passed away in the eighties, he offered both the truck and the car to me. Unfortunately, I had no money to restore them. I managed to get the truck and store it in a garage belonging to my wife’s family. My expectation was one day I would find the resources to restore it. Never did. Sold it. It was a unique truck with that telephone company box on the back instead of a pickup bed and probably more desirable than a regular ’57 pickup. The car went to Pete’s grandson, and I have no idea what happened to it after that.

Pete was someone you just enjoyed being around. He had a great sense of humor and was a perfect partner for MB in their many adventures. Pete passed away some ten years or so before MB. I know he missed him a lot.

NOTE: That image of Pete was in MB’s wartime photo album. It looks like he is wearing a military khaki uniform, so I think this was taken during the war when Pete was overseas, probably in India.

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“Buffalo Woman” is LIVE!

It took a while, but we are finally there. Book 4 of the Catahoula Series, Buffalo Woman, is now live on Amazon. This is the fourth in the series and takes our heroes forward five years to 1872 and the tour of America by Grand Duke Alexei of Russia. Ethan and Angel get sucked into his vortex and head out West to go buffalo hunting and then New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

I have posted excerpts from the book here,  here, and here, and below is another. This one finds Angel demonstrating her skills with the sling to the Grand Duke’s party. Enjoy.

*****

Alexei then remembered Angel’s claim of her prowess with the sling and that he had previously requested a demonstration. “Miss Angelique, you told me you could hit a pigeon at thirty paces with your sling. Would you be so kind as to demonstrate the weapon of King David for us?” That was followed by a few shouts of encouragement I imagine meant to express doubt that she could do what she said.

I looked at her, and she was blushing. “You bragged and now you have to back it up.”

She stepped forward and bowed to the Grand Duke, then turned and did likewise to the gathered crowd. She stepped over to Clayton, and just as he was about to take a sip of whiskey from his tin cup, she snatched it from him. After sniffing its contents in an exaggerated manner, she pinched her nose and tossed the liquid into the fire, which flared with a bright flame burning off the alcohol.

As I watched her antics, I was beginning to think that she was quite the show person. I noticed that Buffalo Bill must have also thought so. He was watching her with arms crossed and a curious expression with half smile upon his lips.

Angel continued her show. She held the cup aloft for all to see, even tossed it into the air and caught it in a most theatrical manner. Holding the cup aloft, she marched over to the woodpile for the campfire and placed it upon the top log in such a manner that the open end of the cup would face her. In the exaggerated manner of an accomplished thespian, she gestured toward her cup target then stepped off thirty long paces as the crowd counted along with her. Everyone was thoroughly enjoying her show.

Very dramatically, she took her coat off and tossed it to me. With yet more drama, she withdrew her sling from her trouser’s pocket and stretched it out and held over her head for all to see that it was only two thongs and a leather piece to hold the projectile. The audience applauded. She then withdrew a .44 caliber lead ball from her pocket and pinched between forefinger and thumb, she held it aloft for her audience to examine.

Alexei stood to the side obviously much amused by her antics, and Cody was very clearly interested in what she was doing.

Angel carefully and deliberately placed the ball into the leather pouch of the sling and went to twirling it. I had watched her use her sling on many occasions, but I had never seen her twirl it the way she did that evening. While still facing the audience, she spun it on her right side, then on her left side, then alternating sides, then overhead. That spinning sling held her audience in its hypnotic grasp. As I said, she wasn’t even facing the target, it being on her left side some thirty paces away. Suddenly, she let out a Rebel yell, spun, and stepped toward the tin cup, letting fly the ball at her target, which promptly disappeared from the woodpile with a satisfying clang. Her audience cheered and applauded. Angel threw up her arms in victory. Cody was applauding enthusiastically while shaking his head in disbelief. Alexei stepped up to Angel and took her hand and held it aloft. She then curtsied like the finest lady-in-waiting in any European court. I reckon then that she had learned something in that expensive finishing school after all.

Buffalo Bill ordered the cup retrieved and brought to him for examination. He found a deep dent almost dead center in the bottom of the cup.

After receiving her accolades, she came over and stood beside me with a broad grin on her lips.

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Never did it that way before.”

“And you attempted such before an audience?”

She looked up at me with the expression of a child caught in some mischief. “Too much champagne. I think maybe I’m a little drunk.”

*****

And Book 5 is already in the works…

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Living on New Orleans Time

It’s a book written by one of my old college roommates and still a friend I speak to almost daily via email, Richard Caire. Though born and raised in New Orleans, Richard decamped for Memphis as a Katrina refugee and returned only long enough to collect what was left of his “drowned” possessions.

Richard is a very talented musician, writer, photographer, Photoshop guru, graphic artist (we studied art together in college), and all-around dispenser of verbal bravo sierra. He has a very weird sense of humor, kinda like me, which is one reason we have remained friends across the decades. This comes out in his photography and writings. He sees and feels things most of the rest of us never even notice as we pass them by in our mundane existence. He captures those images in his photography and his writings for the rest of us to finally appreciate what we missed.

Richard has for years been sending emails to another of our roommates, his brother, and me that contained images he had taken of various subjects around New Orleans when he lived here. He uses his Photoshop skills to make a “photo” into something more than what it started out to be. Some would call it “art”. I do. He often writes a very clever commentary to go with each of these creations that is filled with NOLA culture—and NOLA memories if you are from here.

Sam, the third roommate, and I recently encouraged Richard to compile all this into a book. Well, he took us seriously. For the last couple of months, I have been drafted into reading beta version after beta version as he developed his book. And since I had already “plowed the self-publishing row”, he had a ton of questions for me on how to do this. He didn’t understand that I was no expert, but I babbled out convincing-sounding advice. Well, low-and-behold, he finished it (and is working on a second one already).

Living on New Orleans Time is a wonderful collection of NOLA images and culture but not the kind you get from tourist brochures or carriage rides through the French Quarter. Richard’s images are “off the beaten track”, and his musings are not standard travel brochure fare. They are the words and things lived and felt by a New Orleans native. The book was self-published and is 198 pages of NOLA images and feelings. It is a tad pricey, but that was driven by the production cost of a book printed in full color with lots of images. But well worth the price.

I certainly enjoyed the beta process of reading and studying Richard’s work, and I think you will enjoy the finished product. Below is an excerpt with an accompanying image from the book published with Richard’s permission. Enjoy.

 

 

 If The Oyster Won’t Come To Baby 

– 12 September 1989 –

At 2000 hours on a Saturday, 26 September 2015, The Pearl Oyster Bar & Restaurant, at 119 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA closed. No drama, no fanfare. Just POOF! Gone …

As I stood in front of The Pearl Oyster Bar and Restaurant this day, The Pearl’s unforgettable sign still brightened this section of the Bayou on St. Charles Avenue near Canal Street. As I was about to press the shutter release, what appeared but a man and his little boy walking toward The Pearl. I still wonder if that little boy chowed down on his first dozen ‘erstas’ with crackers, ketchup, horseradish, and lemon juice.

My best memories of The Pearl are the times I ate there after playing music with Bat, Henri, Eddie, David, and Charlie. In later years, I’d stop there for a ‘breakfast po’boy’ and coffee on the way home after playing at the club on Bourbon Street.

The Pearl’s traditional menu included staples like gumbo, crab cakes, and roast beef sandwiches – but it wasn’t until you ordered one of their hot pastrami sandwiches on rye with a dill pickle wedge –and a Barq’s root beer – that you appreciated what they did with food. Good night, Ms. Marie, wherever you are. 

*****

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The Little Red Wagon – Part 2

Back here I posted about my father’s “Little Red Wagon.” Recently, I discovered more about this incident, which is what this all about. To save you the time of going to the link, here is the story.

It seems that MB, then serving with the 5th Army as a physician in North Africa during WWII (and later Sicily and Italy), asked his dad, Martial, back here in New Orleans to please go to Sears and purchase a sleeping bag and send it to him overseas. The U.S, as usual, was unprepared for the war or properly equip its army. It got cold at night in the North African desert, which is where this incident took place. Martial did as asked and dutifully ordered his son his requested sleeping bag. Well, Sears screwed up. I will let them explain what happened. Below are two scans from the New Orleans Sear’s Store Newsletter that has the details.

And here is a picture of the “Little Red Wagon” from a photo MB sent home to his dad and his comments on the back.


As I recall, MB said the Little Red Wagon did not go to waste. They actually used it to move stretchers. As the Sears New Orleans Store Newsletter indicates, they did send him a sleeping bag.

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Filed under Family History, Kenner, War Stories

Cherry Bounce

My dad, Dr. MB Casteix, used to make cherry bounce. His foray into creating adult beverages began when he was quite young. Since he started college two years earlier than most, having skipped two grades, he must have been younger than 16 on his first attempt because he was still living at home with his parents. At that time they were living on Bourbon Street in the building that is now the Famous Door Bar. It was a pharmacy at then, and the family lived above it. I wrote about his cherry bounce escapades here.

I decided I would like to attempt to recreate MB’s cherry bounce, but I don’t have his recipe and have no idea how he made it. I did a search online and found a few recipes, including one that is attributed to Martha Washington.

I did know one thing about MB’s recipe, and that was that it evidently continued to ferment in the bottle. In that linked post above, there was a recalled incident of the top blowing off the bottle and scaring the hell out of our maid. The recipes I found called for adding bourbon, rye, or brandy to the cooked cherry mash then storing that for three months. The alcohol should prevent any further fermenting, I would think. But I have to go with what I have.

So…I created a modified version of Martha’s recipe in smaller test proportions and cooked up a batch. The attached pic is the cherry mash before adding the rye whiskey. Unfortunately, we will have to wait three months to see if it is any good.

So, stand by…

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Going Downtown

For us living in Kenner, even though “downtown” New Orleans was less than ten miles away, going “downtown” was somewhat akin to a trip to Jerusalem and held near religious significance. We made these trips maybe once a quarter.

We didn’t just hop in the car and head for Canal Street like we do today. This was more like an expedition, requiring careful preparation with a ritual-like execution.

First, it was expected to be an all day affair, leaving early in the morning and return about sundown.

And you dressed for the occasion.

That means the women wore nice dresses and fashionable shoes, usually heels. I was forced to forgo my shorts for nice trousers, a pressed shirt, and shoes and socks. And my hair was greased and combed.

My grandmother drove her Ford downtown. She ALWAYS had Fords; never knew her to own anything but Fords, and in the nearly thirty years of our shared time on earth, I can recall only three, and the first two had standard transmissions. We piled into her Ford and made the trip down Airline Highway to “downtown.”

She always parked in the same parking lot on the corner of Iberville and Burgundy. We then made a circuit of the stores on Canal Street, first the upriver side and then the downriver side. My favorite was Kress’ Five and Dime Department Store, which had a great toy selection. We usually ate lunch in the D.H. Holmes cafeteria and ended up back at the parking lot in the late afternoon loaded down with packages.

Many years later, when I started dating, one of our frequent destinations was downtown to one of the movie houses on Canal Street like the Joy, or the Saenger, or the Lowes, or the Orpheum on University Place, because they got the first run movies. In those days (late 1950s-early 60s), these dates required coats and ties for the men and nice dresses and heels for the ladies.

The Joy had a curving staircase to the balcony level (which was perfect for necking, BTW). One night, after the movie, when Janis and I were descending the stairs, I was not paying attention to my date as I should have been. As I made my way down the stairs, Janis, who was one step behind me, suddenly passed me on the way down. Trouble is she was bouncing down the stairs on her butt, skirt all in her face and high heels in the air. She reached the bottom before I could catch up to her.

That date did not end well.

But most other dates downtown did end well, usually for pizza at Gibby’s on North Rampart, but that’s another story.

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Filed under Family History, Growing Up, Kenner

The Brains of the Confederacy

Judah_BenjaminIn both of my books, The Last Day of Forever and, especially, An Eternity of Four Years, a gentleman by the name of Judah P. Benjamin plays a part. Judah P. Benjamin remains something of an enigma because he destroyed his private papers at the end of the Civil War, and in spite of leading a very public life as a successful attorney, planter, politician, and statesman, some aspects of his personal history remain cloaked in a mystery and speculation.

He was a most unusual man for his times and by all accounts very intelligent, a skilled debater with a gift for oratory and a ready smile.

It is said the ladies of Richmond adored him, but he had his detractors as well as those who admired him for his considerable intellect and outgoing personality. Jefferson Davis considered him one of his closest confidants with the writings of Davis’s wife, Varina, offering a small peek into his personal life.

Judah Phillip Benjamin was variously know as “the Jew,” “the Hebrew,” or “Davis’ pet Jew,” referring to his small stature (barely over five feet tall). Later historians sometimes refer to him as the “brains of the Confederacy.” During the war, the North derisively called him “the South’s evil genius.”

He was born to a family of Sephardic Jews in St Croix in 1811. When he was still a child, his family eventually settled in Charleston, SC, a southern city known for its religious tolerance. He attended Yale at the tender age of 14 but was expelled because of unspecified “ungentlemanly conduct.”

Benjamin then headed for New Orleans, where according to Bernard W. Korn in his volume on that city’s Jews, he arrived “with no visible assets other than the wit, charm, omnivorous mind and boundless energy with which he would find his place in the sun.” He remained a bachelor for several years, and at least one historian suggests he was a homosexual, but there exists no evidence beyond speculation to support this.

He clerked in a law firm and studied the law. Since fluent French was required to practice law in Louisiana, he needed to learn that language. To earn money, he tutored French Creoles in English and taught Natalie Bauché de St. Martin in exchange for her teaching him French.

In 1832 at the age of 21, he was admitted to the bar, and a year later, he married Natalie with the wedding in St Louis Cathedral. The couple moved into a four-story townhouse on Bourbon Street that is today a strip joint called “Temptations.” It seems the marriage did not work out for reasons unknown. Historians suggest Natalie was such a problem child her family was glad to be shed of her, and later, rumors of infidelity were associated with her. They had one child, a daughter, Ninette.

Benjamin became a successful lawyer in New Orleans and bought a plantation downriver from the city, Belle Chasse*, and built a fine home for his wife and daughter. Natalie, evidently, was unimpressed and decamped with her daughter for Paris where they remained for the rest of her life. Meanwhile, Benjamin experimented with different strains of sugar cane and became something of an expert on that crop.

The Louisiana Legislature elected Benjamin to the U.S. Senate where he became famous for his eloquent and fiery oratory. (Senators were appointed by the Legislature then.) Benjamin was the first Jew to serve as a U. S. Senator. He was twice offered to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court and declined both times. He would likely have been approved and would have been the first Jew on the U.S. Supreme Court.

With Louisiana’s secession in 1861, Benjamin became one of Jeff Davis’ closest advisors even though Benjamin had once challenged him to a duel. Davis first appointed him as Attorney General and then Secretary of War, but the Confederate Army existed mainly as untrained volunteers with supplies for waging war very scarce. With the Confederate retreat from Cape Hatteras, Benjamin was accused of failing to reinforce the garrison. He took the blame and resigned, but he did so to hide the fact that the Confederacy simply did not have the forces to send, and that weakness needed to be hidden from the enemy.

Davis then appointed Benjamin to Secretary of State where he was also in charge of the Confederate Secret Service and Confederate spies up north. It was in that capacity that my character, Ethan, has dealings with him in An Eternity of Four Years.

Very early in the war, he was one of the first to argue for recruiting the slaves into the Confederate Army, offering them freedom if they served. Near the end, when the situation was desperate for the South, he brought it up again in a speech and was renounced for it. He also suggested freeing the slaves to get France and/or England to enter the conflict on the side of the South, or at least recognize the South as a sovereign nation, opening the door to much needed war material from Europe. Again his ideas were rejected.

The war ended with the Confederate government on the run. Davis was captured, but Benjamin was not, only because he separated from the group the day before and made his way to England. There he became a successful barrister and was created a “Palatine silk” as the Queen’s Council.

With his health deteriorating and suffering from diabetes, he was injured in a fall in 1880. Judah P. Benjamin died of a heart attack in Paris in 1882 and was buried there in Père Lachaise Cemetery under the name of “Philippe Benjamin.”

In 1938 the Paris chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy erected a plaque over his grave.

JUDAH PHILIP BENJAMIN
BORN ST. THOMAS WEST INDIES AUGUST 6,1811
DIED IN PARIS MAY 6,1884
UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM LOUISIANA
ATTORNEY GENERAL, SECRETARY OF WAR AND
SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES
OF AMERICA, QUEENS COUNSEL, LONDON

Whatever your opinion of Judah P. Benjamin might be, one must agree he was a most amazing person and largely an unknown but significant figure in American history.

*Note: This link will take you to an image of Belle Chasse Plantation. It has long since been torn down. You can adjust the size of the image with the sliding bar at the top.

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Let’s Rename New Orleans!

I have been thinking of doing another post on the slippery-slope we are on as a result of the actions of that demented kid in South Carolina, but now I don’t have to. Someone else did it for me.

So, I give you a post on Sally Asher’s Blog titled Let’s Rename New Orleans. She has done a marvelous job of showing how utterly insane some of us have become and where that insanity will ultimately lead to, because once you start down this road, it has no end!

I have a suggestion for you, Mitch: Instead of focusing on symbols, how about focusing on the real problems in New Orleans. Resigning would be a good first step.

God help us!

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The Paperback Version of An Eternity of Four Years is now available!

Book 2 1Finally! It is done! I have been teasing you long enough.

The exciting conclusion to the two-part epic of the Legend of Rachel and Ethan, An Eternity of Four Years, is finally finished and published. Both the Kindle digital version and the paperback version are available at Amazon.

An Eternity of Four Years picks up the story four days after The Last Day of Forever ends and carries the reader through the turbulent years of the Civil War with Ethan searching for Rachel to mend what was broken between them.

If you haven’t read part 1 yet, The Last Day of Forever, you need to read it first. Either book can stand alone, but reading both in order fills in a lot of back story and detail you will find both interesting and helpful to your reading experience.

Get ’em while they are hot! And don’t forget to go back and post a review. It will help the books get visibility and credibility.

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A Short History of the Sazerac Cocktail

Both The Last Day of Forever and An Eternity of Four Years mention a drink called the “Sazerac” but give only minimal information about how it is made. I am going to boast that I make the finest Sazerac in the world, maybe even the Universe.

But first, in the interest of full disclosure: The Sazerac Company of New Orleans is one of my clients at Spar, Inc. In fact, the man who owns the Sazerac Company and the five distilleries that Sazerac owns, starting with the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY, plus two others in Kentucky, another in Virginia, and one in Canada, also owns SPAR, Inc. I have worked for SPAR since I got out of the Air Force in 1973. Started as a graphic designer, and now I am the general manager and creative director. SPAR designed most of the packages for the Sazerac Company, such as Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Sazerac Rye Whisky, Herbsaint, W.L. Weller, Old Charter, Elmer T. Lee, Nikolai Vodka, and a ton more. You get the picture?

So, I have a financial interest in the Sazerac Company, so to speak. They generate my paycheck. But that isn’t why I mentioned the drink in my story. I mention it because the Sazerac Cocktail is such an integral and beautiful part of New Orleans history. It was created here, and its ancestry goes all the way back to the eighteenth century when Antoine Amedee Peychaud, a refugee from the slave uprising in Haiti, landed in New Orleans in about 1795 with his family recipe for bitters and eventually set up shop as an apothecary.

CoquetierAs the story goes, Peychaud served shots of brandy laced with his bitters in a little double-ended eggcup called in the French a cocquetier. Legend has it the term “cocktail” comes from the Americans arriving in New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase, tripping over the unfamiliar French word, and anglicizing it. To be fair, that is under dispute. Some claim the term “cocktail,” describing a mixture of whiskey, bitters, and sugar, came into usage around 1800 before Peychaud started serving his coquetiers, but I am sticking to the New Orleans version.

The Sazerac name came from the brandy that was originally used to make the drink. That would be Sazerac Cognac Brandy imported from Sazerac des Forges et Fils in France. That Sazerac Company did exist until fairly recently. Evidently, they have folded, because I cannot find them on the internet anymore.

People in New Orleans always seem to do things just a little differently. For example, we had lots of coffee houses back in the nineteenth century, only they weren’t really coffee houses. Oh, they served some coffee, usually laced with brandy or rum and later American bourbon, but they were, in reality, saloons. By 1859 there were 204 saloons coffee houses in New Orleans. In the early nineteenth century, New Orleans entered its coffee house gem period, with owners naming their saloons coffee houses after various precious stones. Each new saloon coffee house tried to top the other by selecting a more valuable gemstone for its name. One named the “Gem” opened in 1851. The Gem featured the Sazerac, as did most other saloons coffee houses in New Orleans, but this one became famous. It was located in the first block of Royal Street with another entrance on Exchange Alley. Its name was eventually changed to the Sazerac Coffee House. This is where Ethan with Morgan and later his friends, when he enlisted in Wheat’s Battalion, shared many Sazeracs. Don’t bother to look for it, because it isn’t there anymore. The Sazerac Bar eventually moved into the Roosevelt Hotel and remains there to this day. The Sazerac Bar is not owned by the Sazerac Company.

Originally, the Sazerac was made with Sazerac brandy and Peychaud’s Bitters, but American rye whiskey began replacing the brandy around 1870 because of the phylloxera epidemic in Europe that devastated the vineyards of France, making brandy scarce (brandy is made from grapes). Kentucky had been settled by many of Scottish origin and they were converting their corn crops into whiskey, because it was easier to move whiskey to market than corn. Packed in barrels, Kentucky whiskey made its long trip in flatboats down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Storing the whiskey in barrels and the long trip actually aided its flavor, and the product that arrived in New Orleans was less like the raw fiery spirit that left Kentucky. About the same time, a bit of absinthe was added to the recipe of the Sazerac, and the recipe was sealed until the 1930s when Herbsaint, a New Orleans product, came into common usage in the Sazerac.

Herbsaint Absinthe was produced using a recipe ­­­­New Orleans native Marion Legendre brought back from his service in France during World War I. Legendre began producing his Herbsaint during the mid-thirties and ran afoul of government regs that had banned absinthe back in 1912. He was forced to change his recipe to suit the government bureaucrats. Only recently has absinthe reappeared in America again, and that is only because it was discovered the law banning absinthe was written in a way that actually allowed its production as long as the amount of wormwood, a botanical, was below a specified amount, and absinthe’s wormwood content is well below that point. With that, the Sazerac Company, owners of the Herbsaint brand, dug into their archives and came up with Legendre’s original formula. The Original Herbsaint is back (and SPAR did the retro package).

The Sazerac Cocktail, now enjoying something of a revival, is served in bars and restaurants all over New Orleans and many other cites, as well. But I must warn you. Not everyone makes a good Sazerac, and a poorly made Sazerac is truly awful, usually because they put in too much absinthe. But I am going to tell you how to make a good one, in fact, a perfect Sazerac Cocktail. You will have to wait for the next post to get my “secret” recipe.

Wikipedia absinthe page.

Absinthe deserves its own post. It is featured in the opening chapter of An Eternity of Four Years, and will get that post eventually.

Coquetier photo credit: Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

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