For those New Orleanians with memories shorter than a decade, it’s hard to fathom that there once was a time when a cocktail list was not delivered along with the dinner menu. Equally difficult to acknowledge is that not so long ago, Freret Street was a veritable ghost town of mostly shuttered storefronts. Then came along Matt Kohnke, Neal Bodenheimer and Kirk Estopinal, whose transformation of a 1903 fire station at the corner of Freret and Upperline Streets became the impetus for both the local craft cocktail movement and the revitalization of what is now one of the city’s premier commercial corridors. Quite the unexpected success story for a high-class lounge that opened at the height of the Great Recession to serve $10 drinks and enforce a no shorts dress code.
From the outset, locals were drawn to Cure for a variety of reasons. Even friends of Bill W. can appreciate the towering bar shelving backlit in an iridescent yellow, with Edison bulbs and tabletop candles creating one of the most intimate yet lively spaces in the city. The rear patio is a more secluded setting for quiet conversation, albeit less beckoning during the summer months. But mostly, at a time when locals were still struggling to save their identity and the institutions that were washed away four years earlier, Cure offered a glimpse of what the future could hold—something different; something contemporary but rooted in history; something better.
And the drinks are, of course, exquisite. Fresh off winning the James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program in the country, Cure has remained at the forefront of the craft cocktail movement. The classics are treated with reverence and attention to detail, such as the Bramble, which delicately balances gin, lemon juice and blackberry liqueur over a mountain of crushed ice. The Howitzer is an underrated elixir of bourbon, lemon, peach bitters and champagne, while an Old Fashioned can be mixed either in simple form or with 20-year-old Orphan Barrel Barterhouse Bourbon. The list of original creations changes with the seasons and may run the gamut from the Stryker, a low-proof riff on a Manhattan, to an effervescent daily punch.
While cocktails have been and continue to be its primary focus, Cure has always strived to offer a limited menu of food to complement (but not outshine) the talent behind the bar. The kitchen has been helmed by a number of talented chefs—most recently Alfredo Nogueira, formerly of Cafe Henri. Choose from a number of sophisticated snacks such as cacio e pepe deviled eggs, pimento cheese toast with pepper jelly and smoked trout dip. Marinated white anchovies served atop crusty Bellegarde sourdough is a timeless cocktail hour nibble, as is white bean bruschetta with crunchy pine nuts and a prick of heat from Calabrian chiles.
4905 Freret Street; Mon-Thur 5p-12a, Fri-Sat 3p-2a, Sun 3p-12a; curenola.com; (504) 302-2357