I have a drink that I created that became Debbie Davis’ favorite drink, which then turned her onto gin, while she was never a gin-drinker before. I only make this drink for her. When Debbie is in here singing, I don’t even ask, I just make it.
I was born and raised right here in New Orleans, at Southern Baptist Hospital on the corner of Napoleon and Claiborne [Avenue]. I started as a cook. It was Mardi Gras Day and I was working at a bar Uptown and the owner of the place was notoriously mean. He was. But it was Mardi Gras Day and I was the only one who showed up to work. We were supposed to be a staff of three. So I’m taking orders, taking money, cooking food and putting out food. And there’s a line out the door. I was 17—I told them I was 18 because I looked 18, but I was just making food then, I wasn’t bartending. People would come in and yell at me, ‘Where’s my food?’ And I was like, ‘I’m by myself. It’s coming. Ain’t nobody gonna die.’ Got through the whole shift, made a gazillion dollars, and the owner came up at the end and said, ‘I like the way you handle people. Want to tend bar?’ That was 22 years ago and I’ve been doing it since.
I’ve worked around town, and around the country. When I was 19, I moved to Seattle. Then I moved back here, moved back there, moved back here, moved back there. When I got with my wife, we moved to Prague, and then we moved back to Seattle, and then we moved to New York and then we moved back here, and now we’re staying. We have a daughter who’s about to be seven. Good God!
I had the pleasure of working in a restaurant in Seattle called The New Orleans Restaurant. Cool place, packed on Friday and Saturday night. The food wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t authentic. They didn’t know what New Orleans food was. They had a good soup that they put seafood in, but it wasn’t gumbo. And they had something called Shrimp Creole, and I have no idea where they got the recipe. The food wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what they thought it was. So if you were from New Orleans you were pretty much hired. ‘You’re from New Orleans? You’re hired!’ I worked there when Dizzie Gillespie played there.
I try to work days now. I make up the drink of the day—every single day—and the drink list and the wine list. I try to work with what’s in season, but the only thing growing in my yard are flowers and herbs. There’s no fruit of any kind. I have a strawberry plant that grows great, it just won’t grow strawberries. Leaves! I have to keep cutting the leaves back, and sometimes I get this tiny remnant of a strawberry. I water the hell out of it. It’s growing, really growing. It’s just not fruiting. I’ve got a blueberry plant, growing and not fruiting. I’ve got peppers, growing and not fruiting. Basil’s growing great, mint’s growing great, lavender’s great, chives are great, parsley’s great. Nothing will fruit! Nothing. But I’ve got all the herbs I want.
What I drink? Well, I drink ice water. If I’m going to drink an alcoholic beverage, I’m going to be in my backyard, among my herbs and my grill and my wife and my daughter, and I’ll be sipping on a Jameson on the rocks.
The Debbie Davis
1 cucumber slice
1 pinch sugar
2 ounces Hendrick’s Gin
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1 ounce St. Germain liqueur
1/2 ounce lime juice
1 ounce strawberry puree (macerate strawberries with white wine and sugar in the refrigerator overnight—the sugar will draw juices and color out of the strawberries—then run in blender)
Muddle the cucumber (that is, bash and smash it in a mixing glass) with sugar. Add remaining ingredients. Shake with ice. Strain into a martini glass.