“I’ve been, like, in the ‘limelight’ of mixology for 12 years. But I’ve been in the service industry my entire life. I started as a busboy. Also, I was a musician forever, and the service industry allowed me that kind of flexibility. I was in a ska/punk band and we toured in the mid-’90s.
When the hurricane came, I went to Chicago. At first I went all the way back to my humble beginnings and took a job as a food runner. I started bartending at a restaurant called Del Toro. I had a great chef at my fingertips to ask about different flavor combinations and I started getting into the ‘why’ of stuff. He then referred me to On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and a couple of science journals. Later, I trained with Toby Maloney, the guy who taught me everything I know. I learned how to work in groups creatively; supporting things you might not like right away; getting to each person’s personal end and then helping, trying to be open—it’s really hard to be open. But drinks are really not that complicated. People like to paint mixology as this crazy chemistry-science thing, but it’s really not that hard. We’re all building upon six classic drinks. I have yet to have a cocktail I couldn’t trace back to one of those six, like the Old Fashioned, the whiskey sour, the Manhattan, the Martini, the cobbler and the egg fizz…
I had an amazing experience four years ago. To honor my grandfather, I got Al ‘Carnival Time’ Johnson to play at Bellocq on Lundi Gras. I didn’t do any advertising for it at all. My uncle came with his giant jambalaya pot and we had a six-song personal show by Al Johnson.
My grandfather [Oliver] was a serious Mardi Gras enthusiast. As a kid, we went to every parade. Not like parades each day—every parade, every day. We’d go to Metairie to catch a parade at the very beginning of the route so we then could drive uptown and catch those parades. And that was every year. There’s no way I can feel like I killed Mardi Gras anymore because it’s impossible to duplicate that. But having Al Johnson play pulled back that feeling for me.”