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Bar Talk: In Creole Country

Posted on  | July 6, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Abigail Gullo, SoBou, New Orleans, LA

Before she started slinging drinks in New York City bars (most recently at Fort Defiance in Brooklyn) Abigail Gullo was a teacher, unwinding from the grind of school by writing a blog devoted to rye. These days she calls New Orleans home, at SoBou, the new spirits-centric restaurant in the soon-to-be-revamped W Hotel, French Quarter. Joining the female powerhouse of owners Ti Martin and Lally Brennan of fabled Commander’s Palace, and consulting bar chef Lu Brow, Gullo is determined to make SoBou a coveted destination in a changing Crescent City.

THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: You made the leap from New York to New Orleans. It seems like there’s a new wave of vibrancy taking over the city.

ABIGAIL GULLO: This is a great drinking town, where civilized ladies and gents still have Sidecars and Brandy Milk Punch for lunch. It is the home of the first branded cocktail, the Sazerac, in 1857. Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long used to travel with his own bartender so he could have a decent Ramos Gin Fizz in NYC. New Orleans is a great port city, a melting pot for ideas and dreams. There is a fresh feeling of excitement and rebirth here right now.

TBN: Your new project, SoBou, is one example of this dynamism. It is immersed in history but at the same time manages to propel the mixology movement forward.

AG: Did you know SoBou is right around the corner from where the Sazerac Coffee House was? Man, I love this town. I am getting excited all over again. I got into the food industry because I was interested in pairing well-made cocktails with amazing food and service. That is why it’s such an honor to be working for the Commander’s Palace family. They have been running restaurants in New Orleans for so many years. It speaks to the cocktail historian nerd in me that I am part of such a storied tradition.

TBN: How do you think SoBou will stand out?

AG: I think we fill a unique role in the Quarter. We make fresh, modern cocktails, have beer taps at our tables and a Napa Technology WineStation where you can pour your own 1 oz., 3 oz. or 6 oz. wines. At the same time, we are steeped in the lore of New Orleans tradition, from our Creole saloon-inspired menu to our Taylor Bird Sazerac made with 18th-century-style Cognac and rye.

TBN: What are some of the highlights of the cocktail program?

AG: We are focusing on rum since there is a strong history of rum-running in this city. I have a classic, hand-shaken daiquiri called the ‘Sister City’ that honors our Creole connection to Port Au Prince with Haitian rum, fresh lime and a Tiki-inspired spiced syrup. The Old Square is a more “American” take on a Vieux Carré with bourbon and apple brandy. I like to play with whatever is fresh and seasonal and work very closely with the kitchen and chef Juan Gonzalez to create our own syrups, shrubs, bitters and even long lost classic ingredients like homemade grenadine, lime cordial, Swedish Punsch and falernum. We also have modern cocktails that use local honey, molasses, Ponchatoula strawberries and Chilton peaches grown right here in Louisiana.

TBN: With SoBou being in a hotel—like the owners’ other bar, Swizzle Stick—how will you be able to engage local imbibers?

AG: The W French Quarter is unique. It’s a small boutique hotel on a really cool street lined with art galleries, historic buildings and some fine dining establishments. Our courtyard is an oasis and SoBou is a place where you can come in for a cocktail and a bite over lunch or a three-course dinner at night with an exceptional bottle of wine. My former boss and mentor, St. John Frizell, introduced me to the The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg and the concept of the “third place.” All great societies have a place between home and work that serves as a “vital informal public life.” SoBou is that third place for New Orleans and the French Quarter. I expect to have regular hotel customers who will visit us every Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras and Saints home game. I also hope NOLA natives will be in three to four times a week to grab a pint, have some pig-fried pecans and give me feedback on a new cocktail.


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