It’s Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras or whatever you feel like calling it and we’ll be mixing the Vieux Carre to celebrate the occasion.
Our astute readers immediately think of New Orleans and its Mardi Gras traditions when the holiday comes up. And that’s justified – the tradition goes back a long way with the first record of celebrations being in 1699 right at the mouth of the Mississippi River. In 1730 an account by Marc-Antione Caillot described celebrations with music, dance, masks and costumes (apparently cross-dressing was game as well). By 1833 a rich plantation owner, Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville raised money to fund official Mardi Gras celebrations. Formal balls, and eventually parades, became de rigeur. By 1875 Louisiana governor Warmoth signed the Mardi Gras Act making Fat Tuesday an official state holiday, which it still is.
Mardi Gras is an opportunity to participate in New Orleans parades while guzzling with two-fists whatever you pick up from a street-side bar. There will be drunks tossing beads off Bourbon Street Balconies and shouting “show us your tits!” Let’s face it, there will be a lot of drinking to excess. Additional debauchery is at your discretion.
This leaves us in need of a Drink of the Day. Fortunately, New Orleans does not disappoint in its cocktail history and we turn to Stanley Clisby Arthur’s 1937 book Famous New Orleans DRINKS and how to mix ‘em. You’ve already heard of this tome when for Mardi Gras last year we prescribed the Sazerac as Drink of the Day and noted the author’s admonition to not “commit the sacrilege of dropping the peel into the drink” once the fragrant oils of a lemon twist had been expelled. Keep it in mind if you return to that standby cocktail.
The Vieux Carre
But today we’re going to move a small bit from the Sazerac. The Editorial Board conferred and determined that this year the Mardi Gras Drink of the Day will be the Vieux Carre. It seems appropriate for many reasons, not the least of which is that the name alone translates into English as “old square.” And of all the ancient buildings in New Orleans’ famed Vieux Carre the most glorified may be a building at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville streets known as “The Old Absinthe House.” Seems appropriate for our purposes, even if today’s drink does not utilize absinthe. But feel free to follow it with a Sazerac if you’re wanting.
The Vieux Carre cocktail itself was invented by Walter Bergeron during the 1930s when he was head bartender at the famous Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone. (Important note: Hemingway himself liked to drink there, so it was no slouch of a bar.) Stanley Clisby Arthur’s book was where the Vieux Carre cocktail first appeared in print.
We might also note that the Vieux Carre ran neck and neck with the Cocktail a la Louisiane for Drink of the Day today, and they’re really just Mr. Potato Head style variations on one another. Substitute absinthe for the Angostura Bitters, ditch the Cognac but add that ¾ oz back in as rye whiskey and you’ll be there if you garnish it with a cherry. But serve that one up rather than on the rocks. Carry on.
- Old Fashioned Glass
- ¾ oz Rye whiskey
- ¾ oz Cognac
- ¾ oz Sweet Vermouth
- ½ tsp Benedictine This is usually about one barspoon.
- 2 Dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- 2 Dashes Angostura bitters
- Garnish: lemon twist
- Optional garnish: slice of pineapple and cherry from reference above, but not usually employed these days
- Add all ingredients except garnish to your trusty mixing glass.
- Stir with ice until chilled.
- Strain into Old Fashioned glass over ice.
- Twist slice of lemon peel over drink and discard. It has given its all.
- Add optional garnishes to glass if so desired.
- Rinse and repeat.