Bartender Rad Rachad presents his Absinthe frappe at the Renaissance New Orleans Pere Marquette bar. (Photos: Kate Russell)
Rad Rachad has a lot of respect for the classic cocktail. As the bartender at the Renaissance New Orleans Pere Marquette in the French Quarter, he’s mixing drinks in the right city. New Orleans is known for its storied drinks and has birthed some of the best.
“They are classics for a reason,” Rachad says. “They’ve stuck around because they’ve stood the test of time and several different generations of palates.”
Rachad’s appreciation of the classics started like most of us on the other side of the bar as a patron, until the day he was asked to help out at his favorite local bar. Nearly 10 years later, he’s the one dispensing the drinks to fellow cocktail aficionados.
“I really enjoy having the ability to make someone’s day, putting the finishing touch on an experience when they are visiting the city. That’s the feeling you’re always going for.” Rachad says. “It may be a little bit of a selfish thing, but that’s the experience you always want to provide so that you can get that feeling.”
Marriott TRAVELER asked Rachad to talk about his favorite NOLA sips to drink and make, along with a few other delicious things the Crescent City is known for like beignets and po’ boys.
How would you describe the drink scene in New Orleans? What makes it so special and different from any other city?
New Orleans is a very old city and a lot of our cocktails are just steeped in tradition. The official cocktail of the city, the Sazerac, is nearly 200 years old and I think that is what is kind of special about our city. While we do have a lot of people doing some cutting edge stuff, we really still embrace the classics and that is a lot of the charm of the city.
Is the Sazerac the most popular drink at Pere Marquette bar and how do you serve it?
We sell a lot of Sazeracs. It is the drink of New Orleans and part of our brand is imparting a local experience. With a cocktail like that you can always put little variations on it but New Orleans is such a classic city that I like to stick to classic recipes unless you ask me to add a twist. I’m always happy to cater to your flavor profile, but I really like to stick to the simple way of doing it. The thing I do differently, which is not a huge difference, but I do use simple syrup instead of crushing up a sugar cube, because it does take a bit to get that sugar cube to dissolve.
What’s your favorite drink to make?
I make a lot of French 75s. That’s a favorite for me. I like making it for people who think that they hate gin and find out that they’ve just never had it prepared in a way that was palatable to them. I can’t think of one person that has sent the drink back after they gave me the opportunity to make it for them. Usually they are so taken aback by how light and refreshing and beautiful the drink is. A lot of people think of Christmas trees when they think of gin. They say that Christmas-y taste is too much or I don’t want to drink flowers. A great cocktail uses other ingredients to bring out the best in the base and that drink is a shining example. Essentially you are making lemonade to mix with your gin with a nice dry sparkling to top it off.
What’s one of the best cocktails to drink in NOLA, right now?
Byron Buck, at the Davenport Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, makes a scratch bloody mary that is just unparalleled. The mix is so good that you want to drink it on its own, but obviously as a complete drink its phenomenal. It’s so good that as someone who personally doesn’t really care for bloody marys, I would go there. That was one that surprised me and stuck out for me. New Orleans is flooded with bars and the majority of them are going to use pre-made mix. Zing Zang is a great bloody mary mix but it is never going to hold up to someone that makes something completely from scratch and knows what they’re doing.
What’s your take on the hurricane? It’s a pretty ubiquitous drink on Bourbon Street.
Honestly, I think the original formula for the hurricane was a pretty great cocktail, but over the years because of its mass popularity so many of the places that serve it even Pat O’Brien’s, which was the original creator, now use a hurricane mix, which I think detracts so much from what the craft cocktail world is trying to do now. A hurricane is a great drink if it is made with fresh ingredients. For example, we retooled the hurricane at our bar, and we make our own grenadine, passion fruit syrup from scratch, fresh lime juice, orange juice and locally distilled rum. So it tastes so much more complex and much truer to a cocktail than the version of what you usually get on Bourbon Street nowadays.
What bars are stepping outside of tradition and doing cutting edge cocktails in the city?
One of the best bars I can think of is Cure Bar in Uptown New Orleans. They’re constantly innovating with new techniques. They have a wide variety of spirits, and house-made syrups and tinctures. They’ve set a precedent for a lot of people in the city and nationally. It’s often where people who come to visit for Tales of the Cocktail festival make their way even though it’s not in the downtown area. They do an amazing ginger syrup that’s almost like biting into a fresh piece of ginger. I really like their pineapple gum syrup – anything with roots or herbal flavors. It’s not a place you can go every day, but when I do, I kind of work my way around whatever is on their current menu. They change it seasonally.
What other cities have impressed you with their cocktail scene?
D.C. was very impressive. I was unaware before going there just how extensive their cocktail scene was. They have a lot of really talented people that are really embracing the craft and doing some pretty cutting edge stuff. D.C. and New Orleans are the two cities in the country that have an official drink that’s part of the culture – [in D.C.] it’s a Rickey and in New Orleans it’s a Sazerac. And the other place is San Antonio. They are doing some great fun stuff and they have a number of decent cocktail bars.
What are your top recommendations for first-timers to New Orleans? How should a newcomer get to know your city?
I always recommend Frenchmen Street because it’s a hotbed of local music clubs. There are several great music clubs on Frenchmen. My favorite is called La Maison. They always host live local music every night whether it’s jazz, blues, brass or zydeco. You can pretty much guarantee a good show there every night and you’ve got Snug Harbor too. As far as bars go, I usually send people to Victory Bar. It’s a great little local bar. The owner Daniel Victory actually worked at The Ritz-Carlton for a while. He and his staff are very knowledgeable about making drinks. It’s a great place to get a good cocktail in a low-key environment.
Here’s the rapid fire round of questions. What’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Best Beignets: I can’t get behind anybody else but Café du Monde. They’re the original and they’re the best. Their location on Decatur is open 24 hours, so that’s hard to beat.
Best Po’ Boy: My favorite is Parkway Bakery. My personal favorite po’ boy there is the “Surf and Turf”, a debris-style roast beef po’ boy with fried shrimp on top. It’s really hard to beat. You can get it dressed with lettuce tomato and mayo and you may as well throw some cheese on there and go the full mile.
Best Place to People Watch: It’s got to be Bourbon Street. Whether you care for the Bourbon environment or not, there’s always something interesting going on down there. You never know quite what you’re going see… everything from people in costume to a guy I saw getting pulled by a bicycle while playing a full-sized baby grand piano. You really never know what you’re going to find.
Rad’s Hurricane Recipe
- 2oz Old New Orleans Rum 3yr aged
- 3/4oz Fresh Lime juice
- 1/2oz Orange juice
- 1/2oz Passion fruit syrup
- 1/2oz House made grenadine
Shake over ice and strain into a hurricane glass with fresh ice. Garnish with half an orange wheel