Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood and Bourbon
Clemens’ is arguably New Orleans’ premier whiskey bar. Its owner, however, balks at calling her establishment a bar, preferring her portmanteau of “bourbiothèque”. Located at Dauphine and Poydras Street, and adjacent to the Le Pavillon Hotel, Clemens’ is an upscale post-Katrina sipping library that is just barely shy of being snooty. Stepping through its dramatic entryway with its repurposed 17th-century cathedral doors reveals a refined space of exclusive industrial beauty. Its interior decor is dark, yet cozy, with swanky sepia-toned walls, pressed-tin ceilings, exposed brick, tufted leather couches, pre-Prohibition vintage chandeliers, hidden stairwells, and copper lighting fixtures inspired by liquor stills. Further adding to the luxury are the heavy-wood accents, all of which have been hand-stained with Angostura aromatic bitters–because, as its owner says, why the hell not? Its main serving lounge seats a scant thirteen clients, with members having first priority on said seating. As a consequence, Clemens’s ‘common’ clientele must typically settle for drinking at its bar or shaded veranda. Even then, reservations are almost certainly needed–unless one happens to know someone inside. It’s the sort of spot for impressing a hard-to-impress first date or sealing the deal on one’s next round of venture capital.
Alongside a fine selection of cigars, the establishment’s gorgeous leather-bound menu offers over two thousand bottles, an amount its owner coolly boasts could fill a swimming pool. Apart from its extensive collection of spirits, which include a startling number of obscure Japanese imports like Maker’s Black Wax, Clemens’ centrifuge-assisted, black-garbed mixologists pour serious pre-Prohibition cocktails, such as the bourbon, Benedictine, lemon, and lime-filled Frisco Sour. Other notable cocktails (and ingredients) include:
• Catholic Guilt (Black Grouse blended scotch, fig and orange bitters, ginger syrup, lemon, and Fernet-Branca float)
• Surgeon General’s Warning (Old Bardstown bourbon, tobacco syrup, Cherry Heering, orange, and lemon)
• Skull & Boneberries (Canon select Double Double Rye, dark rum, Rossbacher, blackberry, and blueberry smoke)
• A Manhattan (with cherries steeped in bourbon and sugar)
• Japanese Highball (Japanese whiskey with filtered soda water on draft)
• Kentucky Corpse Reviver (Old Ezra 7-year, Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, Lillet, absinthe, bitters, lemon juice, powdered sugar)
• Ol’ Mississippi Mule (Old Grand-Dad bourbon, house-made ginger beer infused with lime, served as a slush)
• Huey’s Long Pass (Breckenridge bourbon, Cynar, vermouth, teapot bitters)
• Gilded Lily Suit (Belle Meade bourbon, apricot liqueur, lemon juice, Falernum, and nutmeg)
• Butler’s Burning Orchard (Rye whiskey, smoked apple juice, Cointreau, brandy, bitters, pickled jalapeño, and a sugar cube over ice)
Beyond such impressive drinks, the breadth of Clemens’ pub fare–which includes confit duck leg, Kentucky Hot Brown sammies, whiskey barrel-smoked pork chops, seven delicious grilled cheeses, short rib duck fat fries, buffalo cheese curds, fried green tomatoes, and cornmeal fried oysters—is alone punched up enough to make it a worthy, if pricy destination.
Alongside such savory scents, Clemens’ air is occasionally filled, but not drowned, with the sounds of Clemens’ luxury Wrensilva and its vintage jazz records. These records notably feature compositions and performances by New Orleans’ departed jazz legends, such as Satchmo, Louis Prima, Jelly Roll Morton, Buddy Bolden, Sidney Bechet, Allen Toussaint, Bunk Johns, Harold Battiste, Papa Jack Laine, Red Allen, King Oliver, and Kid Ory. Such lo-fi classics are occassionally given modern twists, though, as several of Clemens’ records feature jazzhop remixes that have gained favor amongst the bar’s younger, less stodgy clientele.
Contrary to most newcomers’ assumption, the owner is not named Clemens, but rather Glory Pelletier. Instead, the whiskey bar’s name refers to Samuel Clemens, the man who penned the bar’s official motto–which has been expertly hammered into the bar’s copper backsplash:
Trop de n’importe quoi est mauvais, mais trop de bon whisky suffit à peine.
(Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.)