Photo: Bartender in New Orleans

Cocktail alchemist Murf Reeves shakes up a Ramos gin fizz at Sylvain’s bar.

Photograph by Krista Rossow

By Wayne Curtis

Half a dozen years ago I flew to New Orleans on a research trip. I arrived at my hotel early in the evening, then immediately set out to hunt up some of that fabled New Orleans fare—maybe étouffée, or a po’boy. But first, a cocktail.

I walked into a handsome, old-fashioned bar a couple of blocks from my hotel and ordered a drink. Long story short: The bar was wonderful, the drinks sublime, the bartender amiable, the company superb, the night long. It wasn’t until midnight that I finally wandered down Canal Street, hoping the Popeye’s I had seen from the airport cab was still open.

The evening’s episode confirmed some of my preconceptions about the Crescent City—that it’s more or less designed and managed for the continuous consumption of adult beverages. The next day I made another, less publicized discovery: New Orleans is also perfectly crafted for what writer George Ade called “the cold, gray dawn of the morning after.”

The morning after, as anyone who has suffered a hangover knows, can be filled with jagged edges. The light is too glaring, noises too loud, one’s life too rushed. Every sound reverberates painfully in your head. A hangover is intensely lonely, the precise opposite of social drinking. Indeed, other people you encounter may even mock you, imprisoned as you are in an uncomfortable cell of your own making.

New Orleans mornings, to their credit, utterly lack sharp edges. They often appear swaddled in a soft, humid haze that blunts the unwelcome rays of the sun, which are further filtered through the cast-iron railings of the French Quarter. The sounds are of distant horses quietly clip-clopping as they pull tourist carriages and of freshly watered plants drip-dropping through their hanging baskets on the balconies above.

The city, famous for its Creole and Cajun cuisine, has evolved its own restorative for the morning after. Instead of the usual mimosa (too bubbly) or Bloody Mary (too spicy), the hair of the dog here is the creamy Ramos gin fizz. I discovered this that first rude morning, when I took refuge in the Carousel Bar, by the lobby in the Hotel Monteleone. I was served the ethereal gin-based cocktail, a drink that is shaken into a curative froth, conjuring childhood fantasies of what medicine should taste like. Also, the bar here—an actual carousel—slowly spins, which is oddly comforting, with one rotation (actual) somehow offsetting the other (perceived).

Note that you needn’t go to special places in New Orleans to find Ramos gin fizzes or equally refreshing brandy milk punches. They’re served pretty much anywhere that does both breakfast and cocktails—including Brennan’s Restaurant, which is where I made my way to next.

To salvage something from my hangover day I would need ballast and sustenance. Brennan’s specializes in eggs slathered in rich sauces served on things like Holland rusks and artichokes. It’s as if a plate of eggs Benedict awoke one morning, decided it just wasn’t showy enough, and tried on extravagant new outfits. The eggs Sardou I ordered came out in two rounded, comforting heaps atop creamed spinach. They looked to me like a pair of large Valium on a plate.

For those who don’t understand the appeal of such elaborate, multicourse breakfasts, Brennan’s may be the place to change your mind. The venerable eatery has turned the morning meal into a rococo art form, where the food becomes the equivalent of an ornate chapel ceiling. The experience may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but stay with it and it will ultimately prove very soothing—all the more so if you are in a fugue state.

One has to applaud the genius of a city that provides not only a complication but its resolution. Clearly, the wise old streets of New Orleans had much to teach me. So, shortly after that fateful trip six years ago, I packed up and moved to the city. I was right. I still learn something new nearly every day.

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