Your Best Nights Begin Here
Explore New Orleans with Nicholas Jarrett
The Best Nights section will take you on a local’s tour through the eyes and personal experiences of artists, photographers, bloggers, musicians, etc., showcased in a different city every month. In July, we tour New Orleans with Nicholas Jarrett who shows us how to have the best nights of our lives in his favorite neighborhood.
Scroll down to take a tour with Nicholas.
Tell us about your journey through the hospitality industry.
I got bitten by the bartending bug when I was in the very early 00s as a young adult, and I went all in — cruised the Internet forums, made a point of hitting every spirits festival I caught wind of, bartending school. Initially got a gig barbacking at a busy hotel lounge in Philadelphia with a cocktail slant, where I worked my way up & down the bar ladder. Eventually I parlayed my involvement in the industry into opening a couple of the first major cocktail bars in town, while working between there and New York. Over time I realized that while I had a deep appreciation for the history and technical aspects of craft cocktails, I had real love for the intersection of volume and culture. When the owner of one of the best bars in New Orleans told me he’d give me a shift if I lived in town, I pulled up stakes and headed down to pick up some happy hour shifts. Here, I split my time the last decade and changed between late night rock and roll party bars while keeping one foot in the cocktail business with Curacao — opening bars in both worlds and assisting a couple other groups along the way. As of this year, I’m excited to build a new bar of my own that straddles the same line. It is opening this month.
If you only had one day to spend in your city, what are the top 5 things you must see or do?
That’s a tough question. New Orleans is a place that rewards many visits. Like any great city, it’s got a different face to show each time. There’s majestic nature and art to be seen, we fairly ooze history, it should go without saying that our music and food are unique treasures. That said, you got one day in town, clearly the French quarter is the place to be. Locals tend to talk down on it, and perhaps it’s accrued a somewhat justifiable reputation over the years, but it’s a distillation of the city. Grab some iced coffee — chicory or frozen Irish, as you like it — and walk around the residential stretches with the Vieux Carre Virtual Library on a phone, going down historical rabbit holes whenever a building grabs your eye (just keep one eye on the sidewalk, we’re not famous for even ones). It’s unquestionably the best neighborhood in the country for casual day drinking — where else can you drink absinthe at a dive bar cafe table within touching distance of a cathedral’s walls? Take in the passerby and performers and artists in Jackson Square, and marvel at how far away from the chaos the right corners of the park itself are. Then, at night, take in a block or two of the chaos on Bourbon: it’s a mess, but a glorious one. These days, some of the best cocktail bars around are just within a block or two of the pandemonium.
Tell us about your first experience with Jägermeister and your favorite way to consume it today.
Well, this isn’t my first experience, just my most memorable — when I was new-ish to drinking I spent a lot of time frequenting one specific after hours spot in Philadelphia, the oldest press club in the country which just so happened to offer reciprocal admission to service industry workers. One of the bartenders there had a favorite 80s era shooter, a mix of Jägermeister and high proof peppermint schnapps, and if you were there late enough and it was quiet enough, he might just pour you one and tell you the story of the one that got away. Same story every time, and he’d really lean into it — I can still picture him wiping a tear from his eye. Got to over the years I’d catch him and call for one, and if he didn’t remember me that night, he’d go back into the story. That’s something powerful there, when a bartender can pass along a powerful emotional connection to a drink in the early, early hours of the morning to the last person in the bar. I’ve poured a lot of those shooters over the years, and every time I think of that bartender.
Tell us how to have the ‘Best Night of your Life’ in your city from your perspective.
Per above, I’m a sucker for the French quarter, and especially my favorite couple of blocks — lower Decatur Street. You’ve got it all, storied restaurants and jazz halls, rock and roll venues, the grittiest dives, classy dining, two world class tropical cocktail bars, late night food, vintage shopping, coffeehouses. I have spent entire days on that stretch and maintain that it represents everything I love about urban life in the quarter. Start with some coffee in the daytime — there’s coffeeshop that offers ‘breakfast in a go cup,’ which is just what it sounds like, and nearly every bartender I know in the neighborhood has grabbed on their way into work many times. Check out the weird little idiosyncratic junk shops. Grab some lunch at one of the old school spots, just look for whoever has the longest wait to get in. Check out some of the earlier opening spots, have some Cuban style daiquiris, before moving on to schedule the schedule at the music venues and find somewhere to check out. Then later, go hit up one of the older dive bars at the heart of the stretch — bring cash, they don’t do cards. Be polite and aware of your surroundings, but if you’re chill and keep an open mind you can expect to make some fascinating new friends.