Your Best Nights Begin Here
Tour New Orleans with Chris Hannah
The Best Nights section will take you on a local’s tour and journey through the eyes and personal experiences of artists, photographers, bloggers, musicians, etc., showcased in a different city every month. The month of July brings us to New Orleans, LA, where we meet living legend and industry icon Chris Hannah and tour the best nights of his beautiful city.
Tour of New Orleans with
Mr. Chris Hannah
Chris, thank you for joining us for the New Orleans edition of Behind the Shot. New Orleans is rich in history and fame for various reasons such as food, drink, music, parties, and much more! From your perspective, what makes New Orleans so special?
New Orleans is it's own play. Each day the curtains open for us to walk into our unique backdrop of oak trees and architecture and of course to the beat of our beloved music in the background. But what makes New Orleans so special to me is finding out we all get a role in the play. If you care about what makes us New Orleans, you get to be a character making the food or drinks, playing the music, and being a part of the party.
You're pretty much an icon in the NOLA bartending community. How did you get your start in the industry?
I got my first industry start working in the kitchen. Starting out in the dish-pit of two restaurants, I was in awe, watching the line knock it out, putting everything together in sync to complete each table's orders. I was then on the line 6 years before bar backing at a neighborhood bar. Bar backing evolved to bartending and eventually running a couple of bars.
New Orleans has a rich culinary community and deep history in cocktails and hospitality. Can you tell us what's so special about food and drink in Nola?
The thing about New Orleans and cocktails is the cocktail never died here. After WWII, when the "Mad Men" era moved everything to a lighter palate: light cigarettes, light beer, light flavor–sweeping the country from New York to California–New Orleans stayed put in its own full-mouthfeel bubble. Sazeracs didn't "come back" in New Orleans as they did in every city in the country (and the world, for the most part) in the early 2000s. They were here the whole time. Sazeracs have never left restaurant menus; same for Pimm's cups, milk Punches, the Ramos, Crustas, and the Vieux Carre. The same tone can be added to our food: baked oysters are always a thing, heavy sauces, and hot sauces, and when there wasn't a sauce, we blackened it. And what makes it so special is reading about how the city "celebrated" the restaurant workers and bartenders who've made names for themselves…celebrity chefs and bartenders and maître d's before there were "celebrity chefs/bartenders."
New Orleans is famous for its music as well. What are some things many don't know about the music scene?
It's cool to be in the school band here in New Orleans. Sadly, in other towns outside Louisiana, it is not as popular.
It's interesting to listen each day to WWOZ livewire to see who's playing where and stay amazed knowing the people in the band's versatility: one day they're in a Calypso band, a Zydeco one the next, then Trad Jazz and then Swing Jazz.
What are your favorite venues to watch live music?
Mahogany Hall is a special spot in the quarter. A long-time fan of DBA on Frenchmen. I like catching shows at BJ's in Bywater and Saturn Bar. Maple Leaf and Les Bon Temps are great spots uptown, and a secret gem is Dos Jeffes up that way as well, especially if you like cigars.
(But honestly, on the streets on a random Sunday sometimes can't be beaten)
I'm sure many are familiar with "Parades" through the quarter, better known as a Second Line. Can you talk about the history of the second line and what it means to the city?
History of the second lines comes from the sadly bigoted, Jim Crow south. Insurance companies in the south wouldn't cover Black Americans back then. So Black Americans took it upon themselves to form benevolent societies (Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs), which would take care of everyone who would join their neighborhoods. The "Second Line" term comes from the club's celebration of the spirit of a member who has passed away by way of a street parade as the casket was taken to the cemetery. The same club would hold an annual parade, colorful and proud, through their neighborhood (each club wanting to outdo the previous year's parade and party as well as that of other Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs). They want you to come; their outfits are amazing, they are the best-dressed people out that day in the whole city, and they want you to know it. They post their routes ahead of time so everyone knows.
But to the term "Second Line,"...the first line in the parade is the club royalty and family (each year, there is a king and queen, dukes, etc., representing the club). The party and parade are for them. The second line is the neighbors and friends celebrating, dancing, and following along (i.e., me and you if you're lucky).
What are Second Line Sundays? How would you best enjoy this?
Second Line Sundays, to me, are the Sundays from September to the end of May when a pleasure club has a scheduled second line. Their route is posted, and those who want to go will know where it starts, the stops along the way, and where it ends up.
I have had Sundays off for several years, so for me, Second Line Sundays is my own ritual. I know the route ahead of time and like to strategize which stop or two I want my day to look like. I usually choose a stop which would be at a neighborhood bar. The barbecues posted up at these stops are generally better, and besides–sometimes the stops are at their actual houses and even nail salons :). My favorites are on Saints away games; get to the bar to watch the game, hear the band arriving and run out to watch the scene, feel the vibe of the city and either leave w/ the parade or go back in to finish the game.
What is a king cake, and how do you get one outside the city?
King Cake is a Three Kings Cake you're supposed to eat on the 12th night (January 6th). The three kings are the Maggi and they're looking for Jesus and that's what the baby is supposed to signify in the cake. You're supposed to eat King Cake through the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday). There were different versions of the cake, and obviously, the cinnamon dough became the most popular for a place to make because it was the quickest and held up a decent amount of time as well. But King Cake is a special time, and there are so many amazing King Cakes to try. If I were to order one, I would get Meche's from Lafayette; their UPS store down the street has everything ready for it. Randazzo's from New Orleans ships as well.
New Orleans has had its rough times, especially in recent years with Hurricanes, Covid. How has this affected the community as a city that relies heavily on tourism? How has the city bounced back stronger and let people fall in love all over with NOLA?
I had the unique opportunity to have been in the New Orleans restaurant community before Katrina and watched us bounce back and rebuild the city. In my generation, those years were the most important to have ever been a New Orleanian, but the community coming together, working together, and feeding each other to get thru Covid safely is something I'm so proud of. New Orleans' restaurant industry already had a healthy competition, and I think everyone has always enjoyed this. So, when people saw on the socials the number of our restaurants and bars helping each other, co-hosting dinners, and other collaborations, I believe we've re-tempted visitors to come back to enjoy our hospitality.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Jägermeister in the US, known as an industry nightcap or the original bartender's handshake. First poured at Fritzel's Jazz Club, what is your favorite Jägermeister drink?
Cocktail: Ranh-Dezvous Carre
- ½ part Jägermeister
- 1 part Rye
- ¾ part Cognac
- ½ part Cocchi di Torino
- 2 dash angostura
Glass: Old Fashioned
Garnish: Lemon peel & cherry
Method: Stirred & strained into a chilled glass.
If a visitor had one day to explore New Orleans, what would be your ideal day out? Where and what to eat or drink and sightsee? Any hidden gems only a local would know?
If the day started at 8 am, I would take the Ferry to Algiers and grab coffee at Congregation. Ferrying across the river is a great way to view the city and the quarter; also, Algiers Point is a charming neighborhood to walk around w/ said coffee. Ferry back and walk to the Historic New Orleans Collection to see what local exhibit is being shown. Locals need to go to HNOC more often. Then take a cab to the Lower Garden District and eat at Turkey and the Wolf or Stein's or Tracey's. Walk around the Garden District and remember the cemetery closes at 2:30. Take a nap. Get on the streetcar and have a drink at the Chloe Hotel; walk two blocks if you're up for another drink and view at the Columns Hotel. Both are beautiful mansions turned Guest Houses w/ proper drink and food programs on St Charles Avenue (you might even see me jogging by). Get back on the streetcar, get off at Webster Street, and walk to Clancey's for dinner. Gumbo, Oysters w/ Brie, Pork chop or Redfish, Lemon Ice Box Pie. Then walk to Dos Jeffes for Jazz, nightcap, and Cigar.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Chris Hannah has bartended in the French Quarter for over 17 years. He ran the French 75 Bar for 14 of those and won the James Beard Award for outstanding bar program in 2017. In 2018, Hannah co-founded a Cuban bar on Dumaine Street. In 2019, he opened Jewel of the South on St Louis Street, where he leads the restaurant’s innovative bar program. Under Hannah’s leadership, the cocktail program is decidedly modern yet steeped in history. Each drink is prepared with reference, and each ingredient is selected with intention.