Holiday Gift Guide

Tales of the Cocktail Recap Part 1
Tales of the Cocktail Recap Part 2

New Orleans is perhaps most famous for its great food and rich musical tradition. They're what folks often point to as the most tangible markers of a New Orleans culture that's sometimes too intangible to define. So despite a schedule packed with seminars and events at Tales of the Cocktail, I knew I couldn't return to NY without checking out two people who represent the food and music of the Big Easy like no other: John Besh and Kermit Ruffins, respectively.



The Spirited Dinner is a tradition at Tales in which many of New Orleans' most prestigious restaurants pair up with guest mixologists from around the country to create special prix fixe menus with cocktail pairings. The many interesting combinations of notable chefs and mixologists make it very difficult to choose which Spirited Dinner to attend, especially since they're all at different establishments and for one night only.

In the end I chose August, helmed by John Besh, whose cooking has now practically made him a household name, having made appearances on shows like Iron Chef America and HBO's Treme, to name a few. I've wanted to sample his fare for quite a long time, and this was my opportunity.  The cocktail pairings were handled by Ted Haigh aka Dr. Cocktail, whose Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails won a Spirited Award for "Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book" at this year's Tales; and Rob Cooper, owner of Cooper Spirits, which produces everyone's favorite liqueur, St. Germain Elderflower.

The Menu


Riviera Sunrise - Dubonnet Rouge, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, champagne

First Course
Crawfish and cockscombs “happy” pancakes

Paired with:
Common Man's Reviver - Cachaçha, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, Herbsaint Original, lemon juice, tonic water


Second Course
Sweet corn and crab spring roll

Paired with:
Miracle Cocktail - Cachaça, Dubonnet Rouge, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, Angostura regular and orange bitters

Third Course
Hot buns, pork belly, miso, and fig

Paired with:
Pork Futures Cocktail - Bourbon, Dubonnet Rouge, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, Benedictine, lemon juice, Angostura regular and orange bitters


Fourth Course
Local veal breast & sweetbread saam

Paired with:
The Magic Hour - Plymouth gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon juice, lemon twist

Fifth Course
Blueberry, peach, and white chocolate ice cream sandwiches

Paired with:
Crème Yvette and French press coffee

Never having tried actual cockscomb before (you know, those ornamental things roosters wear on their heads), I was surprised that the first course turned out to be my favorite. Of the cocktails the Magic Hour--being a simple St. Germain flavored twist on the classic gin sour--was by far the best.


Kermit Ruffins_01

Once the mouth was happy, it was time to bring some happiness to the ears, so we headed out to Vaughan's where Kermit Ruffins and his Barbecue Swingers Band have been putting down legendary performances every Thursday night since the early 90s. And just in case you're coming hungry, Kermit always prepares some good grub gratis--often bbq, this time two huge pots of red beans and rice.

Those are some of the attributes that's made Kermit so beloved, both locally and among Jazz fans across the globe. I can't think of another musician--of Jazz or any other genre--that so effortlessly bridges the gap from Louis Armstrong to modern Hip Hop, playing standards one minute, then putting down the trumpet in the next to grab the microphone and kick a freestyle rap worthy of beatboxing to, all while stoned or about to be.  Oh, and by the way, there's no stage at Vaughan's. It's just Kermit and his band playing right in front of you and others who've come to listen to a living legend. I even spotted cocktail historian David Wondrich nodding his head in cadenced approval during one of Kermit's raps.

Kermit Ruffins_07

I also had my not-of-drinking-age brother-in-law--wow that's a lot of hyphens--with me in New Orleans, and although he couldn't partake in most of the Tales-related events, the vibe at Vaughan's was so cool and welcoming that it wasn't even an issue. And Kermit played his ass off so well I had to give him one of my extra cigars.

Kermit Ruffins_03

To say that Vaughan's was an enjoyable place would be one of the understatements of the year. The place had the atmosphere that all the trendy faux dives in NY and elsewhere try to duplicate with invariable failure. Unpretentious, great music, and bartenders with good conversation and a generous pour, Vaughan's is on my permanent list of places I'll visit every time I'm in New Orleans, especially on a Thursday night.

Below is a video from that night, with Kermit doing what he does best. However as you can see there's not much to see, so I recommend you treat it more as audio than video, as the combination of poor lighting, a crappy camera, and a drunk cameraman didn't make for great visuals. But the sound bleeding from that trumpet... oh he's a bad bad man.

Check back tomorrow for Part 4 of my recap of Tales of the Cocktail.

*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.
Column: Happy Hour


  • Pay- Awesome post!

    VEAL SAAM? Great to see Besh mixing it up. Love it.

    I think I’m traumatized by St. Germain for a while— we put it in EVERY DRINK at my work. Still need to play around with that Creme Yvette.

    The video captures the mood perfectly. It’s so noir. Ha! What a night!

    kayoko on

  • Yeah you’re exactly right about St. Germain. Every half-ass joint in NY has a St. Germain & Prosecco drink on their menu, precisely b/c it’s so difficult to fuck up.

    It was like the hot thing of last year to put St. Germain in everything. Personally I don’t hate on it, but it’s definitely been overused.

    Paystyle on

  • Even though we didn’t capture much video, the audio reminds me of what a great time we had that night. I’ve already started my own count down for next year’s TOTC 350 days left!

    Vanessa Bahmani on

  • Yeah, honestly, I’d go back just for the chance to repeat even slightly that Thursday night at Vaughan’s.

    Paystyle on

  • Vanessa- I’ll be meeting you there next year for sure!

    kayoko on

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