Neal Bodenheimer is a former history major, an entrepreneur, and a lifelong New Orleanian—his great-grandfather moved to the city at the turn of the last century. All those facts converge in late October with the publication of Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ’Em, a lavish cocktail book Bodenheimer coauthored with the food and drink writer Emily Timberlake.
The tome features dozens of thirst-provoking recipes, layered with essays that explore the history and drinking culture of New Orleans, along with the stories behind iconic drinks. One could make a convincing argument that New Orleans is the historic drinking capital of the known world, making Cure essential reading for anyone who understands that cocktails are more than the sum of their ingredients.
“We wanted to write something about New Orleans in a way that people a hundred years from now could understand our contemporary cocktail culture,” Bodenheimer says. “It was important for me to get this down—this is what was happening at this time, and this is how we got here.”
Bodenheimer named the book after his flagship bar, which opened in 2009. The subtitle nods to a 1937 book by Stanley Clisby Arthur called Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ’Em. This is wholly appropriate, as the older book in part served as a blueprint for the New Orleans cocktail revival of recent years—for which Bodenheimer acted as lead architect.
After opening Cure, which won the James Beard Award for outstanding bar program in 2018, he and his partners launched Cane & Table (a rum-focused tropical bar) and Peychaud’s (classic cocktails), both in the French Quarter, along with Vals (agave spirits and Mexican fare) in a reclaimed gas station uptown. He also launched the short-lived and much-lamented Bellocq, a bar with a quirky focus on cobblers and other obscure drinks of the nineteenth century. (“It was so stupid,” he says, “but it was also great.”)
Putting together the book was a pandemic project—Bodenheimer worked on it nearly daily with Timberlake (who is based in California), sifting through research, reviewing a decade’s worth of cocktail recipes, and rendering selected drinks accessible for home bartenders. For a busy bar owner suddenly sidelined, the endeavor became a godsend. “I’m pretty sure it kept me sane,” Bodenheimer says.
One of the featured recipes, the Union Jack Rose, originated with an early partner at Cure, Kirk Estopinal (also a New Orleans native). A riff on an apple brandy classic called the Jack Rose, the cocktail includes equal measures of apple brandy and London dry gin (hence the “Union Jack,” if you have to ask), along with lime juice, grenadine, and orange bitters. It’s considered a “split base” drink—built on two very different spirits—an approach that wasn’t common when Cure first opened (though has since become standard at craft bars). “But the mint in the shaker makes the drink,” Estopinal says. “I remember some staff were nonbelievers in how a small touch could really alter a drink. So we did a comparison with and without a couple of mint leaves—it was a great moment in understanding subtlety.”
Customers, it turned out, also appreciated the nuance—the cocktail became one of Cure’s first “runaway hits,” Bodenheimer says. And while he appreciates a classic Jack Rose, he puts forth the proposition in his book that the modern variation is “even better than the original.” I’m inclined to agree.