- Ellen Byron
A Star Mixologist Talks NOLA Cocktails
Updated: Jul 27, 2020
My good friend, D. Max Maxey, who's one of Los Angeles' most popular mixologists, just returned from New Orleans and Tales of the Cocktail, the world's premier cocktail festival. Max, famous for his Old-Fashioneds and classics, currently works his spirit magic at The Chestnut Club in Santa Monica and the Alibi in Culver City. Raised all over the South, he describes himself as a man "with a penchant for denim and strong whiskey."
Here are his terrific answers to a few questions I threw at him, including the all-important reveal of where he likes to toss back a few when he visits the Crescent City.
What draws you to New Orleans?
I love the city’s love for parties, get-togethers, good food, and good music. New Orleans loves to celebrate.The French Quarter is touristy – but unlike other touristy spots in the US that put on something for the tourists, NOLA is having the party and invites the tourists to come along.
What do you find interesting about the city's history with mixed drinks?
New Orleans has a legitimate hold in cocktail history. They celebrate Absinthe, Peychauds, bitters, the Sazerac, and the Ramos Gin Fizz.
What makes NOLA different from any other city in the country? (Or possibly the world?)
NOLA is the only place in America and in the world that is equal parts big city, southern charm and French influence. I just got off the plane from Tales of the Cocktail in NOLA and it’s wonderful to see all the cocktails from all over the world influencing the local flavor.
Did you know that the Louisiana legislature declared the Sazerac the official cocktail of New Orleans? What do you think about that?
I did know. There’s also a great story about Huey P. Long, who was spending a lot of time at the New Yorker and flew in his favorite bartender from New Orleans on the taxpayer's dime to teach the bartenders in NYC how to make a proper Ramos.
What's your favorite NOLA cocktail?
Hands down, the Sazerac is my favorite. It is argued to be the oldest cocktail – it’s not – but it has that classic form of spirit, water, bitters, sugar. I love the rye version, but the brandy is the original. They had to switch from brandy when it became too hard to get during the wine shortage in France in the mid-1800s caused by the phylloxera virus. In the United States, brandy got very expensive, so some drinks moved to American whiskeys. Side note: it's thought that because phylloxera virus made wine scarce, wine producers helped spread rumors about absinthe because it was taking over their business.
What are some of your favorite NOLA bars and why?
Although I love the cocktail scene, when I’m in New Orleans, I tend to want to get down and dirty. I love Jake & Snake’s Christmas Bar, DBA for live music and great spirit selection, and Aunt Tiki’s which does not serve Tiki drinks but you get a really good shot of Jim Beam in a plastic cup for five bucks.
On your recent trip, did you discover a particularly exciting drink and/or bar?
My newest favorite that I discovered on this trip is the Golden Lantern. I wondered in because of the live music and cheap beer but stayed for the drag show and the promise of free pizza.
A big thanks to Max for sharing his insights into the Big Easy's spirit scene. Nola fans, what are you favorite bars in the city? I'll start - mine is Lafitte's Blacksmith shop. Now, your turn!