Morning Drinking Preserves an Old NOLA Tradition
We New Orleanians rarely appreciate our flexible drinking laws until we try to drink in other cities. We chafe at early closing times, and balk at locales that ban drinking on Sundays. And don’t get us started on dry counties.
But there’s another perk to living and drinking in New Orleans we take for granted: drinking in a bar in the morning.
Morning drinking is not to be confused with having a little hair of the dog to cure a hangover. For most folks, morning drinking often follows a night of the same, but some of the best morning drinking commences from a place of stone cold sobriety with no intention of getting drunk.
Until the 20th century, most mornings began with a mug of ale or cider. Water supplies were often tainted, while beer and hard cider were sources of safe, tasty calories. When the agrarian pace of the Western world was replaced by the frenetic tempo of the industrial revolution, workers abandoned their morning beer in favor of the caffeinated jolt of coffee. Here in New Orleans, it is easy to return to the 18th-century mode of greeting the day, ignoring the insistent tug of email and the screech of news channels while instead sipping leisurely on a morning pint.
Polly Watts, the owner of the Avenue Pub, favors fruit lambics or Berliner Weisse to greet the day. She finds them “refreshing, well carbonated, with a bit of fruity (but not sweet) niceness that fits breakfast.” They’re low enough in alcohol that you don’t get drunk early in the day. The Avenue Pub also offers a variety of hard ciders, another popular 18th-century choice. If you can’t give up your morning joe, they carry two very intense coffee stouts by Mikkeller, called, appropriately enough, Beer Geek Brunch and Beer Geek Breakfast.
If beer isn’t your tipple, the iconic Brandy Milk Punch is a solid choice. Tivoli and Lee’s Kimberly Patton Bragg created its apotheosis, The Cereal Killer, in which she replaces regular milk with the tasty goodness at the bottom of a cereal bowl before pairing it with bourbon. The hardest part of creating the drink, Bragg says, was finding the right cereal to create the sugary flavor (Honey Smacks filled the bill). The blend of childhood nostalgia and grown-up booze makes for a conquering salute to the day.
For imbibers looking for something beyond the ubiquitous Mimosa, Bragg recommends the Seelbach and the Black Velvet. Both champagne-based libations go down easy—and the inky color of a Black Velvet makes it a spiritous stand-in for java.
Bragg starts her own morning drinking with either champagne or a Mexican michelada beer cocktail and appreciates that “there’s no stigma in New Orleans to drinking at any time of the day.” She cautions, however, that no one should be doing shots first thing in the morning “unless you are a bartender.” Then, it’s just part of the job.
Many of those enjoying an early drink are those are vacationing in New Orleans. For those who work the night shift, or weekends, or any schedule beyond the customary 9-to-5, “happy hour” may start at 9am and “Saturdays” may fall on Tuesdays. If that’s the case, the best morning drink deal any day of the week is at the Erin Rose.
The Rose opens daily at 10am, and patrons who stop there on Thursday and Friday mornings are welcomed by the winning smile of Rhiannon Enlil. “When you visit a bar that’s been open since the night before, you are apt to be drinking with people wasted from the night before. But when the Rose opens at 10am, it’s a fresh start for everyone.”
“We can have an off-the-clock bartender, a retired judge, and a visitor all drinking together. Everyone is saying good morning.” One great appeal to Enlil about the morning crowd is that “neighborhood bars can play the role of the town square, where people network, share news and gossip. In the daytime, the Rose is just like that.”
Wake Up and Live specials at the Rose, available daily from 10am to 2pm, are available for under $5. They include basics like the Bloody Mary, Mimosa, Screwdriver, and Irish Coffee, either hot and frozen. The Pancake Shot is also a popular order.
The biggest misconception most folks have about day drinking is that it only happens on your day off or that the goal is to get drunk. But all three bartenders stress that this shouldn’t be the case. In New Orleans we don’t blink when people order a drink during a working lunch, because we know they will still be able to do their job. Who’s to say that drinking with breakfast is any different?
A morning tot may be just what is needed to jumpstart your day and get your creative juices flowing. Perhaps you can even do a bit of work in the bar, as authors have done for centuries. At that hour, a saloon is likely to be less boisterous than your local coffee shop.
With a nod to history, the tranquil pace of our city, and New Orleans’ easy relationship with imbibing, go ahead and order that morning drink.