After such a long delay since my last post, I’m sure you’re thirsty for the alcoholic installment of my mini-series on the drinks of London and New Orleans.
Drinking in London. Drinking in New Orleans. Quite frankly, it’s hard to know where to start – both of those topics would give you enough material for several long shelves of books, so I’m going to confine myself to alcoholic drinks and drinking habits that have a special connection to either city and, where possible, both.
My hometown is the city of gin. It originates from the European mainland, but here we have our own special “London gin” – an especially excellent version of the beverage recognised by the EU that must, among other requirements, use high-quality alcohol, predominantly natural flavourings, and limited sugar. Top of my list of New Year activities for when my hangover passes is to visit the Sipsmith’s distillery in west London, now the only place to be making London gin in the city.
Gin has played no small part in London’s history. Traditionally the drink of the poor, it’s long been blamed for social problems in the city, depicted most famously in William Hogarth’s engraving Gin Lane. These days, now the vodka boom of the 1990s and 2000s has passed, there’s barely a Cosmopolitan or Moscow Mule in sight in London’s best bars. Instead they’re enthusiastically reclaiming gin as part of a wider trend for all things speakeasy, and just a little bit down and dirty, that the more complex of the two key cocktail spirits suits down to the ground.
Now we’re on to cocktails, I’d better mention New Orleans, which claims to be the birthplace and spiritual (sorry) home of these drinks. This claim is disputed, not least by some in London, but what can’t be denied is that New Orleans has a distinguished list of cocktails it can call its own.
But, although it’s not the case for the city’s most famous cocktail, the Sazerac, many alcholic concotions beloved in NOLA are linked to London through their use of gin. With the frothy and tropical Ramos Gin Fizz the link probably starts and ends there, but in the case of the Pimms Cup a real connection between the two cities is detectable.
The Cup is strongly associated with Napoleon House, and I understand that in New Orleans you think of it as your own. But we in London, and the UK as a whole, treasure this fruity treat, ideally served with cucumber sandwiches and strawberries and cream on a green lawn, as our quintessential summer drink.
Beyond these cocktails, I’d say mixed drinks in New Orleans are all about rum, bringing the city’s Caribbean connections to the fore. There’s the famous Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane, but whenever I’m in the city I like to drop by the Pirates Alley Café for a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, or a drink containing rum at least. And I was pretty excited to read recently that you can do tours of the New Orleans Rum Company distillery. Sadly, we make no rum in London, not really having the necessary climate for sugar cane, though we do have a large Caribbean population, and we certainly love to drink it.
Here are some things we now do in London however, if only recently, that I think of as crucial parts of the New Orleans drinking experience. Number one: cocktails on tap – we haven’t quite got to putting them in washing machines yet, but give us time. As a side note, I think there’s a long and rich history of links between doing laundry and drinking in New Orleans – think Checkpoint Charlies, Cosimo Matassa or even the Maple Leaf – and London too that I hope to explore more in the future.
Number two: go-cups, which I recently saw advertised in Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes, a bar near where I work though, thanks to our weather, we don’t have the same on-the-street drinking culture as New Orleans. Interestingly, like some of New Orleans’ best bars, Jaguar Shoes has gone from being fabric-focused to drinking den – the site used to host a womenswear importer.
Changes like these happen in every city, and how, where and what people drink are signs of the times. Therefore it’s significance that go-cups are being banned in Bywater and drinking is being heavily regulated in Dalston, my neighbourhood in London. More to come on this topic in a later post.
To end this one on a final toast to the rich heritage of drinking in both cities, I’d like to explain the picture that goes with this blog. It’s a glass from a vintage cocktail set I lugged back from my trip to New Orleans this summer. When I say lugged, I mean lugged – we’re talking hand luggage.
If you’re a skier, or a golfer, or if you have a family, you’re allowed to check in one extra piece of luggage to make your life more fun or easier – but not if you’re a single girl cocktail drinker. At least “single girl cocktail drinker” doesn’t often overlap with “terrorist” for those who use profiling techniques in airport security – otherwise I might have had to give up my beautiful glasses and accompanying carousel altogether as there are some potentially pretty dangerous pieces of metal and glass in there. Thanks for that at least, American Airlines. And for enduring that trip, I think I deserve a drink. Cheers!