While living in Portland for several years, bartender Ricky Gomez was put in touch with the Provenance Hotel team through a friend, and they stayed in touch. He wasn't looking to necessarily take on an entire new bar himself, but when the Provenance team gave Gomez a chance to build a bar and cocktail program at chef Nina Compton's anticipated Compère Lapin inside the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, he couldn't resist.
Back in town since July, the NOLA native has been working at Cure (he was on the opening staff) on weekends, while quietly preparing what is certain to be the biggest bar program debut in New Orleans this year. The expansive spirits selection will have an emphasis on rums, and the cocktails—ranging from riffs on classics to exotic influences—will range from $9 to $12. The full food menu will be available at the bar, and there will be a happy hour too.
While the menu is still under wraps, here now Gomez tells Eater NOLA what to expect when chef Nina Compton's Warehouse District stunner opens its doors open on June 2.
The cocktail bar is essentially bookended by the raw bar at one end—overlooking the dining room—and the coffee bar, which overlooks the lobby and features pastries from Compere Lapin's pastry chef Danny Alas.
"It's a large bar space," Gomez notes. "We will have over a dozen seats at the bar and a high top in the middle, so communal stand up tables."
"We may do block ice in the future, but it takes a lot of effort to do that..." The bar has Hoshizaki ice machines for cubed and crushed ice.
There's a definite emphasis on refreshing drinks and classics—riffs on the Pimm's Cup, Old Fashioned, and whiskey sour.
"When I was coming up with the drink menu there was inspiration not only from St. Lucia [where Compton is from] but classic cocktails. This is the birth place of drinks like the Sazerac, the Ramos Gin Fizz, the crusta...but the Pimm's Cup is famous here as well, so we have a variation of a Pimm's Cup. It's a bit of a Swan song to New Orleans flavors. There's some Vietnamese inspiration on the menu, because the Vietnamese culture here is very strong." Gomez counts Tan Dinh and Ph Bang as his favorite Vietnamese spots.
WINE & BEER
There are eight beer taps with Abita Root Beer and a carbonated coconut water too. "" and if somebody wants a nonalcoholic option as well. There are about 20 wines by the glass, selected by Compton, for perfect pairing with the food. Besides the taps, another 16-20 beers available in bottles.
"I'm looking to do a mixture of some local and some non-local. I like the new Amber that NOLA Brewing just came out with, and I'm excited to carry it. There are some other amazing breweries from around the country. I like to be able to spread it out."
THE BAR TEAM
"We have Abigail Gullo. Zac [Augustin], who used to work at Rob Roy in Seattle, and has been working at Kingfish. And we have a couple apprentices that we'll be bringing up. I believe in training new bartenders, and having people come up through the ranks I like to be able to find young people with a really good work ethic and who are excited about making drinks. They gotta learn from somewhere."
While Gomez has created the opening menu by himself, the bar staff will all contribute to the drinks list as they get warmed up. "We're not taking ourselves too seriously. We just want to have fun and make really good drinks."
"There won't be a pistachio cocktail. There will be an avocado cocktail. I will do a shandy because I love shandies. There will be a bottled cocktail, so I guess that's a trend that's going. And we do have our carbonated coconut water on tap (though it's not a cocktail on tap). There will be a clarified milk punch, with my own spin on it. And there will be a vodka cocktail. I'm not an anti-vodka guy."
One thing you likely won't see here, lots of seasonal drink menus: "I think a trend in bartending is menus change over a little too quickly sometimes. I want my guests to be able to experience a cocktail more than once."
The happy hour at Compere Lapin will feature discounts on wine and beer and a select group of cocktails.
"I would love for happy hour to be busy here. We're in the middle of the Warehouse District downtown. We're going to streamline a lot of the cocktails to make sure there's no long wait times. That's another frustrating thing about craft drinks. Production sometimes takes priority over speed of service. But speed of service will be our first priority getting cocktails out."