“See that painting,” says Crystal Hinds, pointing to a canvas on the far wall of her French Quarter “bubbles and bites” spot, Effervescence, and winner of Eater’s 2017 Bar of the Year. The painting by local artist Anna Kincaide depicts a handsome man in a natty suit, a composition that manages to look both classic and modern at once. “I saw it with a friend in a gallery on Royal Street before we opened the bar,” Hinds explains, “before I even imagined what the space would look like. But when I saw that painting, I knew and I told her, ‘That is how I want Effervescence to feel.”
It would prove a prophetic vision. Hinds, who lives in the French Quarter, came across a “for lease” sign on a center hall cottage while strolling on Rampart Street. Despite an interior that had been blocked off into sound booths in a previous life for WWL, Hinds saw its potential. The resulting transformation remains true to the painting that inspired it: a clean and contemporary effect that doesn’t lose sight of the building’s architectural roots. Bold chandeliers evoke bubbles while crisp, white walls and banquettes line the perimeter. A pale gold lame bar anchors the space in a subtle nod to Champagne itself.
From the start, Hinds understood she’d need to position Effervescence as distinct from the scores of other French Quarter bars nearby. Located within staggering distance of cocktail-centric Bar Tonique as well as beer mecca The Black Penny, Effervescence focusses on sparkling wines -- not exclusively Champagne -- but whose wide net leaves space for varieties from plenty of other regions and countries, including Spain, Italy, Germany and relative newcomer to the scene, Great Britain. Hinds sees this variety as essential; it allows for different price points and thus demographics. “Champagne is expensive. I want locals to be able to afford to come here on a regular basis,” she explains. “It’s the philosophy here: Celebrate every day.”
While Hinds’ spot is undoubtedly an elegant space, it’s also one that remains approachable. Touches of Parisian glamour -- from high ceilings to crisp white banquettes and woven rattan chairs to candlelit marble table tops -- easily lend themselves to a romantic tête-à-tête or post-opera digestif; however, Hinds insists that her bar remain true to its vision of an unfussy old-meets-new neighborhood spot where locals can wander in for a round. These include her own husband, whom she notes, routinely pulls up a barstool while clad in his favorite Alabama sweatshirt and cap.
Indeed a quick look around the tables on a warm Friday afternoon yields much the same effect, with shorts and sneakers far outweighing dresses and button downs. Meanwhile a decidedly un-snooty wait staff dresses in comfortable street clothes, jeans and t-shirts or plaid flannels, and take an easy-going, conversational tone when helping to direct customers towards flavor profiles. And Effervescence’s space itself is designed to suggest flexibility and impromptu gatherings: Customers have a choice of sitting around the center bar, at a table, on the sofa or in the back courtyard with its view of the glass-walled kitchen. The bar also hosts the occasional classic movie night.
In addition to bottles, themed flights, and glasses, Effervescence offers half-pours that encourage low stakes experimentation; weekdays until 6 p.m., select glasses run just $5. Aside from straight pours, the bar’s original, rotating menu of “bubbles and troubles” cocktails, all of which involve sparkling wine of one sort of another, has proven more popular than even Hinds imagined, including the playful prosecco pop (a house-made popsicle and glass of bubbly from the tap for dipping). This spring’s line-up emphasizes fruit flavors, like fresh local strawberries in the aptly named Ponchatoula fizz or mango and lime notes in the tequila and brut combo, “Not Your Aperol Spritz.”
Meanwhile Hinds keeps the beer selection purposefully slim. “Every once in a while, I get a customer who just wants beer,” she says, “and I send him down the street to Black Penny. Hopefully, if they get someone who wants sparkling, they’ll do the same for me.”
However, there’s no doubt that Effervescence’s lack of formality also stems from Hinds’ persona as a well-traveled, but untrained, self-taught sparkling aficionado who’s not embarrassed to admit an ongoing relationship with Champagne for Dummies. (She gives all staff a copy). In an industry where many local professionals launch careers while still in their twenties or even grow up in family-owned restaurants, Hinds, now in her late forties, has arrived to hospitality late, having spent the last decades devoted to raising a family and helping her husband in his ventures.
She credits her children, now grown, for pushing her to follow her passions: sparkling wine and well-crafted food, loves born from decades of international travel and home entertaining. “Here I was having told them to follow their dreams. So when they asked me, Mom, when are you finally going to open your own place, how could I not follow my own example?” Four years of focussed travel and subject research followed. Hinds also gives credit where its due, to sommelier Bodhi Landa, who in addition to helping craft the cellar, has launched a monthly series of wine classes. A sparkling paired, multi-course dinner is in the works for summer.
And while Eater honored Effervescence as 2017’s best new bar, it would be a serious oversight not to mention the exceptional handiwork of co-chefs (and lovebirds) Evan Ingram and Brenna Sanders. Both worked Michelin-starred stints in San Francisco before redirecting their technical prowess and returning to New Orleans, where both had lived before and where Hinds discovered them slinging their wares at their pop-up, L’Americane.
Ingram and Sanders’ highly technical menu of “bites” not only aims to compliment a host of sparkling wines but emphasizes regional produce and seafood. It’s a refreshing approach, one that stands in opposition to the typical, heavy batter and fried bar preparations. Rather the chef duo favors freshness, brightness, and detail. While complex and deeply flavorful, Ingram and Sanders’ plates never cover or lose sight of the original taste or texture of the ingredients.
Case in point: Effervescence’s signature “Seafood Plateau”: a seasonal array that does in fact, elevate the typical seafood platter with nary a dark brown item in sight: Royal Red shrimp, Murder Point oysters, snapper ceviche, West Indies crab salad -- each accompanied by a unique sauce (here, Ingram and Sanders expand flavors to include more international touches like Harissa and Peruvian peppers)-- as well as Cajun Caviar. It’s all presented in a pristine white bowl, an aesthetic so meticulous it verges on a Japanese style. The menu allows for both sampling but also for combing together plates for a substantial meal. Ingram and Sanders’ earnest devotion to their craft is evidenced by considered, unusual combinations that value quality ingredients and scrutiny more than flash and easy answers.
Now starting its second year, Hinds is no longer a complete greenhorn, but still new enough to remain on the learning curve. She tastes every bottle, a first hand knowledge key to communicating with customers. Most evenings, she makes a point of doing exactly that -- making the rounds and establishing personal connections with the clientele, whether initiating the new and undecided or plying savvy veterans looking for something unusual, such as Hinds’ favorite sparkling flight, “the Femme Fatale”, named in honor of three French female champagne producers.
When asked what makes the difference between a good bar and a great one, Hinds is fairly quick to answer. “Hospitality and knowing the menu. This is what I try to bring to the table. It’s about finding out what the customer wants and being able to meet them. It’s about their experience, not ours, no matter what it takes, no matter what’s happening behind the scenes with the plumbing or in the kitchen. Amazingly, night after night we manage to do this.”