A Madly Stylish Party in New Orleans
I love my jobor should I say jobs? For the past three years, I've worn the smartest early-1960s suits and skinny ties as Salvatore Romano on AMC's hit series Mad Men. A typical day on the set might require me to drink four or five martinis or Manhattans. Well, I'll admit, they aren't real drinks. A TV martini is water with an olive in it, and a TV Manhattan is tea with a maraschino cherry. I learned a valuable lesson while filming the pilot: Don't eat those cherries. After 50 takes and 50 cherries, red dye practically dripped from my ears.
© Paul Costello
My other job is in my hometown of New Orleans: I co-own a home-furnishings shop on Magazine Street called Hazelnut, which means I'm always on the hunt for beautiful design. I'm also constantly adding pieces to my own personal collection and using them for cocktail parties, like the one that appears on these pages.
My love of all things cocktail began long ago. I actually have a photograph of my grandmother giving me a silver mint julep cup for my second birthday. Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around my parents' soirees. At the age of five, I would walk through the crowd with an olive-skewered swizzle stick to dip into unsuspecting guests' drinks. Toward the end of the evening, I could often be found under the kitchen table making polite cocktail chitchat with an imaginary friend.
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These days, I get my cocktails at a fabulous new local spot called Cure. So I recently asked the owner and mixologist, Neal Bodenheimer, and chef, Jason McCullar, to cater a party at my turn-of-the-century carriage house. Creating the guest list was simple, too. New Orleans is the biggest "little town" in the country; I've often thought there are only six people here and the rest is done with mirrors. I made a few calls, my friends Margaret and Sallie Jones of Scriptura (who design the best stationery in town) did the invitations and the plans were underway.
© Paul Costello
Neal modernized a few classic cocktails, like the martini; in contrast to Mad Men's high-octane vodka version, his is a softer, more food-friendly mix of half gin, half vermouth. Jason prepared hors d'oeuvres that included a brilliant spin on New Orleans's classic shrimp remoulade. Proving that bartenders aren't the only ones who can experiment with spirits, he poached the shrimp in vermouth and swapped out the traditional mayonnaise-based dressing for a zippy, gingery dipping sauce. His paprika-smoked baby back ribs in a sherry-spiked glaze were terrific with Neal's French 75 cocktail, as well as with the Aria cava procured from my friends who own the Wine Institute of New Orleans (a.k.a. WINO). By the time we got to dessert, a rich chocolate tiramisu, there wasn't a dry glass in the house.
Actor Bryan Batt's memoir, She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother, is out in May. He is at work on his next book.