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Legends of the Bar

You Have This Woman to Thank for Good Cocktails in New Orleans

Courtesy of Ti Martin

New Orleans is a great place to drink, due to two major factors: 1. The lax public drinking laws. And 2. Brilliant cocktail-makers like Ti Martin, the co-owner of Commander’s Palace, without whom the New Orleans cocktail scene would have been lost in the 1990s when Zimas and wine coolers ruled the country. Here, 5 reasons why Martin is so important.

She fought for cocktails in cookbooks. “When I co-wrote the Commander’s Kitchen cookbook with Jamie Shannon in 2000, we had an entire chapter on cocktails to start the book, which I had to fight the editors to keep,” she says. “They said, ‘this is a cookbook, not a cocktail book.’ I explained that in New Orleans, a great meal begins with a well-made cocktail, and so should our cookbook.”

She was way ahead of the hand-carved ice trend. “When we opened Café Adelaide and The Swizzle Stick Bar ten years ago, we insisted that it be built around a block of ice,” Martin says. “We hand chip ice for serious cocktails in the middle of the bar daily.”

She never gave up on cocktails. According to Martin, cocktails never really left New Orleans like they did the rest of the country when sugary, neon mixers ruled the bars in the '80s and '90s. "But even here cocktails were not taken as seriously as I thought they should be,” she says. “For me cocktails are an important part of our history and our city’s history. I always say that most people say that New Orleans’ greatest contribution to the world is jazz, but without the cocktail, who knows… maybe there would have been no jazz.”

She put together the A-Team of cocktalians. “To crank things up I started something called ‘Team Cocktail’ in our company. We had T-shirts; I gave out Dale DeGroff and Ted Haigh’s books. We had meetings and talked about ice, measuring, balance, fresh juices and on and on. Of course we tasted. Everyone wanted to be on ‘the team.’ There were some very talented young people that have gone on to be very accomplished in the cocktail world that were at Commander’s and on ‘Team Cocktail.’ Of course Lu Brow of Café Adelaide, Dan Davis—now our Wine Guy at Commander’s, who just won Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. Danny Valdez, who went on to serve as Zacapa Rum’s National Brand Ambassador, was a talented bartender at Commander’s along with T. Cole Newton who has gotten much acclaim for his bar Twelve Mile Limit. That group truly pushed the bar higher and higher for the whole city long before anyone was writing or talking about it.”

She's a cocktail preservationist. “My mom, Ella Brennan, researched the grand Creole brunches from years ago and highlighted them on the menu back in the 40’s and 50’s at Brennan’s. ‘Drinking in the morning—America thought we were so decadent. And the drinks had to be good. We focused on it and we always worked to make the bar as professional as the kitchen,’ my mom shared with us. Absinthe Frappe, Ramos Gin Fizz, Brandy Milk Punch—these are serious cocktails that have stood the test of time. Our family actually started out in business at the Absinthe House—a bar on Bourbon Street. We come by this heritage honestly. We’re Irish, after all.”

Related: Ti Martin's New Orleans Cocktail Guide
Emeril Lagasse's New Orleans Guide
Donald Link's New Orleans Restaurant Guide

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