My New Orleans: Elizabeth Pearce, Drinks Historian

November 19, 2015 10:47 am Last Updated: November 19, 2015 10:47 am

History is routinely taught from the perspective of war and commerce. But Elizabeth Pearce sees history differently. She can tell you the history of New Orleans in three drinks—all while you nurse them.

A drinks historian, Pearce leads drinking tours of the French Quarter, after which she’s routinely told by people, “I wish you’d been my American history teacher.”

“I say, of course, whiskey helps,” she said. “It is incredibly, deeply human to love hearing a well-told story.”

Elizabeth Pearce. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Pearce)
Elizabeth Pearce. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Pearce)

Pearce is a co-founder and drinks curator at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans. She is also co-author of “The French Quarter Drinking Companion: A Guide to Bars in America’s Most Electic Neighborhood,” an entertaining guide that gives readers a sensory taste of French Quarter bars, broken down by types of drinks, vibe, tattoos spotted, music heard, and descriptions of fellow tipplers.

Epoch Times recently spoke with her (over a Sazerac, a Hurricane, some Bordeaux in the French Quarter, and over the phone).

Epoch Times: What’s your favorite drink?

Elizabeth Pearce: My go-to when I go to a new bar, is I order an Old Fashioned—it’s a little bit to see if the bartender asks me anything, like what kind of whiskey, and I’ll say not too sweet. Recently I’ve been drinking a lot of Manhattans, but I think that’s because I discovered Carpano Antica vermouth. I really love it.

Epoch Times: What’s your favorite spot?

Ms. Pearce: One of my favorite bars is my neighborhood bar—where I cannot get a cocktail at all. It is a whiskey on the rocks. It is a place called Markey’s. Markey’s used to be a sailors’ bar in the ’60s, it was only open during the day because the sailors would go back on their ships at night. It’s gotten a little cleaned up—sort of—since then but I know the bartenders, I’m going to know somebody who’s drinking there, I’ll see a neighbor.

The other place I go to quite a bit is the Avenue Pub, they have the best beer selection. No one approaches their beer selection. They can probably stand up against any major beer bar in the country—especially when it comes to international beers. They also have a tremendous whiskey selection and I can get a cocktail there if I want. It’s in the Garden District.

Because I’ve come down this path, I’ve gotten to know a lot of bartenders, so then it’s just a matter who’s working tonight. It’s nice to have your friends make your drink and I think that’s why people like to go to neighborhood pubs.

Epoch Times: Tell me about your favorite neighborhood in New Orleans.

Ms. Pearce: I love my neighborhood. I bought my house in 2003. I’ve seen the Bywater change. There are a lot of people who have been here a very long time and who are grumbly. Gentrification is now only a nasty word but sometimes gentrification means fixing a blighted property and living in it, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. When I moved here my neighborhood was kind of sketchy and it is less so.

I love the Bywater but I also love the French Quarter. I love working in the Quarter. It is alive, it is dynamic. Even when it’s pretty empty it feels so much of its own place.

(New Orleans CVB)
(New Orleans CVB)

And I have affection for Bourbon Street. Locals get very snobby but that place is organic. No committee sat down and said let’s make Bourbon Street. Everyone walking down that street is having a good time. Everyone’s smiling. You know, life is short and hard. What people love is getting to walk up and down the street with a drink in their hand, which all of America used to be able to do until the 1970s and 1980s until open container laws started getting passed. So why not just let adults have their slightly vulgar fun? As long as you’re not hurting anyone, if you have too much to drink you’ll feel bad the next day. I don’t want to go work on Bourbon Street, and it is not my favorite place to drink. But when we wrote the book, we all agreed, this place is not terrible. Frankly we kind of had fun. You never start at Bourbon Street but we often ended there and we had a good time.

Epoch Times: What are some iconic New Orleans bars that first-time visitors should not miss?

Ms. Pearce: I think that with drinking in New Orleans, both fancy and not-so-fancy are important.

For fancy, that would either be the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel or the Carousel Bar at the Monteleone Bar. Hotel bars are great for feeling sumptuous, formal, pretty, where you are well-tended. Both of those places are expensive. You’re paying for real estate but if you can get a seat on the carousel, do go. And frankly for the price of a drink you can nurse for at last an hour, that is $15 to $18 well spent. The Sazerac is theoretically slightly more historic but the Monteleone is an old hotel and really, sitting on a carousel and going around is pretty great.

Take a spin at the 25-seat revolving Carousel Bar. (NIJME RINALDI NUN/NEW ORLEANS CVB)
Take a spin at the 25-seat revolving Carousel Bar. (NIJME RINALDI NUN/NEW ORLEANS CVB)

And then I like the feel of hole-in-the-wall neighborhood bars. There are two bars in the French Quarter that feel like they can be in any neighborhood in New Orleans. These two bars are The Chart Room—cash only—and Harry’s Corner Bar. Both of these places are frequented by locals.

If you go in you’ll hear people who sound like they’re from New Orleans, the LSU game will be on. The Chart Room has a fantastic jukebox, it’s all New Orleans. Harry’s is just at the other side of Jackson Square toward the Esplanade. That end of the Quarter is less touristy. You’ll be drinking with locals and that’s because both of those places, Chart Room in particular, are cheap. It’s dark, it’s not nice, but it’s a great neighborhood bar. And at Harry’s you just close your eyes and listen—it sounds like it’s full of New Orleanians.

For more information about Elizabeth Pearce’s drinking tours, visit drinkandlearn.com

Drinks historian Elizabeth Pearce leads a tour in New Orleans on Sept. 2, 2015. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)
Drinks historian Elizabeth Pearce leads a tour in New Orleans on Sept. 2, 2015. (Channaly Philipp/Epoch Times)

Markey’s Bar
640 Louisa St.
New Orleans, LA 70117
504-943-0785
facebook.com/MarkeysBarNOLA

The Avenue Pub
1732 St. Charles Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70130
504-586-9243
theavenuepub.com

The Sazerac Bar
130 Roosevelt Way
New Orleans, LA 70112
504-648-1200
therooseveltneworleans.com/dining/the-sazerac-bar.html

The Carousel Bar
214 Royal St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
504-523-3341
hotelmonteleone.com/entertainment/carousel-bar

The Chart Room
300 Chartres St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
504-522-1708

Harry’s Corner Bar
900 Chartres St.
New Orleans, LA 70116
504-524-1107