The Vieux Carré: A New Orleans classic makes a comeback
About 15 years ago, a renaissance started in the cocktail world, and it's stronger than ever today. All around the world bartenders are dusting off vintage drink books, discovering recipes long since forgotten and finding that many popular cocktails began as something completely different.
The Vieux Carre: Back to stay
These bartenders now make these recipes as they were originally intended, which generally creates a more tasty, complex, and balanced cocktail. No more cherry juice in a Manhattan, no more muddled fruit in an old-fashioned, and yes, I would like vermouth in my martini please. In addition, many bartenders are giving these classics their own personal twists.
The Vieux Carré is one cocktail that was almost lost to the world, for a time even forgotten by the bar where it was born.
The drink was originally published in a cocktail book called Famous New Orleans Drinks, and How to Mix 'Em by Stanley Klisby Arthur in 1937 and was credited to Walter Bergeron, who was the head bartender at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans. Vieux Carré is French for the old square, a reference to the French Quarter. The original recipe called for equal parts cognac, rye whiskey, and Italian (or sweet) vermouth with a half bar spoon of Benedictine and a dash each of Angostura and Peychauds bitters.
When the drink was "rediscovered" by Ted Haigh in the 1995 book Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, the proportions remained the same, but the actual measures for each ingredient went from ¾ of an ounce to 1 ounce each, making a more modern-sized cocktail. The drink is mixed over ice, and strained into a short glass with new ice (I prefer to serve it straight up personally) and given a lemon twist.
I was introduced to this drink about two years ago at the Town Talk Diner (R.I.P.) by Adam Harness, who was running the show in those days (Adam is now the bar manager at Café Maude). I asked him for a whiskey drink--his choice. He returned with all the ingredients and lined the bottles up in front of me. As he started to mix, he told me a little bit about the drink and its history. That night I began a love affair with the Vieux Carré--one that still burns today.
These days Adam's take on the drink uses less vermouth, but one that has a heavier flavor/body. Belly up to the bar at Maude, ask for a Vieux Carré (voo-cah-ray) and have one of the best in town.
Cafe Maude's Vieux Carré by Adam Harness:
1 oz Wild Turkey Rye
1 oz Landy Cognac
¾ oz Carpano Antica Vermouth
½ bar spoon Benedictine
1 dash Peychaud Bitters
1 dash Angostura Bitters