Chris Hannah, head mixologist of the French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s, was the first person I ever met in New Orleans. It was January of 2005, and I entered his bar (a random choice) with the idea of having just one drink. Six hours later, I was still marveling at his handiwork.
Now, seven years later—I ended up moving to the Crescent City in 2006—I still spend more time than is probably healthy at Arnaud’s. And I still marvel at Hannah’s skills.
Arnaud’s is not a craft-cocktail joint with rows of tinctures, dozens of bottles and jumbo Kold-Draft ice cubes. The menu offers only seven options. But even with his limited toolbox, Hannah always hits the perfect note.
How? Because he puts two centuries of mixological history into every glass. He’s an old-school classicist—anything tainted with modernity appears to cause him agitation. This extends to his daily wardrobe, which consists in large part of vintage suits, plaid shorts and striped socks, often worn in unexpected combinations. His outfits exist in the borderlands between impeccably stylish and wildly inappropriate.
At Arnaud’s, he seems to inhabit another era, and not just due to his uniform: white jacket, black pants, bowtie. He’s not given much to chattiness, nor does he smile freely. His range of expression goes from “yeah, right” to “yeah, whatever.”
The establishment itself, with its slightly fussy furniture and light haze of cigar smoke, has the feel of a time capsule, and that includes the drinks. “It’s mostly a stirred bar,” Hannah says. “It doesn’t say Mojito.”
Indeed, he has some stern beliefs when it comes to the Cuban concoction. “I just think it’s a destination-style cocktail,” he admits. As such, he insists that it should only be served in watery locales. “Do you see any water here?” he asks, looking around the bar. I confess that I don’t. “Then don’t order a Mojito.”
He usually convinces Mojito-seekers what they really want is a Pimm’s Cup—an equally refreshing choice, but with an enduring local pedigree.
And as I’ve discovered, it goes down smoothly every time, all two centuries of it.