mardi gras bars dc
Photos: Trent Johnson

Behind the Bar: Big Easy Bars

With February comes the celebrated New Orleans staple of Mardi Gras, and even though we’re a few states north of Louisiana, the distance between DC and the festivities seems non-existent given the number of local bars offering a slice of the Southeast region. On Tap traveled to a few locations boasting New Orleans-style libations, so you’re not without a venue come February 28.

Tom Latterell
General Manager, Big Chief

On Tap: How did you decide which New Orleans-style cocktails to feature on your menu?
Tom Latterell: Honestly, it’s about finding a balance between authenticity and speed, because look at this place. It’s massive. Trying to make real New Orleans cocktails in a place like this is a challenge. On a casual Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we’re all about Hurricanes and Sazeracs. Most of the time, it’s stuff like the Hand Grenades and
slushy-style drinks, which are still very New Orleans.

OT: Do you think it’s hard to capture an authentic feel so far away from New Orleans? And how do people respond to the one you have?
TL: As long as you keep people happy, it’s all good. That’s the kind of culture we’ve drawn from New Orleans.

OT: Are there any DC twists you plan to put on Big Chief’s Mardi Gras celebration?
TL: There’s no particular flair that we have to add. We’re here to be an authentic representation of what [Mardi Gras] is like in DC.

OT: What is the ratio of Brooklyn to New Orleans influences at Big Chief? Where are they similar and where are they different?
TL:  Both cities are full of creators, and people that want to stand behind what’s happened, and what’s going to happen. It’s not necessarily a physical reputation. It’s an attitude.

OT: And are there any plans to add a kitchen in the future, or will you stick with BYOF?
TL: Adding a kitchen is something I think about, but at this point I don’t know.

Big Chief: 2002 Fenwick St. NE, DC;

Tom’s Pick
Rye whiskey
Peychaud’s Bitters

Mike Love
Beverage Director, Due South

On Tap: You guys pride yourselves on being authentically Southern. Are you doing anything on Mardi Gras that won’t be done at other places?
Mike Love: We feature Abita on a draft line, so we’ll have Louisiana beer. We’ll do some frozen Hurricanes, and some other Mardi Gras cocktails as well. What we will have is Southern hospitality. I lived in New Orleans for eight years, so I’m familiar with Mardi Gras and that season. We have a comfortable bar where you can come and hang out.

OT: What is your favorite Abita brew?
ML: It’s probably the most popular beer in Louisiana. We rotate through their seasonal selections, and we also have their root beer. It goes great with our duck jambalaya, and our crawfish dip.

OT: What did you take away from living in New Orleans?
ML: How to take care of somebody; the way you welcome them in. It’s a lot more laidback city. I try to bring some of the Southern charm and relatability.

OT: What are some Southern beers people in DC probably haven’t tried yet that they should?
ML: SweetWater is probably our number one. We do a ton of their rotational selections, and we have their Pulled Porter coming up next, which has a smoky, almost bacon taste.

OT: What Southern drinks do you  suggest for colder months?
ML: Sazerac is a good one. We also do have our Bear Bryant Old Fashioned, which is a blend of a classic Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. We also have a bourbon-based Shoo Fly Punch, which gets you going; it’s everything you could want from Mardi Gras.

Due South: 301 Water St. SE, DC;

Mike’s Pick
Bear Bryant Old Fashioned
Old Forester 100 Signature Bourbon
Dolin Rouge Sweet Vermouth
Housemade brown sugar maple syrup
Orange slice
A cherry

Chris Miranda
General Manager, Vieux Carre

On Tap: What are your patrons’ favorite cocktails to order? Why do you think they’re so popular?
Chris Miranda: It’s between the Vieux Carre, our namesake, and the Hurricane. We run a special for Hurricanes on Tuesday for $7. To me it’s a little sweet, but on a hot day that is a perfect boozy drink to enjoy. The Vieux Carre is not sweet, but it’s extremely liquor-forward, which is New Orleans. On our menu, it’s called the Eyes Wide Shut.

OT: Your decor is blatantly an homage to New Orleans. How long did it take to set it up? What’s your favorite part of the atmosphere?
CM: The railing made it that way. Originally, we wanted to be a loungey cocktail bar, and when we painted the railing black, we decided it looked straight up New Orleans. Then we added the French Quarter aesthetics like the chandeliers, and just the overall style. The mezzanine is definitely my favorite part of the bar.

OT: How often do you change up the menu, and add other selections from New Orleans?
CM: We’re actually in the process of switching things up, but we’re still trying to decide where we want it to go. We want to continue making classic cocktails, but we also want to meet consumer needs. The cocktails will still be New Orleans-based. At night when we get a younger crowd, they don’t really order the cocktails. They want things like vodka-sodas, so we’re working on some variations.

OT: How have people responded to Vieux Carre’s signature New Orleans cocktails?
CM: People are actually kind of hesitant at first. When they taste it, they’re in, but because of the liquor-forward approach, people are a bit nervous to try those classic cocktails.

OT: Vieux Carre is rather new. Is there anything you plan on adding in the future?
CM: We just opened a bar downstairs called For Rent. It’s a very
cocktail-forward spot. We’re both cocktail-friendly, but downstairs won’t have the New Orleans style. It’s been open about a month. Whereas this is glitzy and glamourous, downstairs is a bit more of a dive bar.

Vieux Carre: 1413 K St. NW, DC;

Chris’s Pick
The Eyes Wide Shut Vieux Carre
Bulleit Rye
Sweet vermouth