The History of the Vieux Carre Cocktail

Vieux Carre Cocktail

Although alcoholic drinks have their downside, many people still appreciate how fast their moods can be lifted with just a sip of alcohol. That’s why you will hear that a cocktail is like a present you give yourself; others say that even if you can’t buy happiness, you can prepare a cocktail because it amounts to the same thing. Well, once you visit New Orleans, your trip will be incomplete until you taste their signature drink, the Vieux Carre. Its name is rooted in the history of New Orleans, and here’s your chance to learn about the cocktail.

Understanding the Origin of the Name

Bar-Vademecum published a detailed history of Vieux Carre, a French word pronounced as VOO-kar-A. As the article states, to understand the origin of the name given to this cocktail, you must look at the history of New Orleans. It all began in the 1690s when French traders, explorers, and trappers settled in what is currently the city of New Orleans. However, it was not until 1719 that the settlement was officially called New Orleans, or rather as the French knew it, La Nouvelle-Orleans. The name was chosen because, at the time, France was under the rule of the Duke of Orleans, Philippe II de Bourbon, until Louis XV came of age. The settlement comprised the French Quarter (Vieux Care) designed in 1721 and the Indian trading place (the French Market.) It also comprised the Vieux Carre (the Old Square) around which the settlement was built. It changed hands from France to Spain to France and finally to America when the United States of America bought the land for $15 million. After the civil war and before the turn of the 19th century, Italian and Irish immigrants settled on the land. By the early 20th century, the French Quarter was primarily inhabited by Italian immigrants.

The Birth of the Drink

Among the Italian immigrants who inhabited the French Quarter was Antonio Monteleone. According to Hotel Monteleone, Monteleone had a booming shoe business in Sicily. After hearing wonderful things about America, he decided to take his enterprising spirit to the land of opportunity. In 1880, the businessman arrived and opened his shop on Royal Street, the only grand street he could find in Vieux Carre. America indeed presented a perfect opportunity for the entrepreneur to realize his dreams. Therefore, at the first chance he got, Monteleone bought a hotel. It had 64 rooms and was at the corner of Iberville and Royal streets. When the Commercial Hotel was available for purchase, Monteleone did not hesitate to add to his portfolio. It offered him more space to expand the hotel; thus, in 1903, he constructed 30 more rooms and five years later added 300 rooms. It was only appropriate to change the name and stamp the hotel with his own hence Hotel Monteleone was born. Unfortunately, the founder died, leaving his son, Frank, to run Hotel Monteleone.

Luckily, Frank shared his father’s vision to retain the hotel as a family business hence expanded it by building 200 more rooms. The hotel had a bar where Walter Bergeron was the head bartender. According to Moody Mixologist, Bergeron invented the drink in the late 1930s. Some sources say he discovered it in 1938, but since Stanley Arthur published a book in 1937 where the cocktail first appeared in print, Bergeron must have been serving his customers before then. Arthur even credited Bergeron for the creation of the drink. When Hotel Monteleone opened its famed bar, the Carousel Bar, in 1949, the Vieux Carre was there to welcome the new customers and patrons alike. The Carousel Bar prides itself in its uniqueness; as the name suggests, it is designed like a carousel and rotates every fifteen minutes. Furthermore, the stools bear the paintings of circus animals. It became the destination for many authors who continued pouring tribute to the drink in their books. Truman Capote, a late American novelist, even claimed to have been born at the Hotel Monteleone. According to Gambino’s, although so many years have passed since the Vieux Carre cocktail was invented, it remains to be the signature bar at the Carousel Bar and is among the most frequently ordered drinks.

What’s the Recipe?

You must wonder what makes the cocktail so special that even authors felt compelled to praise the inventor. The drink must be one of a kind to last many years and still have the impact it had when it was first introduced. In 2017, Garden and Gun disclosed that even the then-food and beverage manager Austin Doiron said the bar used the same recipe that Bergeron invented. As per Doiron, the Vieux Carre cocktail is made from ¾ ounces of Rye Whiskey, ¾ ounces of Cognac, ¾ ounces of Sweet vermouth, two dashes of Angostura bitters, two dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, ½ ounce of Benedictine, and a lemon twist. Doiron recommended using Sazerac Rye and Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac. Pour all the ingredients except the lemon twist into a rocks glass filled with ice. Mix well and use the lemon twist to garnish. However, you are not limited to using specific ingredients. As Matt Seiter shared on Feast Magazine, it is a matter of preference. For instance, Pierre Ferrand may be hard to source, but that does not mean you will not enjoy your Vieux Carre. You can choose another type of brandy, but the key thing to note is that the final product will not be the same; Calvados is more fruit-flavored and will have a note of sweetness. To emphasize how preference plays a part in the end product, Seiter, an experienced bartender, recommends Rittenhouse Rye. He opines that Sazerac Rye is a good substitute. You can even opt for a cherry instead of a lemon twist for garnishing. The bottom line is that you can make the Vieux Carre with the basic recipe.

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