Bartender T. Cole Newton owns the Mid-City bar Twelve Mile Limit (500 S. Telemachus St., 504-488-8114; www.facebook.com/twelve.mile.limit). He created the cocktail menu at the re-opened Orpheum Theater, one of several recent consulting jobs, along with work for Root Squared and Rebellion Bar & Urban Kitchen. Newton spoke with Gambit about cocktail consulting in New Orleans.
How is designing a drinks list for a music venue different from creating a menu for a more traditional bar?
Newton: Our list at Twelve Mile Limit was (designed) to be approachable. ... [V]ery often, the bar at the Orpheum (will) only be open for an hour ... so we need to make sure that everything is really efficient. There's not a lot of advance technique that we can apply.
(At the Orpheum) there's a focus on more classic cocktails. There's a "20th Century" cocktail, which is sort of a forgotten classic — named after a train. There's a Don Lockwood, which is an original bourbon Manhattan.
The biggest difference that I've found is with staffing. ... [I]t's a completely different kind of recruiting than what I do at Twelve Mile, where it's open seven days a week, but usually there's not a need to staff more than four people a day. The Orpheum is open maybe 10 days a month, but you could need six to 14 bartenders, and then only for an hour. It's about preparing very differently. I'm learning a very different skill set; the music venue is a completely different animal.
How does consulting work differ from regular bartending gigs?
N: My instinct is that there is a lot more (consulting) on bar programs going on in other cities. In New Orleans, there is an abundance of talent right now. A lot of bars and restaurants have been able to recruit talent internally ... but the Orpheum was something different. ... They're not coming at it from a bar or restaurant perspective.
Recently, I've been doing a lot more consulting work. It's totally a double-edged sword. Sometimes, I end up working behind the bar, and I've gotten pretty used to being the person who makes the final decisions. When (consulting), it takes getting used to not being the person in charge. For instance, if a song came on the playlist (that I didn't like), there's nothing I can really do. I wouldn't be able to change it; it's just different when it's not your bar. It can be a little frustrating not being the authority, but it's also a huge relief. If someone breaks something, I'm not the person who needs to fix it. So it can be frustrating on occasion, but just as often it's nice not to be the person held responsible.
Where does New Orleans stand in the cocktail world?
N: I feel like there are a couple of ways that the industry is going, from a national perspective, and in some respects we're ahead of the curve, and in others, we're lagging behind.
The ways in which we're behind are largely technical. Competitions at the national and international level are all about optimal technical efficiency — the ability to mix multiple drinks at the same time, not spilling ... there are a lot more (things). I disagree with some of the standards being used in the competition. I think it rewards the wrong kind of bartending. I can teach anyone how to make an old fashioned, but I can't teach anyone how to be nice. That's where New Orleans is leaps and bounds beyond the competition.
Service is everything here. At so many bars around the country, service is secondary to technical expertise. We're so good at being nice and warm and welcoming, and for me that's way more important. I'd rather have a drink that's pretty good from a bartender that is really nice than a drink that is technically flawless from a bartender who isn't.