On theHouse by David W. Brown

Tourists use words like “charm” and “atmosphere” when describing New Orleans, and sometimes “history,” but what they are really talking about is time .

It’s a city that somehow never left the past behind, not really. It feels right to walk down Magazine Street hand in hand with your loved one. It is a bit of a promenade, but it is not affectation. You don’t need to be from around here to know how it should be done because, three steps in, and the city entreats and intoxicates and transports you, and you find yourself suddenly living life as it should be lived — as you always knew in your marrow you were supposed to be living before something somewhere went wrong. That’s what New Orleans does to you. It’s why those horse-drawn carriage rides along Jackson Square don’t feel quaint or ridiculous. They roll along the street, the wide wheels crunching gravel slowly, the clop-clop-clop of the mules in no rush to be anywhere, these old, dignified pros — not beasts of burden but, rather, lords of the city — who even know which post is theirs at stops along the way. Meanwhile, you’re in the carriage cozied up to your partner even in the sweltering Crescent City summers, and it’s the cars that seem to be the interlopers, not these timeless old carriages. And you know you’re precisely where you’re supposed to be, when you’re supposed to be there. That matters in the context of Sazerac House, an interactive sensory experience that opened this month on the corner of Canal and Magazine, in which visitors are invited to live the story and culture of New Orleans spirits and cocktails, including the namesake Sazerac — the official cocktail of the city. It is inaccurate to call Sazerac House a museum. Rather, it is a preserva- tion not of what once was, but what remains, ongoing, today. I have been there twice now: once for a private tour, and once for its grand opening gala, and so I know what visitors can expect and how guests will respond. I can say with certainty that Sazerac House, a $50 million investment by Sazerac Company, is perhaps the city’s most ambitious project since its National World War II Museum, and will likely surpass even that in traffic and attention. Sazerac House is New Orleans, distilled. As you enter the Sazerac House lobby, the first thing to catch your eye is a great white wall, two stories high and with scores of shelves lined with liquors distilled by the Sazerac Company. There are hundreds of bottles on display, and it doesn’t feel so

on racks, with the tops of some barrels lighting into video screens that explain the hard-won journey of rum from cheap swill to celebrated, sophisticated spirit. The rum exhibit also explains the process involved in making rum, and how that process has evolved over the centuries to reflect the tastes of drinkers. The third floor takes guests to the French Quarter — then, now and always. You arrive in the city from the interior of a riverboat, complete with rivets in white walls, the windows animated as though with magic, showing the harbor ahead. NO SMOKING THIS CABIN, reads a sign. From there, guests visit the original Sazerac Coffee House, a replica of the original Merchants Exchange Coffee House on Exchange Alley, where a cocktail invented by Antoine Peychaud, a Creole immigrant, would become popularized and eventually named “the Sazerac.” Sazerac House offers a stylized re-creation of Peychaud’s apothecary — the perfect setting to explain what bitters are, exactly (a liquor infused with herbs, fruits and other botanicals, and used, of course, when making the famed Sazerac cocktail), how they are made, what they are used for — and because the Sazerac Company cut no corners when building its monument to the cocktails and spirits that make New Orleans great, Peychaud’s Bitters will be produced and bottled right there for guests to watch and learn about. All of this eventually gives way to a walk through the city’s cocktail culture (and then, the doleful years of Prohibition), but this then leads to a particularly stunning arrange- ment of tables arranged as you might find in a bar. Standing around any one of the tables, guests can set out a coaster, and the table will come to life, presenting an interactive menu and classic bon mots from bartending guides: “Be Discreet,” reads one. “The sensible clerk will not appear to listen to what the patrons are saying, and if he hears anything should find an eternal grave in his heart.” As guests flip through the bartending guides, they can order food (or a digital approximation of it, anyway) that is projected with unnerving clarity and realism on the table — things like shrimp gumbo or

much like the mirrored back of a barroom (minus the neon) as it does the stark glass cases of the Musée d’Orsay. You feel as though you see the “truth” of the spirits; that what has been bottled is not a product, but an art form: the result of crops tended, yields harvested, the chemistry of fermenta- tion, the balance of flavor profiles and the slow movement of time during distillation. Quality spirits aren’t something you simply buy at the grocery store and shove in a cabinet. They’re living things made by living people, and given the same care a painter uses when easing a brushstroke across the canvas. Admission is free, but Sazerac House still uses an electronic ticketing system for entry. It’s an environmentally friendly move, but also a practical one: It keeps minors from drinking (illegally) before their time, and helps control the flow of traffic through what can be an almost meditative experi- ence. Over 250,000 people are expected to visit in the first year alone. Tours are self-guided — an intentional touch by the curators of Sazerac House. Exquisite liquors aren’t something you pound back, or drink at the forced clip of others. They’re something to be savored patiently, reflected upon and enjoyed at your own pace. That doesn’t mean Sazerac House leaves you entirely to your own devices. “Experience ambassadors” are stationed throughout the three exhibition floors to give context to displays, and to help neophytes and experienced drinkers alike understand the profiles, complexities and tasting notes of the complimentary samples offered. Each floor takes guests through some moment in time, some part of New Orleans. There is the “Rum Room” on the second floor, which is just what it sounds like: an interac- tive exhibit featuring Myers’s, Cane Run and Jung &Wulff — Sazerac Company rums, all. Countless genuine rum barrels are mounted




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