Behind the Bar: Joey Laura, Compere Lapin

Noah Stambovsky | October 16, 2019

Joey Laura is a bartender at Compere Lapin in the CBD. I sat down to drink some drinks and talk happy hour

It’s a sweltering Tuesday morning in Downtown New Orleans. I park on Tchoupitoulas and headed into the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery. The ground floor of the hotel houses the James-Beard-award-winning Compere Lapin. I find Joey behind the bar with a modest lunch just beginning.

The dining room wraps around the bar at a right angle, with bar seating available on one of the two sides, and service bar around the corner. Comfy seats, chic lighting, and a luxurious atmosphere give this bar the title of “swanky” in my book.

The area behind the bar is enormous. It has an island style counter with dozens of products, common and obscure, with shelves in the back housing the truly esoteric stuff.

Joey greets me with a smile. I order a hot fire chicken sandwich (the hype is real), and while we chit chat for a moment, he is soon showing a trainee how to make a Ramos Gin Fizz ordered by a lunch guest. Again, I’m comforted by the presence of fellow day-drinkers.I’m brought an amuse-bouche of buttermilk biscuits. I pass some time lightly snacking and taking pictures of the bar.

Joey has had a long career in food and bev, but is actually a relative newcomer to bartending. He has been a cheese monger at St. James Cheese company, a cheese buyer for Whole Foods, and a brand rep for Second Line Brewing and NOLA Distilling (I actually still have his NOLA business card from when we first met, a few years ago).

I observe as he imparts some wisdom upon his trainee, who, once they are done with the Ramos Gin Fizz, will be learning the two drinks Joey is mixing up for me.

Summer of ‘63: Singani, reposado tequila, vermut blanco and honey

First Round: “Summer of ‘63”

Honey and Singani define the overall taste of this pale yellow concoction. Singani, as I found out is a bolivian spirit often categorized as a brandy. The reposado tequila and vermut blanco add further layers of complexity, as well as alcohol content, but what came through for me was definitely the honey. And who doesnt like honey? Again, I’m skeptical that drink #2 could top it but…

Second Round: "Penultimate Oath"

This Last Word riff is a lightly sweet refreshing cocktail, hazy green in color, served up. I’m told the cucumber-lime granita garnish works as a pairing, but can also just be placed into the drink to melt and add to the flavor. I dump it in and take a sip. It’s pretty wonderful. Sotol, Tunel de Mallorca (a Spanish herbal liqueur, with which I was completely unfamiliar with), citrus, and cucumber all come together really well. It’s an easy sipper, and I could also knock back 3 pretty quickly if I felt inclined. This one was the winner for sure.

Penultimate Oath: Sotos, Tunel de Mallorca, citrus, cucumber lime granita

In His Own Words

NOAH: Favorite happy hours in the city? Go.

JOEY: Avo. And… hmmm...Need a refresher (He takes out his phone and opens up the Drinker’s Edition app)

NOAH: Well Avo is a great first answer. That happy hour really seems to fly under the radar.

JOEY: Yeah I think thats a real sleeper, I don’t think people know to look there. Ok, where was I? It wasn’t just Avo and I was surprised by how good the food prices were. Well I like that its a most-of-the-day happy hour, is Beach Corner. I recently discovered that Rosedale has a great one with tasty small plates. Otherwise, yeah I never really make it out for happy hour because i’m always working happy hour (continues scrolling)... Erin Rose has a happy hour ???

NOAH: Yeah! They have a great one! Ok. So maybe let’s broaden this up. Where are your favorite places you go to drink, happy hour or not?

JOEY:Ooh Latitude! Latitude has a great happy hour. Latitude 29, I’ll say it here first, favorite bar in the city.

NOAH: Alright! Strong take right there

JOEY: I love tiki, I love the bartenders, I love their knowledge. Every single bartender is kind, and welcoming. They make you feel accepted.

NOAH: And Beachbum Berry was partially responsible for the whole craft cocktail movement right?

JOEY: Beachbum is a hero of mine, Yeah.

NOAH: Alright. Favorite drink to have one of versus favorite drink to have 8 of?

JOEY: I can knock back some margaritas. My palate pulls a lot of acid, so I do lean more towards Paper Planes, margaritas, Aviations.

NOAH: So thats the 8 of?

JOEY: That’s the 8 of, for sure. I forgot how much I love a good Old Fashioned, because I never order them. Because I usually try to drink all day, i’m usually drinking the lighter spirits. I love tequila and gin and rum, clearly. But I usually don’t find myself going for spirit-forward cocktails. And for spirit-forward cocktails, it’s hard to beat a great Old Fashioned.

NOAH: Good answer. Alright. Industry pet peeves?

JOEY: Pretension. I’m sick and tired of people in cocktail culture thinking that they’re better for the kinds of drinks they make. We’re all bartenders. We all do the same thing. And I guarantee you, we’re probably all drinking the same thing after work. We’re probably all ripping shots and beers. We’re all equals, there is no reason to think that one type of bartender is better than another.

NOAH: Here here! Least favorite drink to make? and you can’t say a Ramos Gin Fizz.

JOEY: Mojitos are messy. They mess up your tins, the mint gets everywhere, it’s like glitter! And it means rinsing out your tins, which I hate to have to do. I don’t love making egg white drinks- It just - It messes up the efficiency.

NOAH: Way to avoid saying Ramos Gin Fizz.

JOEY: Oh yeah. Even like egg white sours. But at the end of the day, I’ll gladly make anything for anyone, especially if it’s the type of drink people feel uncomfortable ordering. I want people to feel comfortable. I want them to come to the bar and feel included. If you want something spirit forward, something weird, or even something low proof or alcohol free, I will gladly make you whatever will make you feel welcome here.

NOAH: I love how you turned that around for the mojito drinkers. Alright, guilty pleasures?

JOEY: Smirnoff Ice, number one. Smirnoff Ice original.

NOAH: Really? Do you Ice people?

JOEY: All the time! And no one bothers to ice me, because they know I love it. It’s like Christmas morning, “Oh yes! It’s an Ice!” They are like “It’s no fun Icing you”. Also. Rumple Minze, goes into every frozen Irish coffee I get at Erin Rose. Hmmmm. Oh yeah. I go to Mick’s to do Fireball shots. And Jimani, that’s where I get Smirnoff Ices. Zima when I can find it. Also Stoli Blueberry at Banks Street Bar. Ooh and Hooters Wings.

NOAH: Wow. Excellent. Love the shameless guilty pleasures. Thanks for letting me pick your brain.

JOEY: No problem Noah.

And with that, Joey continued educating his trainee, a consummate professional in his natural habitat.

Behind the Bar: Hunter Frerking, Boucherie

Noah Stambovsky | September 12, 2019

Hunter Frerking leads the bar program at Boucherie in New Orleans. I sat down to try some of his drinks and get his thoughts about a few happy-hour-adjacent subjects.

It’s a warm Friday afternoon, I walk into the cozy dining room at Boucherie, see a bustling lunch still in action at this Uptown contemporary southern bistro. It looks like mainly a local crowd, and I get the feeling many of them dine there often (although through some unintentional eavesdropping, I glean that at least a few of the guests are first timers.) The bar is an understated four-seater made of beautiful worn cypress. It’s small, but Boucherie makes an efficient use of space. At eye level I can see a wide selection of base liquors and some really great specialty products.

With just a quick glance I recognize trusted brands like Tito’s and Beefeater, service industry classics like Cynar and Fernet, and more than a few bottles I can’t identify.

I’m greeted by Hunter, who’s in the middle of shaking up a martini for one of his guests. Whenever I see people getting lunch cocktails, I know I am among kindred spirits. I relax a bit and take some pictures of the bar as Hunter finishes up and delivers the drink.

Hunter has worked some of the most prestigious bars in the city (Willa Jean and Bywater American Bistro, to name a couple), and watching him mix, his trade craft is obvious.

I know from experience that what he is doing isn’t easy, but he does a convincing job making it all look quite effortless nonetheless.

He begins by making me a couple of cocktails, and then lets me in on some of his personal favorites in food and drink, as well as some of his bar pet peeves.

First Round: “City Hospitality”

This drink is made from all high ABV ingredients, but you wouldn’t realize by tasting. The smoky mezcal and cinchona bitters are balanced perfectly by the sweet and licorice flavors of the chartreuse and absinthe. Not to mention the color, which is somewhere between an oaky chardonnay and buckwheat honey. Needless to say I’m smitten, and skeptical that drink #2 could possibly top that.

City Hospitality: mezcal, cinchona bitters, Chartreuse, and Absinthe

Wishbone: Wild Turkey bourbon, Zucca rhubarb amaro, citrus syrup, egg white, shaved chocolate

Second Round: "Wishbone"

It’s a sour inspired by a long line of service industry favorites. It did not disappoint. Hunter starts with Wild Turkey Bourbon and his own citrus syrup, and pumps it up with Zucca rhubarb amaro, and then I see him breaking an egg. After some shaking he pours the wonderfully frothy concoction into a rocks glass and shaves some chocolate for the top. He tells me to wait a minute to take a picture, as it will soon settle into distinct bands of color. I give it some time, and sure enough, an amber rainbow appears, with a soft brown bottom giving way to paper white froth at the top. I ask him to tell me more about the Wishbone he fills me in. “It’s kind of an industry drink, it’s got a little bit of an identity that really stems from some relationships I’ve built in the field but it also gives you a flavor profile of a little bit of… chocolate.” I look at the drink, with the bands of color now fully formed. “Damn… that’s sexy”. I start to sip and Hunter interjects “Make sure you really dump it back to get past the foam”. I turn the glass and take a gulp. I look to Hunter and the only thing I could say is “Oh my god dude”. I really liked that first drink, but now I’m certain that THIS is the one I would have 5 of before a mid-morning nap.

In His Own Words

NOAH: Where are your favorite places to go for happy hour?

HUNTER: I love Midway Pizza, they have happy hour, they also have a different special every day for food. Every Wednesday I know they do $3 pint night, Monday nights they do half off pizzas after 8. Coming from the service industry I like a late night happy hour because you can still hopefully hit it before the end of the night, when you’re done with your shift. Wayfare has been a happy hour I’ve been hitting for… since I walked into this city. Always a favorite place to go. Another great happy hour, Seaworthy. You get half off — if we’re talking about food here —- you get half off on the oysters. They also make really great cocktails. Those are definitely the places that are first on my list of recommendations.

NOAH: Your favorite drink to have one of, versus your favorite drink to have eight of?

HUNTER: One thing that I like that I don’t order very often, that I don’t know how many I can really drink, is anything that’s a stirred long stiff drink. I love perfect Manhattans, but they’re a little bit more rich. But really, if I had eight of those, I’m not someone you’d want to hang around. Something I can have eight of, it’s really easy to knock back something we call a Tanya Harding, which is a tall glass filled with ice, with a shot of gin, topped with Stiegl Radler. The Kingpin/Midway Pizza people call that the Tanya Harding, and the “Bomb” version of it, where just you drop the gin into the Stiegl Radler, that’s a Nancy Kerrigan. Jeff at Kingpin and Midway coined that.

NOAH: What’s your least favorite drink to make and why?

Hunter: It’s a love hate thing. Ramos Gin Fizz. It’s kind of an easy answer…not fun. But at the same time I think it’s a good cocktail for everyone to be comfortable with, because it’s something that could be ordered at any time. I also hate to make anything muddled. I know it’s stupid, but especially if you’re low on tins or you’re busy you gotta keep cleaning stuff out. It gets in the strainers and then all of a sudden you’re making a martini and there’s a piece of mint in the strainer. It sucks. Yeah, anything muddled really bothers me especially if the bar isn’t set up for efficient cleaning.

NOAH: Food and alcohol guilty pleasures?

Hunter: I love Midori. I love it in alcohol… it takes a craftsman to make Midori really really great but I just think Midori on its own is fantastic. I put it in a lot of things. As far as food… I don’t know. My late night move is I’ll walk from The Kingpin to CVS and I’ll just pick up whatever is on sale. Often a good night is when Pringles are on sale, and I can do a tube of that before bed for less than a dollar a tube.

NOAH: Tube to the face!

Hunter: Tube to the face! There’s definitely a hierarchy there, pizza flavor being number one, then obviously sour cream and onion, then I go for original. If you bring me that reduced salt bullsh*t, you can get the hell out. And I really like the barbecue as well. Definitely pizza being the best Pringles.

NOAH: What a great perspective on the various merits of Pringles flavors. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Hunter.

Hunter: My pleasure, Noah.

And with that, he went back to his customers-without missing a beat.