Lucinda Weed spent years working behind the bar at French Quarter gastropub Sylvain, but the Keene, New Hampshire native started out in the coffee industry. Weed recently became beverage manager at Ace Hotel (600 Carondelet St.; www.acehotel.com/neworleans), overseeing the wine program at restaurant Josephine Estelle and the drinks program at the hotel's three bars. Weed spoke to Gambit about the similarities between coffee and cocktail culture and what she loves about New Orleans' drinking scene.
What similarities exist between coffee and cocktail culture?
Weed: My barista job developed my foundation in hospitality. Prime Roast is a local cafe in Keene (New Hampshire), where I grew up, and it was my home away from home through high school. It taught me the importance of community and cultivating regulars, who in turn become friends and family. It also was where I really started to think about the service industry as an outlet for creativity. I was able to develop a craft coffee palate and consider nuanced flavors. Perhaps most important, I was able to see the importance of sourcing responsible ingredients and purchasing with a conscience. Coffee, like spirits, has a unique identity. Also, coffeehouses have historically been community gathering places, and in New Orleans, the term was once virtually interchangeable with bars.
How do you see cocktail culture evolving in New Orleans?
W: New Orleans has always had a strong cocktail culture. New Orleanians tend to be highly educated drinkers who know the craft and terminology. "Balance" is not just for bartenders. We're seeing all kinds of amazing niche cocktail bars, new and old, honoring their own identities and catering to their own captivated drinkers. What I like to do, in any context, is honor the contents of the bottle from which I pour. Producers and distillers work very hard to create delicious spirits. Introducing those spirits to one another with thoughtful modifying ingredients should always be considerate of those bottles.
Rhiannon Enlil, a great bartender who I worked with at Loa, once told me that we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and it's true. Using classic cocktails as a foundation for creating new cocktails has always been what I've found to be the most successful method for finding balance in a drink.
What excites you most about the city's cocktail scene?
W: We use cocktails as a social vessel to accompany music, art, dance and all-around good times. Walking cocktails are a source of great pleasure for me. They actually make it difficult to enjoy visiting places outside of New Orleans, because it doesn't feel natural to stroll without a cup in my hand. Then again, it doesn't feel natural to stroll when I've been spoiled by dance walking anyhow.