During the holidays at the Roosevelt Hotel's historic Sazerac Bar, bartender Matthew Steinvorth barely has a second to stand still. A Metairie native and service industry veteran, Steinvorth spoke to Gambit about the history of the bar's eponymous drink and what drew him to the New Orleans bar industry.
What's it like working at a major tourist destination during the holidays?
Steinvorth: It's been wild and crazy. It can be anywhere from 11- to 13-hour days, and we don't sell food, so everything has been a one-drink-at-a-time kind of thing. People start coming in around 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. It's a revolving door during the daytime. You get to meet the occasional actor or singer, but you get a lot of people who are just in search of charm and the pizzazz of the city. Most people are great. They want to see the lights, they want to have a drink and they're feeling the holiday cheer.
It's been a lot of out-of-town people but the local clientele has been great. There are a lot of people who make it a yearly visit, which is always warm and refreshing. But (there are) guests and people from all over the world. There are always people from Japan or Europe. ... They've never had a [Ramos] gin fizz; they've never had a Sazerac.
What should people know about a Sazerac?
S: The most requested drink is definitely the Sazerac; we probably make tens of thousands a year. A lot of people think it's all booze, but I like to explain it as a spirit-forward sipper — it is rye whiskey but there is a little sugar and some bitters, and an absinthe rinse on the glass. ... It grows on you, sip by sip.
The history dates all the way back to 1838; it's a pre-Civil War drink. ... Peychaud's Bitters is the real kicker — it was invented by a pharmacist, Antoine Peychaud. The drink was originally made with cognac, but throughout time, around 1870, the drink became a rye whiskey cocktail. ...
(The Roosevelt Hotel's Sazerac Bar) was an all-male stand-up saloon for a long time, but by 1949 women (were allowed into) the bar and it's been a coed bar ever since. This (bar) wasn't built until the 1930s ... the hotel has been here since 1893.
What drew you to the service industry?
S: This is my 17th year in the service industry. At 14, I was a busboy at a dinner theater in Metairie, and after that I just started getting jobs as busboys, and then I became a waiter and then I was bartending. It's always been a good fit for me. I'm a people person, I like to talk to folks and I move fast.
There was a 2014 statistic that one out of every four local residents was in the service industry in some way, whether it was in hotels, restaurants or tourism; and I'm just part of that number.
At first it was (for) the cash tips, but now, it's more about making up drinks and entering competitions, and it's not really about the money any more. I'm going to go home at the end of the night knowing that I've got a cool job ... and I'm going to get to meet some more awesome people. I've got some credits towards a hotel and restaurant tourism degree, but honestly, what I've learned at school hasn't taught me what I've learned from experience. The guests keep me coming back; the people I work with keep me coming back. — HELEN FREUND