Jeremy Thompson grew up as a missionary administrator's child, living in countries including South Africa, Malawi and Sri Lanka for months at a time. "It's hard to explain what that experience was like, but it obviously informed a lot of my tastes and outlook, as well as why I chose New Orleans as my permanent home," Thompson says. He moved to New Orleans seven years ago with a background in marketing and bar management, and though he worked in the craft cocktail world, he feels most at home in dives and daiquiri shops. Thompson founded Open House New Orleans, a local marketing agency, and in 2010, Open House created the New Orleans Daiquiri Festival, which recently was acquired by Tales of the Cocktail. He spoke to the Gambit about tradition, the summer heat, and his favorite daiquiri bars in New Orleans.
TELL US ABOUT THE DAIQUIRI FEST.
It was really an effort to create a locally based festival to celebrate something I've always loved: the frozen daiquiri and the traditions that are specific to the area. As time went on, the festival took on more elements — music and food. We really tried to focus on it being outdoors in the summer.
Last year, Tales of the Cocktail acquired it from Open House and is now rebranding it through the entire month of this coming September as Daiquiri Season — 30 days of on-location daiquiri events at different bars. ... It won't just be frozen daiquiris; it'll also be classic daiquiris, bridging the gap between neighborhood daiquiri shops and daiquiri chains and craft cocktail bars that are now getting into selling frozen drinks.
WHAT IS SPECIAL TO YOU ABOUT DAIQUIRIS?
It cuts across all class lines. Also, it's a poster child, the most iconic example of our unique freedom to be able to drink outdoors. Now it's such a part of the landscape, with Anthony Bourdain coming down. The highbrow/lowbrow aspect — I never want to see that change. At the end of the day, carrying a cup around the city speaks to that unique freedom we have and how that affects our economy and how we can have so many bars because there's a tradition of going to a bar to get a drink and then drinking that drink on the way to the next bar.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE DAIQUIRI BARS.
I hands down always give a shout-out to Gene's Daiquiris (1040 Elysian Fields Ave., 504-943-3861) because that's where I was first exposed to that whole culture — the first week in town when I moved here. That was the first time I'd ever had a daiquiri outside of the (French) Quarter. And I was blown away by the names and the history and the lore behind it — and just the whole environment, how people were hanging out in there. If you want the old-school experience, even if you've been there before, I always tell people to go back and relive it.
To go to the other extreme end of the spectrum, a place that I really respect is Bourree (1510 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-510-4040; www.bourreenola.com). ... It's a wing shop and daiquiri shop, done with a little tongue-in-cheek to it. They've done Chartreuse daiquiris, a gin and tonic, which is always one of my dreams — to do dry daiquiris — you have to have a lot of sugar to make it freeze. But they've managed to pull off some really fun stuff that I enjoy.
In terms of classic (unfrozen) daiquiris, French 75 (Arnaud's Restaurant, 813 Bienville St., 504-523-5433; www.arnaudsrestaurant.com/bars/french-75) is always one of my favorites. I love the simplicity of it: rum, sugar, lime. New Orleans doesn't really embrace that older history but I do think ... they definitely have a relationship, even though it's a history that's not ascribed to by many people here. And I love that about New Orleans, that it just decides what parts of history apply when and where.
I really enjoy daiquiri experiences outside of New Orleans, either close or far. I go out to Barataria from time to time, and on the way out there is a place called Cajun Daiquiri (2446 Barataria Blvd., Marrero, 504-349-3410; www.cajundaiquiriandcafe.com). ... [F]amilies go to play bingo or have movie nights; it's a much different, more Cajun-influenced scene than the scene in New Orleans. I love going through the drive-thru and taking a daiquiri out to the walk in (Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve). In the summer, it's the only drink that can hold up to our kind of sweltering heat. Plus, I like the traditional souvenir cups branded with the daiquiri shop.
Another place for daiquiris that's always stood out to me is St. Lawrence (219 N. Peters St., 504-525-4111; www.saintlawrencenola.com). They inherited, from when it was The Harbour, an old daiquiri machine. So they have these massive tanks in there, and the chef immediately went to work. There was this sensational basil gin daiquiri with a Champagne float. That's really something. Every time I've made daiquiris in machines, I've totally stolen that idea from them because putting Champagne on top of a daiquiri is magical, it does things you wouldn't even imagine, the consistency of frozen and bubbles at the same time. It's a daiquiri royale.
I got to try a new daiquiri at the Ace Hotel (600 Carondelet St., 504-900-1180; www.acehotel.com/neworleans) recently that was also gin-based. Gin and daiquiris is not something we see traditionally; it's usually either vodka or rum, but I think gin works really well frozen, and people who aren't usually gin fans end up really liking it because it takes off that bite that gin can have when it's not absolutely cold. And obviously, sitting on a pool rooftop with palm trees, that kind of hits home the kind of experience you'd want to have when you're drinking a daiquiri.