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  • Brian Maxwell

Day 92: You'd Better Second Line


I feel like Ned Sublette probably did a good job of describing things. “A second line is in effect a civil rights demonstration. Literally, demonstrating the civil right of the community to assemble in the street for peaceful purposes. Or, more simply, demonstrating the civil right of the community to exist.”


Welcome to Day 92, my thirsty readers. I woke up today feeling that certain itch I get in my heart from time to time. It's the same itch which took me there in the first place. It's the itch which made me move back there. It's that itch I get when I miss New Orleans.


My love affair with the Crescent City started back in the mid 2000's, right after my days as a beer-soaked undergrad had come to an end. Hurricane Katrina had completely ravaged the city. Originally, I just wanted to help out, after so much devastation has rained down, but it ended up being New Orleans that would help me instead.


It was sometime around 2007, when I drunkenly followed a wedding second line through the French Quarter. This is when I first wandered into the French 75 bar at Arnaud's. Until that point, I had mainly focused my time bartending on beer and wine lingo. That seemed to be the focus of the places I'd worked, and I was pretty content. Cocktails, from what I'd seen, were unbalanced, sugary-messes, and I wanted no part of that world. I wandered into this smoked-filled wonderland one night, and my life suddenly changed.


The bartender was wearing a white jacket, and he was talking to a guest about the history of the cocktail they were drinking. I believe it was the Brandy Crusta, but I was a few too many drinks in at that point to be certain. I thought to myself "This is what cocktails are supposed to be? I do want a part of this world!" Being a sucker for history, I began asking the bartender all the questions about the drinks in the menu. I was hooked, and I never looked back.


When I came home from that trip, I looked around the bookstores for all the cocktail books I could get my hands on. Most of them were pretty useless, but every now and then, I found a gem. Now the books with the good drinks also seemed to be full of ingredients I'd never heard of before. I wanted to know more! I wanted to know everything. More than recipes, I wanted to know their histories. I fell deep down this booze-soaked rabbit hole.


New Orleans is often referred to as the home of the cocktail. For years, I looked at New Orleans as the place that introduced me to the cocktail, through those late night stories of times gone by. I started going back more and more. Every year, during Tales of the Cocktail, I tried to soak up as much as I could, until one day, I moved there.


My first time as a NOLA resident didn't go so well. I was fresh off a divorce, and my own demons were far from tamed. Note to self: "If you have a drinking problem, deal with it before moving to New Orleans." Therefore, my foray into my favorite city didn't last. I packed my bags and headed home to get my head straight, but something really stuck with me. It was the music.


Every time I heard a brass band, I would miss New Orleans. I limited myself to a visit once a year for Tales. To me, this felt safe, and perhaps when I conquered my demons, I could return for more. This day finally came years later. I accepted a job, while working in New York, and it was off to the big easy again. This time, drinking wouldn't suffocate me, and I would be able to breath in everything I couldn't before.


For one year, I enjoyed the sounds of jazz. I took in the smells and the flavors. I made connections, real connections. Then, just when things seemed to be going well, the world kinda stopped. With the onset of COVID-19, I wasn't so sure about things anymore. I wasn't so sure where I belonged.


I made a pact with myself. "If the bar reopens, I'll stay. If they decide to stay closed, I'll head to Pittsburgh, to be closer to my family." Well, it just so happened my thirsty readers, the bar would not reopen, and I would not be staying in the land of jazz. My best friend had a great way of putting the situation. "The first time, it wasn't her, it was you. This time, it wasn't you, it was her." I had to say goodbye to the place which lives on in my heart, but I'll always have that first second line.


You'd Better Second Line

1.5oz Bourbon

.5oz Islay Scotch

.75oz Orgeat

.75oz Passion Fruit

.75oz Lemon Juice

2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters

2 dashes Angostura Bitters


Cocktail Coupe

Shake and strain into chilled glass.

Garnish with expressed lemon peel and flower.


*The curled peel of the lemon is there to remind us of the horns in the brass bands, while the flower is a nod to the floats of carnival.*


As the song goes, "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?" I first heard that song from an old trumpet player along the Mississippi River. I didn't understand then, but I certainly know now. I do miss New Orleans and miss her each night and day. I'll see it again, and when I do, I hope you'll join me. Until that day comes, keep shaking.

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