Raising the Bar: Neal Bodenheimer & Kirk Estopinal

The New Orleans bartenders tell all

Neal Bodenheimer and Kirk Estopinal.

A new rum-focused craft-cocktail bar will open in New Orleans in a few months, but don’t expect to be notified by blaring trumpets or a glitzy party. NOLA natives Neal Bodenheimer and Kirk Estopinal, two principals behind the acclaimed Cure and Bellocq, prefer a simpler approach: They quietly let business grow on its own.

"The big splash is never the way to go," says Bodenheimer. "Well, maybe not never, but it doesn’t seem to last."

Slow and steady defines how Bodenheimer launched Cure in 2009 (Estopinal came on as a partner afterward), and how the pair gently started the much-praised Bellocq in early 2012. And it’s how their latest bar in the French Quarter — on lower Decatur Street — will gather steam.

The Cure Collective — the group that oversees the three watering holes and also consults with other bars — recently acquired Pravda, a Soviet-themed vodka and absinthe joint. For now, the new place is called Perestroika at Pravda, but the plan is to transform it into a rum bar, with the switch managed by former Cure manager and tiki-phile Nick Dietrich.

New Orleans has deep roots in cocktail culture, but Cure brought a fresh take on classics, thanks in part to its owners’ out-of-town experience. Bodenheimer worked in New York before heading back to New Orleans; Estopinal evacuated for Katrina and ended up in Chicago, where he tended bar at Violet Hour.

Like Cure, Bellocq is a decidedly contemporary bar with strong ties to the past — in this case, 19th-century cobblers, plus more modern adaptations. Both establishments have gotten rave notices far beyond the levees.

The new bar should complete its metamorphosis by next summer, and the early 19th-century French Quarter building (with a lovely courtyard) will have a Prohibition-era Cuban vibe. (After all, New Orleans and Havana used to be linked by ferry service.) Until then, stop by and see the progress.

"We’re looking to have places that stay open for years and years," says Bodenheimer. "My main goal for Cure is for it to be here long after I’m gone."

Click here for the Clockwork Orange recipe.

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