Though every bar that we feature in our "Behind the Bar" series is amazing and special in its own way, it's rare that we come across an establishment that is truly one of a kind. It's also rare that we get to chat with a bartender who has more than two decades of expertise and has authored his own cocktail book, but we checked both off our list in America's Cocktail Capital -- New Orleans. Nestled in the heart of the beautiful, frenetic French Quarter, the historic Carousel Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone and its bar manager, Marvin Allen, provide patrons with excellent cocktails, award-winning service, and exceptional ambiance -- all while slowly spinning. We spoke with Marvin about his time in the industry, his top bartending tips, and his deceptively boozy creation, the Belle Isle Refresher.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF…
I'm Marvin Allen, Head Bartender of Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans. I have been bartending for about 25 years, and have been at the Carousel for 16 of those years.
What first got you Behind the Bar?
My original career choice was restaurant management, but after my last management position I was burned out. I then made the choice to bartend temporarily and return to management after about a year. Once I discovered how much fun I was having bartending, I decided to make it a career. This was also around the time that the modern cocktail revolution was beginning. I developed a passion for bartending and creating cocktails.
Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?
Keep a positive attitude at all times. Don't let the little things get to you. Keep on educating yourself. Keep up on new trends and products.
What's your favorite drink made by someone else?
My favorite cocktail made by someone else is the Sazerac. Even though I make a great one, it's fun to have one made by someone else.
Favorite drink that you make?
The Pisco Sour is the national cocktail of Peru, and Pisco itself is a spirit distilled from grapes that almost became extinct due to political unrest in Peru and the lack of knowledge in the United States. The Pisco Sour was created by Victor Vaughen Morris in the early 1920's in Lima, Peru. It is made with fresh lime juice, egg white, simple syrup, and Pisco. It's a very light and refreshing cocktail.
Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?
A frozen ice cream cocktail.
If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
The one cocktail ingredient that is could not live without is good Scotch whisky.
What’s your favorite part about working at Carousel Bar?
My favorite part of working in the Carousel would be the interacting of the different types of people, their cultures, and where they come from. The Carousel has become a destination bar, and it's great fun to educate our guests on the different cocktails of the city and have them experience a cocktail they may not get in their hometown. They also want the recipes so they can return home and recreate the cocktails.
Where do you like to stop in for a drink?
I like to stop for a cocktail anywhere I can sit outside and enjoy the peace and quiet.
What’s your take on today’s cocktail culture in New Orleans?
It's great, as we have everything from well-made cocktails to Hand Grenades, Hurricanes and Frozen Daiquiris. The return of the classic cocktails has been great, especially since the beginning of Tales of the Cocktail* which brought the classics back to life.
Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.
Always use a jigger when preparing cocktails, because it will make a great cocktail and will always be consistent. One other thing to remember is the guest that comes in and orders a beer may come back and order one of the classics. Or, if you talk to that guest you may be able to suggest a cocktail, as he may not be educated or have the confidence to order something unknown to him.
What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?
Favorite way to drink Belle Isle is on the rocks.
BELLE ISLE REFRESHER
1 ¼ oz. Belle Isle Cold Brew Coffee
¼ oz. Frangelico
3-4 drops Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters
¼ oz. Simple Syrup
3-4 oz. Half and Half
Garnish with coffee beans and chocolate syrup
Drizzle the chocolate syrup in a chilled martini glass. Combine the rest of the ingredients in an ice-filled Boston Shaker and shake until well chilled and frothy. Strain into the chocolate syrup lined glass and top with three coffee beans and a dash of fresh grated nutmeg. Sit back and enjoy. Tastes like a piece of the Italian pick me up, Tiramisou Cake!
Recipe by Marvin Allen.
All photos by Joey Wharton.
Cocktails on the brain?
Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.
We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.
Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.
From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.
Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.