Going 10 Rounds With Top Bartender Neal Bodenheimer
The co-owner of the James Beard Award-winning New Orleans bar Cure tackles our speed round of questions.
What do you like to drink after a shift? “Well, it’s interesting because my shifts are so different now than they used to be. So lot of times I drink wine. However, if it’s a night-time shift a lot of times I’ll either grab a pretty esoteric mezcal, like a mezonte, and have a pour of that or I’ll grab a Nick Palazzi malt.”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “I really like the Pointer Sisters “Automatic” if it’s an upbeat one and if it’s a late-night dive bar I like “Sister Morphine” by the Rolling Stones.”
After all these years bartending and creating drinks, do you still enjoy going out to bars? “Yeah, I do. Unfortunately, you can’t cut off your critical brain in the bar business when you go out, which makes it a little less enjoyable. I don’t think I would do what I do, if I didn’t like going to bars.”
Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “Eben Klemm made me an Aviation and it really turned the light on for me. That was when I worked at BR Guest under him.”
What book on cocktails or spirits is your go-to resource? “Being someone who works events a lot more than behind the bar at this point, I still love David Wondrich’s Punch. It’s still one of my favorites. It’s still the one I go back to consistently. In the early days of my bartending career, I read Dale DeGroff’s book a lot. A modern book that is a really great read is Cocktail Codex.”
What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing? “First of all, when you talk about cocktails and food, they have to be low-proof. That is the one thing that is absolutely necessary. Sherry Cobbler and Boquerones.”
What drink are you most proud of creating? “It’s a French 75 variation called a Howitzer and its bourbon-based. It’s just something people loved ten years and people still love today and to me that’s the sign of a great cocktail.”
Is there one person (dead or alive) you’d like to make a cocktail for? “I would make it for my grandfather who is really my step grandfather. I never knew my actual grandfather on my father’s side. He was in the hotel business in Miami. He really enjoyed the good life and I would have loved to have made him a drink.”
What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “A great Boilermaker should be available in every bar. You have to have a default. My default is Budweiser, Budweiser Heavy, and Hennessy Cognac because they’re in every bar and they go perfectly together.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “I travel with a ladle because, you’d be surprised, no one has a nice ladle. People can turn 1,000 things into a punch bowl but you can’t turn 1,000 things into a ladle. You end up with a kitchen ladle.”
Neal Bodenheimer is the co-owner of the James Beard Award-winning New Orleans bar Cure as well as its sister establishment Cane & Table. He is also co-chair of the board of directors of the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation.
Interview has been condensed and edited.