“I like to say opposites attract,” says Alex Anderson.
Originally from Atlanta, Anderson took her first bartending gig at a hibachi restaurant (“It opened in the ’70s and the menu reflected that”), but she quickly made the jump to craft bartending with a job at The Lawrence, a restaurant with a notable bar program run by Pegu Club alum Eric Simpkins. “He taught me pretty much from the ground up,” recalls Anderson.
A true student of cocktail history, Anderson was eventually drawn to New Orleans, the city she now calls home, for its rich cocktail history. In 2014, she landed a job at Cane & Table, Neal Bodenheimer’s French Quarter bar that splits its allegiances between tiki-style cocktails and Colonial-era oddities like shrubs and punches. Just last year, she moved to Miami on a whim, landing a job at Broken Shaker before returning to The Lawrence in her native Atlanta. Just a few months later, at Bodenheimer’s behest, she moved back to New Orleans, where she now works at Cane & Table’s sister bar, Cure. “She takes her job seriously, but not herself,” says Bodenheimer. “She makes incredible drinks that have a perspective.”
In her eschewal of subtlety and her penchant for the improbable, it’s not hard to see the influence of Cure—the home of “rogue cocktails,” a group of status quo–defying cocktails like the Gunshop Fizz, which features 15 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters—on Anderson’s personal style. In fact, Anderson herself is quick to credit Cure bar manager Ryan Gannon as a source of creative inspiration. “I joke every day that I should get ‘What would Ryan Gannon do?’ tattooed on my body,” she says, adding that he has a way of “cleaning up your cocktails and simplifying everything.”
Take her Hold Up, for example. With only four ingredients (Jamaican rum, grapefruit liqueur, aperitif wine, lemon juice—all in equal parts), Anderson manages to create layered complexity—funky, bittersweet and herbal all at once—that, despite its simple construction, reflects her taste for the unexpected. “I hope guests get surprised,” says Anderson, “I try to pack a lot of flavor into my drinks; there’s never anything subtle about them.”
Here, get to know Alex Anderson in four of her greatest hits.
Midnight, the Stars and You
Though Cure is often considered a whiskey bar, whiskey makes up only about 10 percent of the backbar. Still, it’s put to good use in drinks like Anderson’s Midnight, the Stars and You. A Boulevardier variation, the drink is named after the closing song from The Shining and features protagonist Jack Torrance’s favorite whiskey: Jack Daniels (albeit a limited release from their Master Distiller series). “I wanted to do a dark, stirred cocktail that could transition either to spring or fall,” explains Anderson, who adds floral complexity with chamomile liqueur, balanced by the bitter notes of Varnelli Sibilla, “a really intense amaro.”
Edge of Seventeen
At Cure, there’s always at least one shrub cocktail on the menu, and Anderson is the de facto shrub queen. “At Cane & Table, the first thing they taught me was to make an orange shrub,” recalls Anderson. “From there, the shrubs I could come up with in my head just got more and more insane.” For the Edge of Seventeen, Anderson incorporates a relatively tame shrub consisting of orange and carrot juices, dill vinegar and turmeric. “The turmeric really brought it all together and made it have that earthy kind of quality that I was hoping for.”
Drawing on Anderson’s time at Cane & Table, Hold Up spotlights a funky Jamaican rum mixed with quinine-fortified wine, grapefruit liqueur and lemon—all in equal parts. She notes that it resembles a Culross Cocktail, a Savoy Cocktail Book classic featuring the no-longer-extant Kina Lillet alongside rum and apricot brandy. But, true to form, Anderson turns the flavors up to 10 with a whopping 14 drops of celery bitters. “It’s a very bold cocktail.”
Feeling Without Touching
Unsure of how guests would react to the anise-forward profile of the Israeli arak Kafroun, Anderson disguised it in the cotton-candy pink of a Paloma. Though there’s only a quarter-ounce of Kafroun in the drink, Anderson draws out some of its subtler citrus essence by expressing lemon oil directly into the cocktail tin for a layered end result. She adds this to the expected tequila and grapefruit (in this case grapefruit soda) alongside the wild-card additions of Campari and orgeat. Though she admits she wasn’t sure people would order it given its bold profile, the drink ended up being one of Cure’s best-sellers.