Sunday, June 6, 2010

Making up for lost time at St. Joe's

As soon as I stepped into St. Joe's on the corner of Magazine and Joseph Streets, I was immediately upset that it took me so long to finally get there.  Ever since that crazy first year in New Orleans with Shalom, I developed an affinity for the "dive bar" and St. Joe's delivers.  The wooden bar is long and narrow with a shortage of available seating; one small table at the front window and stools along the bar.  The combination of dim lighting, religious iconography and a bunch of old fashioned mirrors gives the space a Gothic feel but the drinks are what it's all about.

When I asked for a cocktail recommendation from Paul, a longtime fixture of St. Joe's who's been intoxicating patrons for the past ten years, he suggested I try their signature drink, the Blueberry Mojito.  Since I have been literally inundated by mojitos in the past few months, I really wanted to try something different.

Patient with my indecision, Paul kindly offered another option, a margarita.  But what makes this margarita different from any other?  St. Joe's creates their own sour mix with fresh lemon and lime juice, exactly how a traditional margarita should be.  With speed, precision and a heavy hand, Paul whipped up a delicious, yet classic margarita in a tall pint glass with brightly colored salt around the rim.

The simple cocktail was tart and refreshing (not syrupy-sweet) and I found it difficult not to gulp the concoction like a fresh glass of lemonade.  When Paul noticed me taking notes and snapping pictures, he said "If you've never been here before, you should go check out the back."  I looked past the small pool table and turned back to my most helpful bartender and said "There's a back?"

If he hadn't told me I never would have known, but if you venture through the large door behind the pool table, traverse a small storage room and come outside, there is a wonderful patio space that you never would imagine existing in a bar like St. Joe's.  Past some larger tables, they have built a gazebo-like structure featuring a full bar with a mixed Asian-themed decor!  Large brass Indian statues and Taj Mahal cut lattices are lit from above by a large cluster of red Japanese lanterns.  Although no one was out there (it was still early in the evening), I was told that hanging out in the back was the "place to be."  It certainly looked like a party waiting to happen...I could just picture clusters of people out in the "Shangri-La" patio having the time of their lives.

By the time I returned to the main bar, I had finished my margarita and I was ready to break down and try the Blueberry Mojito.  I was a little nervous because fruity-flavored mojitos I have tried in the past severely disappointed, but this was something else.  By muddling dried blueberries with sugar and fresh mint, they have created a fruit mojito that surprised me by being absolutely awesome.  It wasn't too sweet and the blueberries simply added to the summery feel that is already a distinct characteristic of the original cocktail.

As I sat and sipped, I couldn't help thinking how much fun I could have had at St. Joe's if I had only taken that first step inside the bar almost seven years ago.  A little sadness seeped into my previously chipper mood when I realized how much I had missed, even though I thought my local bar repertoire was pretty complete.

I raised my glass and made a private little's to making up for lost time!

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