Tales of the Cure

A look at the magic of Neal Bodenheimer

While working as a New York bartender in the late 1990s, Neal Bodenheimer often dreamed of opening his own cocktail bar in New Orleans. These were the nascent days of the craft cocktail culture and Bodenheimer felt “New Orleans deserved a New York-worthy cocktail bar.”

Hurricane Katrina gave him the impetus to pursue that dream.

Urged on by childhood friend and founding partner Matthew Kohnke, Bodenheimer opened Cure on Freret Street in 2009, the first business in what today is one of the hottest parts of the city.

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“It was Matt who had the vision for what we could do with a derelict firehouse,” Bodenheimer said. “Freret Street was the perfect neighborhood to plant the seeds of today’s cocktail culture.”

Within a year, opening bartender Kirk Estopinal became a partner in the business, too.

In a city that never lost its love for Sazeracs and gin fizzes, Bodenheimer set out to educate palates and open minds to what cocktails could really be. Crafting those drinks properly, however, required a serious focus on ingredients and techniques. From ice to glassware, everything at Cure happened by design, and the attention to detail has paid off. In 2019, the bar was recognized by the James Beard Foundation for outstanding bar program in America.

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Along the way, Bodenheimer and Estopinal generously shared their knowledge with newcomers to the field, many of whom are business partners today.

“I love to collaborate with talented people who want to grow, who have shared values and enjoy challenges,” said Bodenheimer.

That attitude allowed the original Cure team to expand far beyond Uptown New Orleans. In 2013, the team opened Cane & Table, a tropical bar and restaurant on Decatur Street. When the new Louis Armstrong International Airport opened in 2019, it included an outpost of Cure.

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Bodenheimer’s latest venture, Peychaud’s, is situated on Toulouse Street in the French Quarter. The building was originally the home of Antoine Amedee Peychaud, the Creole apothecary whose bitters are an essential ingredient of the Sazerac.

Back Uptown on Freret Street in 2020, Bodenheimer — along with partners Alfredo Nogueira and Turk Dietrich — brought a restaurant called Val’s to life barely a block away from Cure’s flagship location. Featuring the best of Mexico City’s street food, Val’s popularized elote corn while offering some of the best tacos and margaritas in town.

Perhaps Bodenheimer’s greatest achievement, however, is the reinvention of Tales of the Cocktail. In 2018, the Solomon family purchased the international cocktail gathering’s trademark, and with Bodenheimer’s combined efforts, established a nonprofit foundation using the platform as a catalyst to educate, advance and support the global spirits industry.

Held annually in July, last year’s Tales is estimated to have contributed over $22 million in economic impact to the city, with 25,000 people in attendance from 47 countries. The conference’s influence has proven to be vast.

“Everything you’ll see happening globally in the cocktail industry begins right here in New Orleans in the heat of the summer,” Bodenheimer stated proudly.

Today’s Tales of the Cocktail follows three tracks — business, culture and “Beyond the Bar,” a directive which provides resources and conversations around mental and physical wellness, substance use, sexual harassment, diversity and sustainability in the industry.

“We’re striving to increase professionalism by providing attendees with all the tools they need to succeed,” Bodenheimer reflected.

On this note, his most recent effort is an ultimate manual for any aspiring mixologist. Cure, New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em clearly demystifies every ingredient and technique required for home or professional bartending. The self-described “love letter to New Orleans” also acts as a visitor’s guide, covering over 40 of Bodenheimer’s favorite spots, complete with maps to find them. In a nod to essential cocktail hour nibbles, the book includes recipes from local culinary greats Nina Compton, Frank Brigtsen and Mason Hereford. The 2022 publication was nominated for a James Beard Award in the beverage with recipes category.

In all of its incarnations, Cure has elevated New Orleans’ cocktails in an indelibly lasting way. Here’s to Neal Bodenheimer — our drinks are tastier thanks to him!

Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.

Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.


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