JAMNOLA and Sazerac House: Celebrate New Orleans
Joy, Music, Art, And Sazeracs
By Christopher Ludgate
It is one of my favorite cities and I’ve covered a lot of ground in New Orleans, but I also know that there is always something new and fabulous to discover there.
And after a couple of strange years having us all making some adjustments to what was once familiar, it was time to catch up.
So during my nocturnal scrolling, I searched: “What’s new in NOLA?”
Immediately, I was nostalgic for all that woos me there. But among the newer things instantaneously weaving themselves into an adventurous itinerary were the Sazerac House by the French Quarter and the eye-popping multi-media art pop-up by the Bywater called JamNOLA.
Respectively celebrating joy, art, and music with the customs, traditions, and culture of New Orleans, it was just a matter of which flight to book.
Night at the Booze-eum
New Orleans’ old-school charm lives on at the Sazerac House. The famous (or should we say infamous) nineteenth-century cocktail for which this must-see booze-eum was named has a controversial and oft-contested history.
Also, it’s delicious. But this hands-on state-of-the-art museum, brought to you by the Sazerac Company, is here to set the record straight about the story and show you a good time in the process.
My timing was fortunate enough this visit to catch the Strike Down Social, one of the Sazerac House’s festive special events.
Standing grand with its Italianate design on Canal and Magazine, its glow bounced off the dark wet street. I love when New Orleans glows.
Old Fashioned Dinner Theater
After checking in and making it past the velvet ropes, I was escorted upstairs and seated at a table à la old-fashioned dinner theater-style for a delicious dive into cocktail culture starring the Sazerac.
Punchy skits, cabaret numbers, and juicy anecdotes filled the room with levity from the stage connecting the dots of Prohibition, old Hollywood, and underground libations.
It was a delightful surprise, so I’ll go ahead with the corny humor calling it the Bee’s Knees.
And of course, along with an array of lite-bites for each party’s table, all the featured cocktails were served one by one as the comical storytelling commenced with expert mixologists Dr. Kirsten Burton, Matt Ray, and company.
Sazerac House Steeped in Culture
The first Sazerac House, circa 1852, was located further down Canal Street in a time when a cocktail could also be a prescription, hence the birth of a crucial Sazerac component, Peychaud’s bitters.
From an architectural standpoint, one intriguingly unique characteristic is that “the building is an ensemble of three older structures,”
I learned on one of the available free tours on another visit during my trip. See if you can spot the seams.
Artifacts are displayed through nostalgic exhibits that transport the lore of eras gone by.
A very sleek, streamlined, and sophisticated feel welcomed me, and I had to tear myself away from all the temptations at the gift shop. Lured by the scent, I took a quick peek into the micro-distillery in the back, too.
The ornate three floors of this state-of-the-art incarnation were delightful to wander through with speak-easy lighting and a variety of music piped through the air.
And offerings of live personal encounters of cocktail-making demonstrations were finished off with complimentary tastings to wet my whistle.
At one of the interactive exhibits, I pulled up a stool and had a virtual bartender draw up one of his classics.
It was one of the more unique uses of virtual reality I’d seen to date and it engagingly led me into an informative and inspiring, if not intoxicating experience. Reservations are required.
What’s Your Jam?
With its unabashed celebration and love of New Orleans brought to us exclusively by multi-media artists, each of whom claims a local connection, JAMNOLA is one of the more genuinely engaging and fun art experiences I had been to in a while.
An acronym standing for Joy, Art, and Music in NOLA, the pop-up located on 2832 Royal Street embraces its guests through a playful labyrinth of spectacle and hands-on exhibits.
The project’s vibrant spirit is synonymous with what inspires much of the celebrated culture with its many derivatives. And the vibrance really pops.
Gathered with a handful of others before the self-guided tour, I joined the introductory orientation that led with some historical audio-visual accompaniment and some backstory of what JAMNOLA is all about.
The experiential concept was created “to help offset the negativity that exists in the world around us by investing in New Orleans’ cultural community to create more opportunities for Joy and prosperity through Art and Music,” according to the mission statement of Co-Founders, Chad Smith and Jonny Liss.
“We believe that happiness can overcome all if you immerse yourself in it and share it with others,” say the visionaries.
The ambiance morphs from each of the 20 or so immersive installations of polished collaborations and solo projects. They each beckon photography and interaction for social media entertainment which seems to be a win-win for all.
The group of friends ahead of me had a ball experimenting with music, adding to the wishing wall, and numerous memorable photo ops.
A fun house of sorts, yes, but JAMNOLA oozes substance with a needed fresh take on an appreciation of the city while nurturing inspired talent who share the mission and love of it.