It's time to begin denying yourself for the 40 days of Lent. But Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday left it all a little foggy, so let's delay the self-denial until tomorrow when we're firmly back on our feet. We can help. As a public service to the hungover, every week we track down the best bartenders in America and ask them to share their favorite hair-of-the-dog remedies. This week: A classic Southern cocktail that's a favorite of a renowned New Orleans barman.
THE SPECIALIST: Sean McCusker, owner of Sylvain, a gastropub in the French Quarter
HIS ELIXER: Seelbach
ITS HISTORY: The Southern Seelbach cocktail is named after the Louisville hotel where it was created in 1917. As legend has it, the Seelbach Hotel's bartender attempted to re-route an overflowing bottle of popped Champagne into a patron's Old Fashioned. The recipe was lost during Prohibition since the hotel didn't have a speakeasy, but during renovations in 1995, the manager rediscovered the recipe and started serving it again.
ITS HEALING POWERS: "At Sylvain we like to say that most hangovers start with—and are cured by—bourbon," McCusker says. And so, when he's hungover, McCusker reaches for the bourbon-rich Seelbach, which is basically the same as it always was—an Old Fashioned topped with Champagne. "We serve a lot of good bourbon, so it makes sense," he explains.
The drink appeared on Sylvain's original menu, and it garnered a cult following. "We have a lot of regulars who come in and request it; we also have people who stumble in looking for, like, a hangover doctor. When that happens, we like to prescribe bourbon."
A heavy bourbon drink might seem intimidating to the weak-stomached or whiskey-adverse, but McCusker says the bubbles and tonic-like, local bitters help. "People who do drink bourbon love it," he says. "For people who maybe don't drink it that much, the Champagne, bitters and orange peel weaken the bite and make it more palatable."
While Seelbachs, like other carbonated, effervescent drinks, are popular with the hungover, McCusker doesn't actually believe any drink can cure you. "It's a mind over matter thing," he says. "As long as you feel like it's working, that's what's important."
WHY MCCUSKER HAS TO CURE HANGOVERS AT NIGHT, TOO: "During Mardi Gras, drinking in the morning is no big deal. So you put your big boy pants on and go for it."
THE METHOD: Combine the bourbon, Cointreau, bitters and ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir. Strain into a Champagne flute and top with Champagne or Prosecco. Garnish with an orange peel.
Alyson Sheppard is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Mental Floss, McSweeney's, National Geographic Adventure, the Boston Globe and more. Follow her on Twitter @amshep.
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