Burlesque and the ideals and motivations behind it have become more of an interesting discussion point, especially in the recent memory. There is sometimes debate of what is considered sexually repressive, sexually free or simply fun and a statement of self confidence and self esteem. Every person is different and every person has a reason to do burlesque. It is certainly not relegated to simply female although that for the most part makes up the majority of the performers of burlesque. It is about performance art but also titillation. It is also a way to examine sexual fantasy in a controlled environment. Previously, Fest Track did a piece on “Play Me Burlesque” out of the Coney Island Film Festival, which covered much of the same ground as “Getting Naked: A Burlesque Story” [Documentaries].
However the inherent emotional connection explored in the latter film definitely plays to the core of what burlesque is about. It examines a similar arena in New York but takes an even more interesting element within the tiers of competition and reasoning. This is done by showing a diverse cross section of performers. “Play Me Burlesque” did similar but different performers have different stories. Here Hazel Honeysuckle in real life is more of a homebody, a slightly more geeky girl that has started to play dress up and found an outlet for a willing audience (so much so that she got a residency at the Borgata in Atlantic City). She is young and vivacious with a talent for costumes. But there is also the Schlep Sisters who are a bit older and playing smaller clubs in New Jersey. It is not as glamorous but they enjoy it. But like all human beings, each person has obstacles to overcome. James Lester, as a director does not shy away from that reality and, as a result, gives a intrinsic sense of the performers personalities and both their strengths and shortcomings.
By Tim Wassberg
Sweet Nights, Burlesque & Blinding Light: Tales Of The Cocktail 2009 In New Orleans – Part II – Feature
Continuing the trek requires a bit of education, stamina and life lived as the second part of “Tales Of The Cocktail” continues to form.
Lunch at noon becomes the first stop atop the Soul Revival Suite at the Hotel Monteleone. Boca Loca blends the infinity in “The Black Dog” with the latter spirit highlighting the dawn mixing eggs whites and apricots along with angostura bitters. This provided for a lifting taste [created by Jeff Morgantheler at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon] as birds glide over the French Quarter below.
Another aspect of the people within New Orleans is the sense of fun completed with a sense of the absurd and lurid visions of life. No one captures that energy like renowned artist Robert Rodriguez who created this year’s “Tales Of The Cocktail” poster. In addition he did a beautiful absinthe poster for Pacific (who was seen at the Absinthe Green Hour in Part I] which perfectly captures the return of the once banned spirit to the night of witching. Robert has also done extensive art for movie posters. Some ones a viewer might recognize is “The Two Jakes”, the sequel to “Chinatown” starring Jack Nicholson and “Jewel Of The Nile”, the sequel to “Romancing The Stone” starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. A great artist with a pop cultural sense of style wrapped in seduction.
The “Cocktails Of The Seven Seas” panel takes into account the pirates that once traversed the deep oceans with thoughts of rum and plundering, Mescal, fermented from the sap of the agave [initially beginning in 1503], was the apertif of choice in those times which got the blood boiling on the long voyages. Some say that Agave began in the Phillipines and was brought by wind of the Pacific to Colima in Mexico.
The Margarita by comparison is claimed, in terms of origin, by a variety of places with the most likely being at a Caliente racetrack in Tijuana in the 1930s. Rum was the plunder originally of popularity in the Americas because it did not involve bad water. The vision of its origin however dates to Barbados which is still present in the view of Mount Gay Rum. The Mojito in justification was one of the earliest rum cocktails with an original nickname of “El Drague” as it was named after Sir Francis Drake and gained its first great notoriety with the Cuban working class of that island in the 1830s. Ernest Hemingway by extension brought it to the American consciousness in droves. At the panel, drink of levity sampled which brought to mind the open air darkness of the time was the “Voyager” highlighting the Mexican intermediary mixing the essence of Don Quixote, lime juice, flarnum syrup and bitters with a bit of punk style.
The Absinthe Carousel was the vision that was Lucid. Ted Breaux explained how he was able to get absinthe repealed from banned status in the US. He got it approved through the FDA by submitting it without the actual absinthe name and a lower proof level. It was passed but when he revealed it was actually absinthe, there was a backpedal by the government agency…but it had already been approved. The essence that was key was bringing down the proof level which sometimes dispels it from being the actual recipe from overseas. Todd also harks down the aspect of lighting the spirit on fire which simply displaces its poignancy. despite an overall cultural pervasion to do so. His analogy is that you wouldn’t light a fine cognac on fire.
The first new perspective of absinthe, teasing from an earlier conversation, used his new Lucid Reserve [only 5000 cases were made] envisioning a frap shot of the spirit containing minute ice slices shaken three times as long to give it the coldest ripeness.
Down on the waterfront, Pat O’s On The River transitioned into the Bartender’s Competition visiting the creative insistence of a variety of domestic tastes with one ingredient necessary: Leblon Cachaca.
From Varnish in Downtown LA, the “Pepperini” envisioned lime in the mix to create a light but underwhelming mix. The “Taste du Brazil”, enticed out of San Francisco, fared better with its insistence of ingredients taking Leblon with grilled pinneaple, candied pecans and homemade syrup like a motley dance taking place.
On the other end of the spectrum, Tim from Star Bar in Milwaukee rocked a “Redemption” taking the Leblon with a speck of ginger beer and Sprite to make a wistful if not light spark.
From Austin, the aesthetic was in full hot mess mode with the beauty that was “Rosebud” from Mindy Kucans draped in petals and flavor. Her quote reverberated by girls all over the world declares that “chocolate is so fucking phenomenal” as the agave blend of her drink blends with the sweetness [Innocent is the chocolate confectionary she uses out of Austin] in an explosion of the senses.
New Orleans next takes the blend from Exu with a drink called “Mayiswan” using the Leblon, orange bitters and Lucid absinthe , chilled and icy with a spider garnish. Las Vegas comes to the stage with Tobin Ellis from Bar Monogamy bringing the “San Paolo Frap” zipping the icy with Leblon, apricot preserves, marmalade bitters and figs topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
Chicago takes the point with Christiana from the Joy Ruby with her “Zsa Zsa” using Leblon, blackberries and fresh lime topped with soda which pops from the underlying fruit. Phoenix Arizona by comparison wants the heat with “The Rising” dipping the glass in cinnamon edge and adding Leblon.
In the darkness of the night, Bacardi’s late night “Daiquiri Fest” in the inevitability of Broussards was everything it needed to be. Passing the bar in intense glare, the back room bathed in red beside open windows which parlayed a bed of every imaginable garnish and ingredient, fresh and willing upon the table with blackberries, strawberries, apples, pears, figs and the like.
A cucumber mojito set off the festivities with mixologist Nader declaring that “the sweet spot is at the bottom” and spoke of the naked rum parties of Zou Zou in New Orleans from years past. After a taste with the cherries in view, a coifed and high heeled beauty, writhing as a lotus flower swirled from her back, led your humble narrator astray through the lights of the party to a rum tasting in a private back room,, the ruby red lipstick smiling in her knowing.
A brow fedora clad gentleman, Aaron Ridonis, known as the “Roaming Gnome Of Rum” proceeded with a heightened tasting of the 8, 9 & 10 year Bacardi Reserva line. In the last 24 months, he says their output and demand has nearly doubled. First off in tasting, the 10 year casts a spell with a tinge of vanilla surrounded in a realm of apricot while the Gold, only aged 2 years, still satisfies in its own territory though Ridonis says that the going count for Bacardi is over 280,000 Cuba Libres served every hour. Bacardi also employs an anerobic plant in its Puerto Rico distillery which turns waste water from the molasses and yeast into methanol. As the cold efforts on a new peak with a 24 year rum, the cold essence of its smoky interior thrills with a big aftertaste that is worth the wait.
Returning to the fruit cacophany, D Victory, who works a mixologist at the Ritz Carlton New Orleans, makes “Something Dark” interpreting a noir setting of figs and blackberries with a viciousness of mint garnished by wasabi beads that swim through the mind. For D, in terms of bars in Orleans, The Frenchman is not to be missed. As the cherry mojito makes it way as if floating across the stage, the Lotus Flower tantalizes the lips as the girl with the leopard heels smiles back from the shadows.
At the Roosevelt, the witching hour passes as the Grey Goose Dans Le Noir glows in its possibilities. The appointments for the blind tasting ruminate as a 2am thought becomes the reality. At the bar, the susceptability of the two/one Goose & Cran allowed for carniverous interaction as the stairs beckoned.
With hands aloft on each other’s shoulders balancing the cocktail of choice, the descent into darkness placed the willing participants at tables of predetermined notion. No standing was allowed as the swirling of soldiers in night vision placed parallel glasses in two pairs of both pears and oranges and the respective infused vodkas using purely smell to separate the real. The separation, especially on the pear, was surprisingly sparse.
As the bar continued till the 3am hour, the infusion of mixed Goose from honey to pear danced the white glowing until the lights raised.
The Xante Tasting at the brisk of noon the next day implemented the angle of Heering within the “Star Crossed Lovers” mixing Jameson, almond orgeny, lemon juice and egg whites into a sweet concoction of light as The Cigar Factory New Orleans offered a “Smooth Dream” for later consumption.
Other Xante conceptions blended in the light from the “Ginger Snap” mixing in simple syrup, fresh ginger and sugar to the “Chocolate Covered Cherry” layer (belied of Evan’s Dog Bar in San Fran) to the “Sapphire” which highlighting Xante on Ice originating in lust from the Sunset Lounge at The Mondrian in Miami.
At the G Vine lunch atop the Soul Revival Suite at the Montelone, the rejuvenation of crepes filled with mushrooms and spinach started the thrust anew with a water overload balanced by a vegetable tomato broth. Breaths were contained as the slip began.
The beauty of St. Germain entertained the afternoon within the black walled contained darkness of a secluded room as the mix of the beautiful Cointreau Noir offered symphony of vision. A balanced love in the “Lemon Creme Yvette” swirled inAviation Gin served chilled and rocked up to the core while the lure of the Swizzlestick off the Quarter reveled our thoughts.
The essence of the second part of this trevail culminated in a panel recounting resolute tales of the Burlesque times of yore on Bourbon where the performance and tease was the pinpoint, according to the famous Kitty West who was the original “Evangelion Oyster Girl”. Next to her, Wild Cherry, who played over 500 clubs in her day, recollects the days in the 50s of full jazz bands and comedy emcees where the streets came to you. The pictures shown of burlesque queen Lilly Christine (since died) are the spitting image of Elizabeth Berkeley (late of “Showgirls”).
In the nights and times of the high-end burlesque clubs in New Orleans, the shows didn’t begin until 9:30pm and sometimes went until 3am with 3 to 4 shows a night. Cherry reveries her Oriental AfroAsian dance. The place to be at that time was the Old French Opera House on Bourbon where whiskey was served through a hole. One of the bigger draws was the “Champagne Girl” who had what Cherry called “shelf tits” which she could drink off of.
West jumps back in the fray with the mention of the infamous Blaze Starr, whom she did not like and whom she thought was a “money digging woman” who had affairs off the course. According to West, Starr would chew up roses and “spit them on her tits” to which West would always say: “You better spit something on them!”
One of the most famous burlesque images of the day involved Kitty West which was captured in Life Magazine at Stormy’s Casino Royale. One of the girls was commencing a strip tease out of a filled water tank. In the middle, Kitty came out full bore and cracked the glass aquarium with an axe in full view. The shot was brilliant and she was carted off to jail since the audience didn’t know it was a publicity stunt. The cops carted her away with some great shots but she never stepped behind the bars as a photo at the station attests with her smoking a cigarette.
The key here on the panel was stories but also a love of the old burlesque. Resolutely, as a young twenty something with the love of the tease reversed her glowing naked skin back into her sedate and conservative pant suit, the delicious taste that lies below was resurrected in a lost art that many in New Orleans are looking to recapture.
Rick DeLaup, moderator of the panel, lies behind the resurgence in the Quarter enticing the “Bustout Burlesque” nights at the House Of Blues New Orleans to begin the rage. The beauty of what could be found again continues with what he hopes will be the first New Orleans Burlesque Festival kicking off in September. Kitty & Cherry says that what passes on the streets today on Bourbon is not burlesque because “they are giving it out for free”. It is about performance and the art of being sexy.