Chris McMillian, Bar Uncommon, New Orleans, LA, Louisiana, Where to drink in New Orleans, Best Bartenders, Recommendations, Mixologist, Bartender, Alexandriaq, VA, Virginia, Washington, DC, Chicago, IL, Illinois, Houston, TX, Texas, Portland, OR, Oregon, Seattle, WA, Washington, Bourbon, Vermouth, Bitters, Soda, Websites, What to drink, Best Bars, Best Bartenders

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Q & A

Q & A With Bartender Chris McMillian

Q. How did you get involved in the Museum of the American Cocktail:

A. When I started working, we didn’t have the internet. When you want to be good at something you imitate those who are good at it. I had been roughly modeling my aspirations as a bartender after Dale DeGroff and his philosophy of fresh ingredient drinks. One night, Dale and his wife, Jill, came to my bar for a drink...six months went by with me not thinking about it and then one Saturday night, I’m working the bar and the phone rings: “Hi, this is Dale Degroff, you don’t know who I am, but we’re starting a cocktail museum in New Orleans, would you like to be involved?

(laughs) I would love to do it!

Q. You’ve been referred to as “legendary” and as “the dean of New Orleans bartenders.” As a respected craftsman of the trade, what do you think are the essential elements that make a great bartender?

A. I’m not a culinary person, I don’t describe myself as a bar chef, my sole purpose is nothing more complex than to please people. If you don’t receive gratification from pleasing other people, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, it just means that you shouldn’t be in the hospitality industry.

I think what people recognize about me is that I give a shit. It’s so rare in today’s world for people to have one expertise at retail, I hesitate to call this retail, but I can’t think of another word that describes it. But when you come in and sit down in our indifferent society to have somebody care about the outcome of your experience, that is compelling.

Q. What is the most satisfying part of making drinks?

A. I do this because it is what I like to do and if you love what you do, you never go to work a day in your life.

I’ve learned there is no big bang theory to making drinks, or some secret that you’ve learn, it’s cumulative incrementally small things that add up to better. Each thing that you do, you do on purpose and for good reason, and hopefully it adds up to a better drink than what people had previously gotten.

Q. With more interest in craft cocktails, is the industry changing as a whole?

A. Nothing will be successful until it’s consumer driven. Owners do things the way they do them because they make money. Craft cocktails are not necessarily more profitable. They take longer to make, they require higher costs, more ingredients that you have to store -- many of which are perishable, and many people equate speed with service.

You walk into the Pegu Club, you have an expectation by virtue of that fact that you’re there and the drinks are going to take a little bit longer to make.

I have a wide range of people who come to see me specifically for craft cocktails. I also have regular Marriott guests who want their Miller Lite and don’t understand why they are waiting seven minutes to get their Miller Lite. I have an obligation to please them, just as great as I have to please the person who has come there to massage my ego. It’s very difficult to balance.

Advice / Tips

Q. What makes a good customer? What’s the best way to make friends with your bartender and ensure great service?

A. Tell people what you like. Be open to try new things. There are ways to say ‘I don’t like this’ without being rude. I do have an emotional investment in my work. I think most of us do.

If I serve you a drink and you don’t like it, it is going to break my heart. But when I serve you a drink, there is a non-verbal response that I’m looking for that gives me validation for the time, effort and energy that I put into accumulating the knowledge and set of skills to be able to please you and it lets me know that what I’m doing has value and worth.


We talk about the Golden Age of bartending as being from the 1870’s to the 1920’s. If you were a 19th century male and a business person, life was lived in the confines of these saloons. This is a unique American cultural contribution, like jazz and baseball, the American cocktail.

I’m not the first one to draw the metaphor between the bar and the church -- they have their priest, we have ours. They have their robes, we have ours, they have their sacraments, we have ours, they have their alter, we have ours. There are many, many similarities between these two places.



Q. What spirits are you excited about using presently?

A. Bitter -- the industry right now is in love with the Italians. I think we’re going to see more more savory and bitter-sweet cocktails.

I really like the Campari Mojito -- the interaction between the mint, the lime and the Campari is surprising and very very good.

[See recipe.]

Carpano Antica Formula -- what a spectacular product. There is almost nothing that you use it for that it is not so much better. But the flavor is so big, that you have to match it with equally big flavors.

Audrey Saunders of the Pegu Club said matching flavors is like boxers. You have to put a light weight with a light weight and a heavy weight with a heavy weight. So, if I were making a Manhattan, Maker’s Mark is too soft to stand up to the intensity of Carpano Antica. So, I have to go with something like Booker’s or Eagle Rare 17 to give it the right backbone.

[See details.]

Q. Ever use rye in a Manhattan?

A. I do, and it’s arguably the original manifestation of the Manhattan, but I still am a bourbon guy. One is not better than the other, it’s what you like. No other single drink offers as broad a canvas as the Manhattan.

Q. Do you ever vary the bitters?

A. I’m an Angostura guy. Angostura, Peychaud's and The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters. Those are the three really classic bitters. The Bitter Truth, out of Germany, is making really high quality, beautiful products.

[See details.]

Q. How about mixers that you like?

A. In researching Henry Ramos, I found out he used celery tonic. Celery shares many of the same kinds of qualities as cucumber does, and it has a peppery quality to it, which makes it suitable for the Bloody Mary.

I started looking for a celery tonic recipe, which I didn’t find, but it led me to Dr. Brown’s Cel-Rey. Dr. Brown’s has been making celery soda since the 19th century. It was so popular with the Jewish community in Manhattan, that it was described as Jewish Champagne!

[See details.]

Q. In researching the Ramos Gin Fizz, did you find an authentic recipe?

A. It is my contention that nobody alive has ever tasted a Ramos Gin Fizz, because Henry Ramos closed his store in 1919 and he had the secret recipe. He died during prohibition, but before he died, he had an interview with a Times-Picayune reporter and reportedly revealed the recipe.

He used whole milk, non-homogenized. Today, we’re using cream or half and half, which I think is heavier than probably what was originally used. The other thing that he did was put the club soda in the drink before it was shaken and the shaking of the drink famously took a very long time.

The Ramos Saloon was the Pat O'Briens of the 19th Century. It was the most renowned bar in New Orleans. It was obligatory, if you were a man, when you came to New Orleans to stop at the Ramos bar and have a Ramos Gin Fizz, in the same way it’s obligatory today to have a Hurricane.

Q. I noticed that you use the Pug! Muddler. What do you like about it?

A. I use different muddlers for different purposes. But if I’m making a Caipirinha, for instance, and I’m doing something that really requires muscle to crush the fruit, then the size, the heft of it, and particularly the slant, the bias that the handle is cut at, the way it fits in my palm reduces stress. It distributes the force across my hand, as opposed to concentrating it and focusing it in a single area.

[See details.]


Q. What are the must-hit historic places in New Orleans?

A. Some of these places you don’t go to necessarily because the cocktails are the greatest, there are all different kinds of bars and different reasons for going to bars. But each one of these is a very special and unique place in its own right.

There is The Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. The bar is a real treasure.

Tujagues in the French Quarter. Many of the 19th century handmade bars are disappearing. But, you walk into Tujagues and you look at the back bar and you’ve never seen anything like it. You will see something that will speak to an age that no longer exists.

Arnaud’s French 75 -- I think it’s a beautiful bar. There’s a feel in those kinds of rooms that you don’t get when you walk into the most neighborhood places. And Chris Hannah is one of the most celebrated bartenders in America.

[See details.]

New Orleans, LA

Q. For people going on a New Orleans cocktail journey, what are some other cocktail bars to stop into?

A. Cure -- created by Neal Bodenheimer, a native New Orleanian who worked in the Manhattan cocktail scene and after Katrina felt compelled to come back home. He took a 19th century firehouse and renovated it. It’s a very beautiful, lovely space and our first stand-alone cocktail destination. Just the most talented group of young bartenders in the city, each very different with their own personal style. It’s certainly a fun place to go if you want to experience the cutting-edge of the craft cocktail community in New Orleans.

Dominique’s -- Kimberly Patton-Bragg is absolutely a stand out, having worked at Blue Smoke in Manhattan.

Loa -- Alan Walter is arguably the most creative, just over the top experimental bartender in the city.

Tiffany Soles at the Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse just won New Orleans ‘Bartender of the Year.’

Napoleon House -- I doubt anywhere outside of England is the Pimm’s Cup as celebrated as it is here, particularly associated with the Napoleon House as their house drink.

Sylvain -- it’s gastropub-esque and really new to New Orleans. Murf Reeves is making some really some great drinks.

Victory -- Daniel Victory and I worked together at the Ritz and he’s won a number of national competitions.

[See details.]

Q. Who in the cocktail world should be on our radar?

Washington, DC Area

A. The DC Corridor is really one of the most vibrant cocktail communities in the country right now. Derek Brown is probably at the center of that [at the Columbia Room], along with Todd Thrasher [at PX].

[See details.]

Portland, OR

A. In Portland, Oregon, Ricky Gomez, who is from New Orleans, is working in a place called Teardrop Lounge.

[See details.]

Seattle, WA

A. In Seattle, the Zig Zag Cafe. It’s a neighborhood bar with what many consider to be the best bartender in America, Murray Stenson. Known for their cocktail The Last Word, which was an obscure drink that existed as a speciality in the 1950’s and now there is not a cocktail bar in the world that can you walk into and not get this drink.

[See details.]

Chicago, IL

A. In Chicago, Adam Seger is one of the senior figures in the American cocktail community, he worked for French Laundry and he’s a Certified Culinary Professional (CCP).

Charles Joly was chosen as ‘Best Bartender in America’ based on a particular reality show competition.

Toby Maloney, who worked at both Pegu Club and Milk and Honey, now has a place called The Violet Hour.

[See details.]

Houston, TX

A. I had a young man who came to the bar when I was working at the Ritz Carlton and he was so inspired he went back to Houston and opened Anvil, which is now an internationally recognized bar and I got to inspire somebody.

[See details.]


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Details of Chris McMillian’s recommendations for where to drink in New Orleans and around the country.

Cocktail Recipes


- Campari Mojito

- Gin Martini


Bar Uncommon - New Orleans, LA

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Bar Uncommon

Central Business District

Cocktail Lounge / Bar

Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel

817 Common Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
T: 504.525.1111


Museum Of the American cocktail

Riverwalk Marketplace

Cocktail Museum

1 Poydras Street, Suite 169

New Orleans, LA 70130

T: 504.569.0405



Mon - Sat: 10am - 7pm

Sun: 12pm - 6pm

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Recommended By

- Bartender Chris Hannah (Arnaud’s French 75, New Orleans, LA)


Chris McMillian’s recommendations for where to drink in New Orleans and around the country.