A trio of exceptional female bartenders from the Commander’s Family of Restaurants share their passion for spirits and the city where cocktails were born.
Abigail Gullo at SoBou
“We have good Sazerac juju,” Abigail Gullo, Bar Chef of SoBou explained, “this building we’re sitting in was once an ice house, so those very first Sazeracs from Pechaud’s apothecary were quite possibly chilled from the ice gotten right here.” Although she recently moved to the Crescent City from New York, Gullo likely knows more about New Orleans’ storied cocktail history than many locals. Vivacious in a 40s-style, vintage dress and a large, red flower pinned over her ear, Gullo draws you in with her enthusiasm and astounds with her vast knowledge of spirits.
For several years previous to her migration, Gullo traveled to New Orleans to participate in Tales of the Cocktail where she’s won several awards for her creative genius, recognition which won her the job of Head Bar Chef here at SoBou. A true New Yorker, it was difficult at first for Gullo to take the leap, but once she got down here, she felt as if she’d come home. “I really love New Orleans,” she said with a heartfelt smile,”I’ve had so much unrequited love in my life, it’s nice to have someone love me back.”
Since her arrival, Gullo has thrown herself into the groove whole-heartedly, taking advantage of fresh local produce and working closely with Chef Juan Carlos Gonzales to create cocktails that pair well with the current menu. “I’ve never worked at a bar that didn’t also have great food.” She also likes to mix her own simple syrups and is currently experimenting with a Satsuma-Rosemary flavor.
A proud supporter of the Museum of the American Cocktail, Gullo has also began hosting seminars, the first of which being “Outtake Manhattan,” a sold-out show recently hosted at SoBou. Manhattans resonate both historically and personally with Gullo, considering her grandfather taught her how to make one when she was only 8-years-old. “People are thirsty for this knowledge,” she explained, “They’re hungry for this knowledge and excited about it and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Even though her first passion is spirits, Gullo unabashedly admits her love of song. When she is not behind the bar, she adores performing karaoke and hopes one day to find a group of local musicians to put on a cocktail-themed cabaret show. In the meantime, she is happy to soak up the local love. “I am so happy to be in this city — to be surrounded by good music, good food and good people.”
Abigail Gullo’s featured cocktail is an homage to her family’s history and name. In fact, the Charbonneau’s are featured in the Southern Food & Beverage Museum because her distant cousin, Toussaint Charbonneau, was a cook for the famed Lewis & Clark Expedition and is well-known for his marriage to Sacagawea, whom he won in a poker game.
2 oz. Willett Family Reserve Rye
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. 100% maple syrup
¼ oz. Bittermen’s Bitters
Shake all the ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe that has been rinsed with absinthe or herbsaint. Finish with a sprig of fresh thyme.
Ferrel Dugas at Commander’s Palace
Locally born and raised, Ferrel Dugas began her career in the restaurant industry at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in it’s flagship location on Broad Street. Although Dugas started out as a hostess, her “eyes were focused on the bar” and once she summoned up the courage, she asked the manager if she could watch and learn. Before long, Dugas was in training and spent the next five years perfecting her craft. “I fell in love with it right away and knew it was what I wanted to do.”
The levee failures in 2005 forced Dugas to relocate, though she was able to pick up shifts at the Ruth’s Chris located in Dallas, Texas. When she returned home, Dugas was forced to search for another job and found herself at Dino’s Bar & Grill, a small corner bar in the Warehouse District on Tchoupitoulas Street. “At Dino’s I was able to branch out and begin creating my own cocktails.”
A close friend who worked at Commander’s Palace encouraged Dugas to apply. She began her career at Commander’s under the expert eye of well-known mixologist Danny Valdez. “He took me under his wing and taught me everything he knows.” Other mentors include Lu Brow from the Swizzle Stick and her own very own grandfather.
A member of the local Freemasons, Dugas’ grandfather was often in charge of procuring liquor for the organizations many parties. “I remember being a kid and seeing all this liquor sitting around the house,” Dugas related,”He [Dugas’ grandfather] would explain about the different bourbons and ryes,a bout their history and production.” Too young to appreciate his knowledge at the time, Dugas now enjoys long conversations with her grandfather who, she claims, is “like an encyclopedia when it comes to bourbon.” He’s even gone so far as to handcraft an elegant, wooden muddler that she keeps behind the bar at Commander’s Palace.
Dugas loves experimenting with new flavors, both savory and sweet, even at home. “I have four different types of basil growing in my backyard” and is often encouraged by friends, family and co-workers to mix up batch cocktails for special events. Dugas has been experimenting and creating recipes using a hand-crafted, Jamaican Hibiscus Tea, ginger beer brewed by Julie, her “wing-man” behind the bar and some house made limincellos.
Ferrel Dugas’ featured cocktail employs one of her latest creations, a house-made, basil-infused simple syrup, to create her take on a French 75.
1 oz. St. Germain Elderflower Liquor
1 oz. Tanqueray Gin
1 oz. Basil-infused simple syrup
1 oz. Fresh lemon juice
1 oz. Cava or champagne
Shake with ice and strain into a champagne flute. Finish with a fresh basil leaf.
Lu Brow at Cafe Adelaide & the Swizzle Stick Bar
“I think if you really want to change something, it’s better if it’s hands-on. Post-Katrina, I decided that I wanted drinks to be better in New Orleans and I wanted it to start at my bar.” After 15 years in the food and beverage industry, Lu Brow made the move from Beverage Manager to Bar Chef with the intention that she could move back should it not work out.
“I knew after only a couple weeks into it, that I was never going back.”
Originally from Northern Louisiana, Brow moved to New Orleans to work at Cafe Adelaide after leaving her job as general manager of Bella Fresca, an Italian-inspired restaurant located in Shreveport. Although she loved to cook since she was a young girl, Brow actually spent a large part of her adult life working with an ophthalmologist, which is why, she claims, her “bar is always organized from left to right.”
Brow considers herself fortunate to have spent a lot of time with Ted Haigh, a.k.a. “Dr. Cocktail,” who spent a lot of time hanging out at the Swizzle Stick right after Katrina. “I consider him the foremost authority on vintage spirits and cocktails.” Since it was during a time when many people still hadn’t returned to the city, Brow and Haigh spent hours together, almost nightly, discussing the craft. “One of my favorite things about vintage cocktails is that they were normally made with just a few ingredients. The beauty is in the simplicity.”
A healthy aversion to canned and bottled mixers, Brow is passionate about creating her own juices and mixes from fresh fruits and vegetables. She also enjoys working closely with Chef Chris Barbato, preparing a cocktail menu that is designed to pair with his seasonal cuisine. “He [Chef Barbato] even brought be Meyer lemons from his own tree when I hosted a cocktail brunch not too long ago.”
Brow and Barbato also offer what’s known as the “Bar Chef’s Table” that is available Monday through Thursday by reservation. A custom menu is prepared and each course is paired with a special cocktail served in vintage glassware and served by Brow who discusses the virtues of each pairing throughout the meal. “Recommending cocktails should be a very unique experience. The last thing you want is for someone to drink a cocktail they don’t enjoy.”
Lu Brow’s featured cocktail was created with the intention of having more savory options on the menu. She enjoys the idea of the cold gin against the heat derived from a dash of Crystal Hot Sauce.
Some Like It Hot
1 ½ oz. Tanqueray Gin
½ oz. lemon
½ oz. agave nectar
2 drops Crystal Hot Sauce
slice of red bell pepper for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain entire contents into a rocks glass that has been rimmed with a paprika and cayenne mix. Garnish with a slice of red bell pepper.
*Article originally published February 2013 in NolaWoman.com
**Cafe Adelaide and The Swizzle Stick Bar is closed. Abigail Gullo is currently behind the stick at a bar in the PNW, Lu Brow is at Brennan’s Restaurant in the French Quarter and Ferrel Dugas is still slinging drinks as the bar chef at Commander’s Palace.