“I like to make the Sazerac,” said Kirk Estopinal, partner at Bellocq, Cure, and Cane & Table. “It’s seen as very simple, but a Sazerac can actually be sublime if it’s properly made. It’s got history, and you’re standing on the grounds of it.”
I caught up with Estopinal at the Hotel Modern, where Bellocq, his primary project, is located. The upscale cocktail bar is named for E.J. Bellocq, an early 20th-century photographer who photographed the madams of Storyville, NOLA’s former red-light district. Estopinal and his team gleaned inspiration from looking at Bellocq’s old photos, particularly those of the Storyville women playing cards.
Before opening Bellocq, Estopinal left his home in New Orleans for a few years to pursue the cocktail craft in Chicago. “My time in Chicago opened my eyes to the fact that the restaurant industry is a very respectable profession, full of passionate people,” he said.
When he returned to New Orleans, Estopinal was introduced to Neil Bodenheimer, who later became his business partner at Cure, Bellocq and Cane & Table.
“We didn’t want to replicate Cure,” said Estopinal when I asked him more about the early days of Bellocq. Instead they centered Bellocq’s menu around cobblers, an older form of cocktail that is made up of a base spirit, fresh fruit and sugar. Cobblers were particularly popular during the Storyville era, so in addition to the dimly lit lounge atmosphere, Bellocq’s customers can literally drink in the time period.
Go visit Kirk Estopinal at Bellocq, and check out his favorite things to do in NOLA below.
20 Questions with Kirk Estopinal
1. Who is your favorite New Orleanian, dead or alive, real or imagined?
My son Rex is my favorite New Orleanian. He’s even got a New Orleans name.
2. What first brought you to New Orleans?
I’m from here. I left for a little while, but family and a sense of community brought me back.
3. In your opinion – what’s the best neighborhood in New Orleans?
Algiers Point. It’s got all the historic charm of an Uptown neighborhood, but it’s very quiet after six except for a few bars. It’s like my fortress of solitude.
4. City Park or Audubon Park?
City Park. There are lots of activities there: the museum, coffee and beignets, putt putt, riding bikes. It’s a great place to hang out with my son.
5. Describe the best meal you’ve eaten in New Orleans?
There are so many different criteria here. I went with my wife to Restaurant August when we were living away. That was a fantastic meal. It was my wife’s birthday, and it was great to be back home in New Orleans. Another good meal was the Company Burger I ate in the hospital room after my son was born. I’ve also had a great omakase meal at Horinoya, when I snuck out from work and I had an hour to myself.
6. Where’s your favorite brunch spot?
Cane & Table, because it’s not all breakfast food.
7. What’s your favorite po-boy? Where do you go to get it?
8. You’ve got friends visiting and it’s their first time in New Orleans – where are you taking them?
9. What’s your favorite neighborhood bar?
10. What is your favorite New Orleans cocktail and where do you go to get it?
11. Snowball or Daiquiri? Where from and what flavor?
Daiquiri. The classic lime, sugar and rum daiquiri. I’ve been going to Latitude 29 lately.
12. Best spot to see live music?
13. Favorite New Orleans musician or band?
I like Belong – two guys from the Westbank, who are friends of mine. Their album October Language is one of my favorites.
14. Favorite New Orleans Festival?
Jazz Fest. It’s part of my life. I’ve been going since I was a kid.
15. Favorite Mardi Gras parade?
My favorite walking krewe is Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast Walking Club. They walk before Zulu on Mardi Gras Day. We used to stay up all night just to catch it.
16. Where do you shop in New Orleans?
17. What is your favorite New Orleans museum?
18. Where do you go to watch The Saints play?
My house, because my wife watches the game while I surf the Internet. I’m not a huge football fan.
19. Describe New Orleans in one word.
20. When was the last time you fell in love with New Orleans and why?
I would say when the Saints won the Super Bowl, even though I just said I don’t love football. It was a great community experience, and everyone was excited about the same thing.