In the world of craft cocktails, we praise the “mixologist,” who artfully balances each component of a complicated drink. But sometimes we just need someone to pour us a beer and a shot, listen to our joy or woe and offer murmurs of congratulations or condolence. You hit the lottery when you sit in front of a bartender who can do both, said Rhiannon Enlil, at the Erin Rose at 811 Conti St.
Enlil moved to New Orleans from Southern California. After helping a friend serve drinks at a private event, she caught the bartending bug. The next day, she opened the phone book and called every bar in the French Quarter, looking for a job. She stopped at “H,” landing a post at the now-defunct Hogs Bar. (Her wry assessment: “Each succeeding job has been a step up.”)
The turning point in her career was working at the Shim Sham, now One-Eyed Jacks, where she learned from what she calls, “a great crew of badass female bartenders.” The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina sent her to Seattle, where she worked a corporate job. Business life was not for her, she said, but in Seattle, she found her calling when she visited the Zig Zag Cafe and met nationally respected bartender, Murray Stenson.
“It was a revelation,” she recalled. “I realized you could make a career as a bartender and be taken seriously.” Moving back to New Orleans in 2007, she worked as an apprentice at Tales of the Cocktail and later found work at craft cocktail venues around town. But in those rarified venues, she said she came to feel she was giving short shrift to the core value of the service industry: hospitality.
So she returned to her roots, picking up shifts at her favorite French Quarter neighborhood haunt, the Erin Rose, and soon was a regular staff member, and then a manager. You can now find her there every Thursday and Friday. While making a good drink is a valuable skill, she said, “My most important job is to make everyone feel welcome.”
The Erin Rose embodies Enlil’s belief that everyone who comes into a bar should immediately feel at ease. “You can see a construction worker covered in dust and paint, drinking a Budweiser, talking to a politician in a business suit drinking a martini,” she said.
Enlil has become knowledgeable ambassador for the city.
“In the French Quarter, anyone can walk in, from the local who’s had a bad day to the couple on their honeymoon visiting New Orleans for the first time,” she said. “I have to turn their day into something positive, something that promotes New Orleans as a whole.”
This role as New Orleans cheerleader has given her a particular knowledge, and she said she embraces her status as a downtown woman.
“I can’t tell you where certain restaurants are Uptown that I probably should know, but I can draw a map of the French Quarter upside-down on a bar napkin.”
Enlil hopes to get the opportunity to stretch her creativity in her new job as the event coordinator at Latitude 29, Jeff Berry’s new tiki bar, slated to open this fall.
“What makes me happiest is creating an atmosphere where people have a good time,” she said.
Elizabeth Pearce is the co-author of “The French Quarter Drinking Companion.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @etpearce.
Broussard’s . . . . . . . 819 Conti St.
“Their happy hour includes absinthe specials, which is one of my favorite spirits, and it’s hosted by Paul Gustings, one of my favorite bartenders. The fact that it’s next door to the Erin Rose doesn’t hurt either.”
Flannagan’s . . . 625 St. Phillip St.
“You never know who you’re going to end up talking to in a 24-hour bar. You see folks from all walks of life at all hours and their bartenders are really friendly ... when you visit a bar that never closes, you never know who (or what) you’re going to see.”
Barrel Proof 1201 Magazine St.
“I like the straightforward concept: fine whiskey and a huge beer selection done well.”
W.I.N.O. 610 Tchoupitoulas St.
“I really enjoy getting to sample so many wines without having to commit to the $20 glass!”
Pal’s 949 N. Rendon St.
“This is kind of the Erin Rose of Mid-City. A great staff, concerted effort to make sure everyone is having a good time. And who doesn’t love air hockey?”