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Restaurants & Bars 6

A Tale of Two Couples, Part 1 -- Marriott Downtown and Kingfish

Dave Feldman | Apr 20, 201510:04 PM

I spent 17 days in New Orleans on two separate trips. Both times I was involved with meetings at the downtown Marriott that severely constrained when and where we could eat. There were many highlights and a few disappointments, but in these two posts, I wanted to pay tribute to two couples who I never saw together who helped make my stay special.

The first night at the Marriott Bar, I received a fabulous Sazerac from an obviously talented bartender. Mixology is a crucial but far from the sole quality of a great bartender -- part of the job is extending maximum hospitality to most, while having a firm hand with the inebriated and the obnoxious. I could tell within ten minutes that Laura excelled in all of these skills.

I'm sitting next to my friend, telling him about this famous bartender who is presently working at Kingfish, who is a principal of The Museum of the American Cocktail, who had posted mixology videos on YouTube that I enjoyed, and was the favorite bartender of some folks I respect. Laura overheard me talking and asked: "Are you talking about Chris McMillian?" I nodded. She said: "That's my husband."

I ended up shuttling between these two places more than I'd like to admit. Chris is usually stationed at the bar closest to the door. He has his groupies and regulars, but he has no airs or pretensions, and watching him and the staff he trained ply their trade was an entertaining spectator sport. He knows how to make classics, and he knows how to improvise. And he knows how to make people welcome. I have to confess that I was disappointed in both of my meals at Kingfish (one lunch and one dinner). They've made changes in the kitchen recently. But don't let that keep you from having a drink with Chris.

And I'm certainly not going to recommend the food at the Marriott lobby. But now I wouldn't think of visiting New Orleans without seeing Laura Johnson McMillian, who is an extraordinary bartender in an ordinary setting.

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