Erato has manifested herself on South Grand as a wine bar. It's a beautiful place, and just what the South Grand district needs. The area has a few good bars, a handful of excellent international restaurants, a little dance club and a smattering of retail, but when Once Upon a Vine shuttered a few years ago the district was left without a good place to drink wine. Erato corrects this and augments its impressive wine list with a choice selection of beers, cheeses and desserts.
Last Thursday was Erato's VIP party, and the place was crawling with people. It's a big, comfortable room with bottles poking out of holes in the walls, a chalkboard offering suggestions and a display case chilling chunks of cheese. On this night Erato was giving it away, and where there are free drinks, people tend to overindulge. Something about greed, gluttony and celebration.
Erato also has an impressive cocktail list, which is made even more so by its restraint. Where some places cram their list with too many options, Erato sticks to six -- mojito, caipirinha, kir royale, bellini, the Deposition (vodka and Red Bull) and, our favorite tonight, the Sazerac.
The Sazerac is reported to be America's first-ever cocktail, although that, of course, depends on your definition of cocktail. For ages drinkers have been mixing booze with other things -- herbs, berries, twigs, etc. -- but in early-nineteenth-century New Orleans, one Antoine Amedee Peychaud blended his brand of bitters, Peychaud, with cognac, absinthe and sugar. The result was no doubt a heavenly drink that made the Southern clouds a little fluffier, the whore at the end of the bar a little prettier and your own a life a little more livable. Alas, when absinthe was outlawed in 1912, Big Easy bartenders substituted other, less-lethal anise-infused liqueurs. Variations abound, but Erato co-owner Tim Foley makes his with Wild Turkey, genuine Peychaud Aromatic Cocktail Bitters and Herbsaint liqueur, a New Orleans brand that closely resembles absinthe, though it's not aged in wormwood.
On paper, the concoction sounds lethal. But on the tongue, it's an exquisite, complex cocktail. The whiskey hits first, then does a loop-to-loop as your palate makes sense of the blend of bitters and the Herbsaint, both of which add a subtle depth of licorice and spices. The result is a drink that's warm but not cloying, sensual without being slutty. It's the kind of drink that loosens the head. Fiddles with your mind. Caresses your body. You gotta try one.