Traditional tools and medicines at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. (Photo: Christiana Botic)
New Orleans has always been a site of healing — even before the French Mississippi Company officially founded the Louisiana city in 1718. 1300 years before Europeans colonized the swampy land, the Mississippi culture, a mound-building Native American civilization, thrived in the bayou, using the herbs of the land for healing rituals linked to the cycles of agriculture. After les Français and los Españoles moved in with their European-trained pharmacists and brought in African slaves who had their own medicinal traditions, Louisiana’s apothecary heritage became as creole as its music, cuisine, and language. New Orleans’ apothecaries were also significant in the development of cocktails through the creation of bitters and “medicinal alcohol concoctions.” After Hurricane Katrina devastated the area 10 years ago in August 2005, many people — and not just NOLA natives — journeyed to the city to volunteer, and ended up staying for good, falling in love with the city. To celebrate NOLA’s rich history of healing, past and present, we uncovered four apothecary-themed spots seeped deep into the multicultural energy of the southern city.
Cure Cocktail Bar
905 Freret St, New Orleans, LA 70115
New Orleans cocktail bar, Cure, inspired by an era when cocktails were made with medicine and home remedies. (Photo: Christiana Botic)
New Orleans’ most famous cocktail (and possibly the first true cocktail ever), the Sazerac, was developed in the early 19th century by a pharmacist named Antoine Amédée Peychaud. Legend has it that he mixed stomach bitters from his pharmacy with French brandy from his cabinet, and poured the liquids into French egg cups called coquetiers, which sounds like “cocktails.” Cocktail bar Cure builds upon these apothecary traditions, from herbal-infused cordial to vermouth. “New Orleans is a city of preservationists,” Cure co-owner Neal Bodenheimer tells Yahoo Beauty.
“New Orleans has always had a very sophisticated drinking culture that we wanted to capture,” says Neal Bodenheimer, co-owner of Cure. (Photo: Christiana Botic)
Bodenheimer grew up in NOLA, became a bartender in New York City’s trendiest bars, and moved back home after Katrina. “I felt like if I didn’t return to New Orleans, no one was going to build the city for us,” he said. He found an old firehouse that was flooded out, which became the site for what would become Cure. Originally, he wanted to name the bar Apothecary, but law prohibits anything but actual apothecaries carrying the misleading name. “We wanted a place that was lived in for a long time,” he says. “New Orleans has always had a very sophisticated drinking culture that we wanted to capture.”
3201 Toulouse St, New Orleans, LA 70119
Rosalie Apothecary in New Orleans carries locally-grown herbs and tonics. (Photo: Christiana Botic)
Christiane Wurmstedt founded this herb shop after moving from New York City to New Orleans to volunteer in the Lower Ninth Ward five years after Katrina. “While I was volunteering, my father died,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “It was comforting to be in a city that deals with death all the time and acknowledges it publicly.” She had worked at herb shop Flower Power Herbs and Roots in New York City prior to this move.
Herb shop, Rosalie Apothecary, in Mid-City, New Orleans. (Photo: Christiana Botic)
For three years, Wurmstedt studied southern folk medicine under Phyllis D. Light in a rural community in Northern Alabama where the herbal tradition never faded. “There’s the European tradition, the Indian Ayurvedic tradition, the Chinese tradition,” she says. “In North America, it’s a mixture of European, African, and Native American herbal traditions, but a lot of it has died with the pharmacy industry.” New Orleans, from its old European apothecaries to its voodoo shops, is no stranger to herbal remedies. Rosalie Apothecary sells many locally sourced herbs and oils, such as gotu kola, which rebuilds collagen, and yellow dock root, which detoxes the liver.
New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
514 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130
The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum was once a working pharmacy. (Photo: Christiana Botic)
“Medicinal practice in New Orleans was a true amalgamation of different cultures: European trained pharmacists, African Americans and Native Americans all made significant contributions to successful treatments and cures,” New Orleans Pharmacy Museum director Elizabeth Sherman tells Yahoo Beauty. In fact, America’s first licensed pharmacist, Louis Joseph Dufilho, Jr., hailed from the city. His apothecary was the first licensed pharmacy in the United States — before that, there was no regulation involved.
European bitters sit alongside voodoo tonics at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. (Photo: Christiana Botic)
This apothecary is now the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, which opened in 1950. In this Spanish colonial building, you can find the bitters used by Peychaud to not only treat ailments, but also mix drinks, and voodoo potion recipes taught to local pharmacists by voodoo priestesses. The museum suffered significant roof damaged after Katrina and was closed until the spring of 2016 due to repairs and lack of tourism. This National Register of Historic Places site is no longer functional, but “[o]ne can still purchase traditional, 19th century local cure-alls from some of the pharmacies and voodoo shops that have existed in the City and outlying towns for years,” says Sherman.
1728 Soniat St, New Orleans, LA 70115
Gautreau’s Restaurant is housed a former pharmacy from 1911. (Photo: Christiana Botic)
Modern French-American restaurant Gautreau’s is housed in a building that has seen several generations and iterations of apothecaries and pharmacies. In 1911, when it was built, it was the site for Jahn’s, a Dutch pharmacy. “I originally had a 4'x4’ one-way mirror which enabled the druggist to work and see the public area of the pharmacy at the same time,” Gautreau’s owner Patrick Singley tells Yahoo Beauty. Unfortunately, the mirror was ruined by Katrina. In 1941, a family called the Marsh’s took over and ran the pharmacy as Marsh’s Pharmacy. In 1981, the pharmacy closed, and two years later, it became Gautreau’s. The restaurant was heavily damaged after Katrina, including the roof being ripped off by a tornado spawned by the hurricane, and it took 1.5 years to re-open again. “We’ve kept and restored nearly all of the original apothecary after it was soaked with rain from both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita,” says Singley. The cabinets are used for wine and spirits, and the pullout drawers are used for dining room supplies.
At Gautreau’s Restaurant, the wine and liquors are still stored in original pharmacy cabinets. (Photo: Christiana Botic)
Under Singley’s leadership, four Gautreau’s chefs were named by Food & Wine as Top Ten Best New Chefs in America, and two chefs were named Rising Stars by the James Beard Foundation. Additionally, the current chef was named the Best Chef in The South by the James Beard Foundation in 2013. Their signature dishes, which have been on the menu for 25 years, include Duck Confit and Roasted Chicken. “The accompanying ingredients with the Duck Confit change, but the curing and cooking process of the duck has never changed,” says Singley. “And Alice Waters walked into the kitchen after she’d ordered her chicken and told the staff that it was the best chicken she’d ever eaten in her life.”