Unknown Food Critic

The Tales of the Cocktail conference and drinks event is in town this week, and so are thousands of professionals and enthusiasts from all corners of the bar and cocktail world. That makes this a good time to showcase the growing quality and diversity of the city's own cocktail scene, and do to that I've selected four very different spots around New Orleans where you can find first-rate food and craft cocktails together under one roof.

Tivoli & Lee: 926 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, 504-962-0909

This new restaurant on Lee Circle has been turning some heads. It has the feel of a fairly small, intimate neighborhood bistro, with a sleek, modern design. In the kitchen, chef Mike Nirenberg serves a mix of classic bistro dishes and original creations, all interpreted through a seasonal, local aesthetic try the fried oysters with pancetta and green onion dressing on top or the duck confit with manchego and andouille 'tots.' Meanwhile, head bartender Kimberlee Patton Bragg works up the balanced, contemporary cocktails that have earned her a following all across town.

High Hat Cafe: 4500 Freret St., New Orleans, 504-754-1336

Dial up a Southern diner from central casting and it would probably look like High Hat. The walls are lined by big windows and ceiling fans turn overhead while the kitchen turns out gumbo, fried catfish, tamales, po-boys and pimento cheese plates (and a masterful pimento cheese burger). But look over at the long cypress bar and you'll see the instruments for a craft cocktail program amid all the beer taps and casual dining fixtures. This restaurant makes many of its own bar ingredients and concocts some singularly refreshing drinks. It's probably the only real craft cocktail destination with a kids menu.

12 Mile Limit: 500 S. Telemachus St., New Orleans, 504-488-8114

This little place does not look too promising from the street. It was an old neighborhood dive bar for many years, and it still retains a bit of that feel you usually have to be buzzed in the front door, for instance. But take a look around the fixed-up barroom and you'll find a young crowd slinging some pretty complex cocktails, courtesy of barkeep Cole Newton and his crew. Meanwhile, the little tavern kitchen in back, which is called Shortall's BBQ, produces a short but highly impressive menu of Texas-style barbecue with modern twists. Try the smoked chicken wings or brisket sliders next to the Baudin, a cocktail mixing whiskey and hot sauce. This is the bargain craft cocktail destination of the pack, with most drinks ringing in at around $6.

Iris: 321 North Peters St., New Orleans, 504-299-3944

Iris was one of the first restaurants in New Orleans to introduce diners to modern craft cocktails when it first opened Uptown back in 2006. It's gone through some changes since then, including a change of address to the French Quarter, but it remains one of the marquee destinations for people who appreciate both creative cocktails and the restrained, artful, balanced hand of chef Ian Schnoebelen in the kitchen. His menu is a globetrotting collection of influences brought into harmony by the chef's precise, understated style, while bartender Scott Mattox maintains the bar's reputation for innovation and quality. The setting inside the Bienville House Hotel is elegant and modern all at once, and always gives off the vibe of the right place to be. This is a first-class operation all around.

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