There are lots of people that you instantly like from the moment you meet them. For me, it’s often that they’re in the bartending profession…and it’s not because they give me a cocktail (although that’s a good enough reason to like someone). But I find most bartenders just happen to be interesting, engaging and brimming with personality. That’s certainly true of my Bartender Spotlight for April – Rocco Talarico at The Phoenix.
Coming from a small town just outside of Portland, Maine, Rocco moved to New Orleans on Halloween, 2019, and started working at the Phoenix that New Year’s Eve. Both are now great celebratory holidays for another reason.
Joking aside, Rocco is the epitome of a New Orleanian even though he has only been in the city for a relatively short time. He blends wit, charm and sarcasm that gives him the perfect local vibe.
Strangely, I met Rocco at a friend’s house during the COVID pandemic when all the bars were closed. Rocco is just as interesting on the other side of the bar. He’s a poet specializing in haikus and a published author. His first book Compulsive Haiku was wonderful and he’s following that up with Compulsive Haiku: Timeline. This book is a collection of salacious and sensitive haikus, following his life week by week for one year of navigating as he pulls through this “beautiful, fucked up world.” It’s a light look at the dark side of pleasure, indulgence, obsession, & sex, and I am down for all of it.
Rocco loves both to make and imbibe cocktails, which fits in very well here. Rocco describes himself as a neighborhood/dive bar bartender, but he’s so much more. The gay bars in New Orleans are special in many ways and bartenders have to be able to adapt for the different clientele who visit daily. Rocco is always the professional behind the bar serving cocktails quickly and fabulously potent which makes him popular with both locals and visitors. He also is blessed with one of the most infectious and endearing laughs.
The Phoenix closed down in mid-March 2020; Rocco started back there at the end of September. He jokes that at The Phoenix he doesn’t get the opportunity to make many specialty cocktails, but he is a master at making vodka sodas. One of his favorite drinks is a Rockland Martini, which is a White Russian made with a New England regional coffee brandy called Allen’s. Since Allen’s is difficult to find this far south, however, you can usually find me drinking tequila, soda, & pineapple.
As no industry has been harder hit than hospitality, I wanted to know Rocco’s thoughts on the past 12 months. “This has been a really difficult year for everyone. In a city like New Orleans, where so much of our economy is tourism, service, and hospitality, I think we were hit especially hard. I see the toll it’s taken with so many of my favorite neighborhood bars and restaurants being closed for good. I know we’ll get back to the vibrancy we had before all this, but it’s going to take some time.”
Staying focused and positive has been the trait of most of the people in the industry, and Rocco is no exception. I find that people are good at jobs they love to do, and most bartenders in this city appreciate and respect their job and craft. Rocco explained “I love bartending for its simplicity, especially in the types of bars I tend to work at and patronize. While I love the occasional bougie craft cocktail, I’m not a mixologist, at all. What I really love about working at the Phoenix is the community that supports the bar. We have a lot of neighborhood regulars who have really helped me to feel at home in my new city, and who were there for all of us when all we could do was serve to-go drinks through the open side door in the cold winter drizzle. Of course, I also love getting to see all the hot trade that rolls through town and comes to the Phoenix. The bar is a definite destination spot for so many queer travelers.”
You need to visit Rocco and make the Phoenix one of your destinations. The Phoenix Bar is located at 941 Elysian Fields Avenue.