New Orleans’ local liquor scene got a well-deserved boost when Lula Restaurant Distillery opened its doors in February 2017. The business, located in the heart of the Garden District, stands out among its peers for incorporating a Creole/Southern restaurant with an in-house distillery and events venue.
Chef Jess Bourgeois and business partner Bear Caffrey are the minds behind Lula. Bourgeois, speaking on the phone while driving to Belle Rose to drop off sugar barrels — local sugarcane is a key ingredient in Lula’s vodka, gin and rum — explains a little about his and the restaurant’s background.
“I went to culinary school after getting a food science degree at LSU [Louisiana State University],” he says, adding, “I worked in the kitchen at Commander’s Palace, and later worked at Superior Grill as a general manager.” His background in high-volume restaurant management would later pay dividends at Lula.
By pairing up with Caffrey and taking some courses in distilling, Bourgeois began plotting Lula’s launch. It took six years of planning and experimentation, and, Bourgeois says, he’s still perfecting the liquor that Lula produces. “Every fermentation system has certain nuances,” he says. In the end, “you sometimes make a batch that’s not how you want it, and then you think twice as hard about how to make it right.”
Bourgeois and his team have definitely been getting the batches right, if the volume of positive press Lula’s received is any indication. The restaurant’s menu adds elegant flourishes to traditional Southern favorites such as shrimp and grits, fried chicken sandwiches and a variety of boiled seafood dishes.
Even better: diners get to enjoy these and other dishes with liquors made on-site, in gleaming copper stills that are separated from the dining room via an enormous glass enclosure. You can get an up-close look for yourself; just ask your server for a tour. And before you leave, be sure to pick up a bottle of small-batch Lula Rum, Lula Vodka or Lula Gin.