New Orleans is a city enamored with history and tradition, and not one closely associated with modernity. As such, the most celebrated wine cellars in town tend to be the oldest, grandest, and most expensive, found at fine-dining institutions like Commander’s Palace, Antoine’s, and Brennan’s. But a new natural wine bar in the Lower Garden District, the Tell Me Bar, is bringing the modern world of wine to this tradition-rich city.
Bacchanal Fine Wine and Spirits alum and sommelier Uznea Bauer and Selection Massale founder Cory Cartwright, along with Tyler Robinson, opened the Tell Me Bar at 1235 Saint Thomas Street late last year. It’s a lush, sultry spot tucked away on a dead-end street in the shadows of the Ponchartrain Expressway, not far from the New Orleans Convention Center. The immediate surroundings drop away once inside, where candlelight and vintage wall sconces mix with vibrant green palm fronds and vines to create a glowing, transportive experience.
Then there’s the wine. It’s a list of bottles and glasses to rival that of any natural wine bar in New York or San Francisco, highlighting mostly young, small-production labels specializing in low-intervention winemaking. There are at least 10 wines by the glass, and dozens more by the bottle on an ever-changing menu. A few of Bauer’s favorites right now include “Lyr,” what she calls an “under-appreciated sparkling Sicilian” from winemaker Marco Sferlazzo in Porta del Vento; a 2020 La Bruja de Rozas Garnacha from “iconic” Spanish winemaker Commando G; and a Domaine du Fables Gamay called “Gama Bumba” from Savoie, a region Bauer is “currently in love with.”
The selection is informed by Bauer and Cartwright’s years in the world of cutting-edge wines. Bauer worked as a wine buyer at the now 20-year-old, locally and nationally-acclaimed Bacchanal Wine from 2009 to 2016 before embarking on wine internships, first at Le Clos de Caveau in Vacqueyras, France, and then Division Wines in Portland, Oregon. In 2019, Bauer and Alexis Tabor (who is now at hotspot the Chloe) created a backyard pop-up wine bar at Sneaky Pickle (back when it was on St. Claude Avenue) called Mouthfeel, also specializing in low-intervention varieties. Cartwright’s wine career began when, he says, he tried a bottle of wine that changed his life so much that he left his job and started a wine-importing company, the California-based Selection Massale, before relocating to New Orleans.
While they were working on the Saint Thomas Street space — which is enchanting even from the outside — Bauer and Cartwright popped up under the Tell Me name at spots like Bar Marilou, the ultra-chic downtown hangout tied to Maison de la Luz, and the Rabbit Hole, an LGD music venue and nightclub. The wine bar has been a hit since opening in late December, drawing in-the-know locals and clued-in tourists eager for a spot to try something new — pretty much a guarantee here. There are DJs every Saturday, a menu of tinned fish snacks from brands like Fishwife and Jose Gourmet (as well as Cajun caviar service with Zapp’s potato chips), and food pop-ups Wednesday through Saturday featuring kitchens like Oyster Daddy, 2 Live Roux, Vegetopia, and M. Florian’s Confit Baby. It’s an undeniably cool spot, but not one to be intimidated by — staff are as friendly and welcoming as they are knowledgeable.
The Tell Me Bar is open daily, Sunday to Thursday from 4 to 11 p.m., and from 4 to midnight on Friday and Saturday.