New Orleans cocktail museum shakes and stirs history

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In New Orleans, cocktails are serious business. What better town for a temple to the tasty history of the American libation?

Many outsiders may get their idea of the Big Easy's cocktail culture from the jumbo-sized plastic cups of punch slugged down by tourists on Bourbon Street.

But the Museum of the American Cocktail opening in July will focus on the rich history of sophisticated drinks that have been served since Thomas Jefferson was president.

Cocktails _ originally defined as any mixture of bitters, spirits and sugar _ were an early fixture in this French port city. Besides easy access to sugar, a European sensibility allowed a drinking culture to flourish when it foundered elsewhere in the South's Bible Belt.

"I definitely think New Orleans has always been the home of civilized drinking," said Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail, an annual festival that attracts thousands. "The image the tourists have is not how most locals think of drinking. We believe in better, not more."

The museum is located near the French Quarter and features a collection of rare spirits, books, and Prohibition-era literature. There will be vintage cocktail shakers, glassware, tools, gadgets and other cocktail memorabilia.

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