Will and Mick Balleau’s first love may be Mexico, but for the New Mexican brothers, New Orleans is a close second. As a tribute to The Big Easy, the duo behind Chingon in Richmond has converted Collingwood’s Hell Tower Saloon into Le Bon Ton, an oyster saloon, smokehouse, cocktail bar and absinthe den all rolled into one. With a 24-hour licence.
“I’ve always loved the culture around Louisiana, especially New Orleans; the music, the food, the old decor,” says Will. “I modelled Le Bon Ton on the old-style coffee houses of the Belle Époque era; a romantic period in time when the French influence on New Orleans was in its hey-day.”
The building itself, though structurally the same, has been stripped back to its former shell with embellishments and flourishes added by the Balleau brothers, save for a few sourced items from neighbouring suppliers, such as the dining-room table tops from the recycled timber furniture maker next door, inlaid with champagne boxes ensuring each table is unique.
The front bar is run by cocktail guru, Evan Stanley, formerly of Black Pearl, who, if you can steer yourself away from the American microbrewery beers on tap, has created a cocktail list worthy of revisiting; the quintessential New Orleans cocktail the Sazerac is a great starting point.
Follow your nose through the main dining area to the astro-turfed courtyard where Alabama-born, Texas-raised Jeremy Sutphin, formerly of Fog, oversees two offset smokers and a big cabinet smokehouse where eight, seven-kilogram Riverina grain-fed Angus beef briskets and four pork shoulders are mesquite-smoked for up to 16 hours. When ready, slather it with Sutphin’s “damn good” barbeque sauce, a comforting mix of Carolina vinegar with Texan earthiness (for those chasing extra spice, the bright orange habanero delivers).
On Friday and Saturday nights, the absinthe, oyster and champagne room will have chefs busy shucking, overseen by Sutphin’s brother, Christopher, where guests are encouraged to unwind in the darker, more debauched-feeling area, with designated floor service. Partake in the rewarding absinthe ritual, between necking oysters, or perhaps a pastis or glass of champagne.