Editor’s note: Welcome to “Meet the Regulars,” a new series in which we spotlight the most loyal, devoted, diehard bar patrons around the world. You know the types: maybe they have their own stool, booth, or plaque. Maybe you start mixing “their” drink the moment you see them walking through the front door. Maybe they feel a little like family.
Standing on the balcony of Root Squared overlooking Magazine Street, Sam Birdsong adjusts his backwards baseball cap and points to a lemon-colored building across the street.
“See that balcony right there? That one’s mine! I literally live right across the street from here.”
Since opening in 2014, Root Squared—Chef Philip Lopez’s cocktail-bar-and-small-plates outpost nestled above his tasting menu wonderland, Square Root—has become Birdsong’s official home away from home.
A New Orleans native who currently drives movie stars for a living, Birdsong can be found most nights of the week saddled up at Root Squared’s bar on the very center stool, sampling the latest creations whipped up by current bar manager Jonathan Shock.
We chatted with Birdsong about what it’s like to be a fixture at the bar, the evolution of his cocktail enthusiasm and the time he brought Julia Stiles to his favorite watering hole.
Did you grow up in New Orleans?
Yes, I’m a born and raised New Orleanian. When I was born, my parents actually lived right around the corner from where I live today [across from Root Squared]. Back then, the neighborhood wasn’t as nice as it is now—they called it “Needle Park”—and my parents wanted to get out after having kids.
When I moved back, I knew I wanted to live in this area.
Before you started coming to Root Squared, what bars did you frequent?
I call my neighborhood the “Barmuda Triangle” because once you come into it, it’s hard to leave. There are great dive bars and neighborhood bars like Half Moon, The Saint, Garden District Pub. My rotation—which is more like a progression—when I go out drinking is that I’ll start off [at Root Squared] at about 7 or 10 o’ clock, then someone will probably pull me over to The Saint, then it’s sunrise and I’ve gone out for “just one drink” and it feels like 20.
My roommates and I watched Square Root develop from across the street. I’m a dive bar kind of guy, and before Square Root I’d never really been into craft cocktails. That’s what I wanted to get away from when I moved back to New Orleans from Los Angeles a few years ago. I had such a good experience when I came to Root Squared the first time, though, that I really started getting into it. I didn’t really know how to order cocktails, so I would always just say, “Make me something good!”
I just slowly but surely became a regular, along with my girlfriend, Sable.
What spirits did you enjoy learning the most about?
We got really into mezcal, because I’ve always mostly been into tequila. One of the bartenders started doing a Moscow Mule with mezcal and some tinctures he would add into it. He called it the Mezcal Mule. It was awesome, and that was my go-to drink for a while. It’s still my girlfriend’s favorite.
I’m 36, but from these bartenders I started getting an education. All the bartenders are always experimenting, and they really take their time so you can learn. They all answer my questions. It’s been a big gateway for me into cocktails.
What’s it like to come to one bar so frequently?
We’re here late at night a lot, so we’ve become friends with the bartenders and Chef [Lopez]. You develop that momentum. It’s not just a cool place to come hang out—they’re your friends. You can’t put a value on that.
Sable had her birthday party here, and it was nuts. She has a lot of friends who work in the [French] Quarter, and they’re a thirsty crowd. Jonathan prepared some lighter weight drinks like Pimm’s Cups and Chef made dishes like a duck heart Frito pie and a lobster burger. It was crazy, and some of that stuff is on the menu now.
What makes Root Squared so special for you?
For us, you can’t escape the obvious logistics—living across the street is great. I can honestly say after having my other late night spots, this space is like my other living room. If I could design my real living room to be like this one—with their Chesterfield sofa and everything—I would. I might steal the couch there one day, actually. They’ll know where it is, but I’m just going to bolt it to the floor and put some chains around it.
Chef made the tables and chose a lot of the design elements, too. It feels cozy and warm. Everyone is really patient and accessible. I think creative people—when they do new things—it helps them to be able to talk about it. If [bartenders] here aren’t too busy, they like to talk about their process.
What’s the longest you’ve been away from the bar?
If I’m not here for two days, they’re like, “We haven’t seen you in a long time!” Sometimes I’ll sneak over and see what they’re doing for family meal. They did fried chicken once and the staff went out of their way to get us to come over and try it. There was a spicy version and a regular version—it was this addictive combination of flavors. It was great to be invited in. We’re not busting our ass here every day, so it was special to be a part of that.
Have you ever taken any of the celebrities you drive to the bar?
I was driving Julia Stiles earlier this year, and she wanted something different to eat, but it was pretty late at night. We were shooting in the Quarter, and at midnight, you’re not left with many options. So I thought we should go to Square Root. We got in touch with Chef and he came in and fixed this amazing meal for her and she loved it.
Later on, she happened to come back in again and I was randomly here. I guess, though, that’s not that much of a coincidence…