New Orleans is the most celebrated cocktail city in America. In the 1800s spirits from Europe and bitters and fruits from the Caribbean circled through the port city, and apothecaries used them to create some of the first cocktails on record such as the Sazerac and Ramos Gin Fizz. The drinking city was a favorite of Southern writers like Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote, who practically lived in Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar, and decades later the French Quarter is still a mythological spot to day-drink Hurricanes and Hand Grenades. While New Orleans’ classic cocktail bars have never really fallen out of style, craft cocktail lounges have exploded in the years since Hurricane Katrina, adding more weight to the city’s mixed drink cred. Here are nine of our favorite places to get a good cocktail in the Big Easy.
CANE & TABLE
New Orleans’ culture is often referred to as more Caribbean than Southern, and Cane & Table situates itself squarely within that reality. Only open since 2013, this chicly corroded drinking hole looks as if it has survived centuries of abrasive saltwater sea spray. The weathered bar celebrates island staples like rare rums and tropical fruits and its menu is split between creative originals like the Velvet Telescope (rum, grapefruit, coffee and pineapple) and “proto-tiki” drinks such as the Trinidad Green Swizzle (made with wormwood) that date to the early half of the 20th century. The air-conditionally challenged Cane & Table can get downright steamy in the summertime, plus it’s haunted, so yeah, it’s authentic.
The Sazerac is one of the only trademarked cocktails in the world. At its namesake bar located within the elegant Roosevelt hotel, you can sip on the drink while sitting in antiqued leather chairs under murals by Paul Ninas, one of New Orleans’ most celebrated hometown artists. It’s a bucket-list drinking experience that makes you appreciate the timeless nature of a quality cocktail.
Any bar located within the French Quarter today comes with a colorful history, and Sylvain is no different. This Chartres Street bar was once a three-story carriage house and the home to a red-light district madame who was rumored to be William Faulkner’s muse. Today the dimly lit gastropub is much less scandalous and much more of a comfortable neighborhood hang. Sit at the copper-topped bar and order old-school New Orleans drinks such as the Seelbach (bourbon, Cointreau, prosecco and bitters) or new-wave creations like The Vicar or Whatever, made with Genever, sherry, white port, dry vermouth and Bénédictine. We’d say the menu is spirit-forward, but there aren’t really any mixers in its drinks for the booze to get in front of.
If you aren’t a whiskey drinker, you’ll want to skip ahead. Barrel Proof has 150 bottles of the brown stuff, most coming from the U.S. and the rest coming from those countries that spell whiskey without the “e” like Scotland and Japan. So Barrel Proof—which is decorated to resemble a tin-roofed barn—doesn’t have an official cocktail menu, but you can bet its bartenders know how to make a damn good Old Fashioned.
Cure initiated the post-Katrina craft cocktail movement in New Orleans and continues to lead the way. Unlike its cramped counterparts in the French Quarter, this Uptown bar (located about a 15 minute Uber ride from Bourbon Street) is spacious enough to park a couple of firetrucks inside. Probably because it was built in an old brick firehouse. Probably. The drinks menu is heavy on the house-made bitters and organized from low-proof tipples like the Safe Harbor (Champagne, tarragon and mint) to robust grogs like the Jabroni, a Negroni variation made with fortified wine and brandy. Pair your drinks with one of Cure’s amazing bar snacks such as the plate of Benton’s 16-month aged ham with fluffy biscuits, creole mustard and whipped cane syrup.
ARNAUD’S FRENCH 75
After defrosting from your frozen daiquiri brain freeze on Bourbon Street, stumble over to Arnaud’s French 75 (also just called Arnaud’s), a grown-up cocktail bar that doesn’t open until 5 P.M. Arnaud’s has been slinging booze since 1918; during Prohibition the rebellious restaurant served its drinks in fine china to avoid suspicion. The French 75 bar was once a gentlemen-only area, and while women can freely drink and pour there today, the bar still maintains its ritzy atmosphere: bartenders wear white jackets and black bowties behind the heavy mahogany bar. Obviously order the bar’s namesake drink, the refreshing French 75, made with cognac, lemon juice, sugar and Champagne.
Bar Tonique is a cocktail bar in that it offers dozens of impressive sours, slings and possets, but unlike most of the other cocktail bars in the city, this one lacks all pretension. It’s a dive bar with a surprisingly high-brow side, like if Erin Rose plastered an extensive aperitif and digestif list next to its frozen Irish coffee machine. You’ll want to pull up a stool and stay at Bar Tonique all night long. And then in the morning make sure you hit Erin Rose for a frozen Irish coffee breakfast.
If the only thing you do in New Orleans is drink Latitude 29’s Pontchartrain Pearl Diver—an iced buttered rum made with Jamaican rum, honey butter, passion fruit and lime—your trip will have been worth it. Noted tiki expert Beachbum Berry opened Latitude 29 last year to much critical acclaim and for good reason. Its exotic, rum-based drinks are ridiculously slurpable. Its modern take on Polynesian food—think dishes like crispy, orange-gastrique duck with collard greens and miso-cheese grits—is creative and delicious. But don’t go into Latitude 29 expecting a riotous beach party; the subdued bar doesn’t even let you switch barstools to add more drinking buddies to your group. (Trust us, we tried on three separate visits.)
For a good time, go to Tiki Tolteca. Located around the corner from Latitude 29 and on the second floor of Felipe’s Taqueria, this bar is full-on tiki kitsch. The bartenders wear Hawaiian shirts, the hut-shaped bar is topped with straw and a flaming punch bowl seems to be plopped in front of every other barstool. Three words: Mai Tai gummies. OK a few more words: Hurricane gummies and Zombie gummies, all spiked with booze and so fun to eat. Can’t decide what to order? Pay $10 to spin Tiki Tolteca’s Wheel of Happenstance, where you can win one of nearly two dozen tiki drinks…or a bottle of Smirnoff Ice.
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. She barely made it out of New Orleans alive. Follow her on Twitter: @amshep
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