As one of the cocktail world’s holy triad (New York and San Francisco being the others), I had always intended to make the trip to this mecca of cocktail culture and host to the venerable Tales of the Cocktail festival. I was fortunate enough this past week to finally make the trip, albeit under the guise of a veterinary meeting.
The famous French Quarter is obviously where’s it at from a cocktail perspective within NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana), though the city’s lone representative on the World’s Greatest list is outside of the downtown area (Cure). The French Quarter is an odd mix of touristy kitsch and functional, vibrant neighbourhood. Somehow it works and is beautiful.
There are many bars worth visiting in this city, in fact you can drink on nearly every street corner, but I gleaned my spots from insiders and respected publications (taken from the Bars section of this site, which I update regularly as I travel):
- Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone (during the day): The main bar is actually built under an old carousel top. This is a nice, old hotel bar that’s well worth the visit.
- Sylvain (pictured left): Though a restaurant, the place feels more like a bar. This was my third favourite spot in New Orleans and was worth the 15 minute wait on a Thursday night. Really beautiful.
- Sobou at the W Hotel in the French Quarter: I was at this bar on a busy night when one of the bartenders was missing, meaning ours was totally run off his feet. It was way more casual than what I have seen at other W hotels (Montreal!) which made it more inviting. Anyway, there are much better places to drink in NOLA.
- Kingfish (pictured right): I had the pleasure of having a pre dinner work at this true neighbourhood establishment and was mighty impressed. Definitly get a seat at the bar and enjoy yourself. Really great spot with high end drinks. Order the Bramble.
- Bellocq: I had a peek at this bar when it wasn’t open on my way to Kiefe Liquors. It had a true speakeasy feel and I wished I could have gone in. Owned by the venerable Cure and Cane & Table group.
- WGB-Cure (pictured left): As a cocktail nerd, there’s nothing that gets me more excited than the opportunity to visit one of the bars on the World’s Greatest List. Cure is located just outside downtown New Orleans in an old fire station. The cocktail menu is divided into their own seasonal creations and “cocktails they love”. It’s a beautiful, warm spot with friendly staff. The drinks were largely hugely impressive, as was the food. We were most impressed with a vodka-based (gasp) banana daiquiri-type drink made with their own banana syrup. Overall, it’s not to be missed even though somewhat outside the core area of the city.
- Bar at Broussard’s (pictured right): Thought fully a well-known restaurant, the cocktail list at this bar was without question the most impressive in the city, and made use of incredibly interesting ingredients. I actually ordered a very simple mix of cognac and the local Peychaud’s. Really, really nice.
- Hermes at St. Antoine’s: It’s pretty amazing to sit at an old bar, enjoying a drink, and then realize that people did the exact same during the American Civil War. New Orleans is chock full of such places but Hermes bar at St. Antoine’s truly evokes the old world feel. I had a great Champagne Cocktail, New Orleans style, with Peychaud’s instead of Angostura.
- French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s (pictured left): one of the world’s most famous bars. This was a true highlight of my time in NOLA, and was instantly added to my favourite bars of all time. If I was to open a cocktail bar, it would be almost exactly like The French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s. The place perfectly marries formal with warmth, and the decor and white jacket clad bartenders make for a truly memorable experience. On top of all that, the cocktails were superlative.
- Cane & Table (pictured left): As part of the famous Cure/Bellocq group, I was expecting a lot from Cane & Table, I wasn’t disappointed. Overall, it was my favourite spot in the city, which is saying a lot given the options available. The cocktail menu is one of the most interesting I’ve ever seen, and totally focused on drinks for the heat of this southern city. The Absent Stars and the Boss Colada were two of the best drinks we had while in NOLA. Luckily both are described online in New York publications. Cane & Table is a trendsetting establishment, and if it wasn’t for Cure already being on the World’s Greatest list, it would unquestionably be there. The room reminded me a lot of Maison Premiere in Brooklyn and fit in beautifully with the feel of the French Quarter. Book online ahead of time as this is not a spot to be missed.
- Tujague’s (pictured right): I stopped in at this venerable and ancient establishment on my way to Cane & Table and was very impressed by its understated beauty. The stacks of plastic cups on the bar, however, through me off a bit. Never a good sign. Maybe one day I’ll go back for a drink.
- Ye Olde Absinthe House: This is really nothing more than an old dive bar on a crazy busy corner in the French Quarter. That said, any bar with absinthe in its title earns a certain level of respect from me regardless of serving most of its drinks in plastic cups.
- Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt Hotel (pictured left): As one of the world’s truly beautiful hotel bars, you can’t really go wrong here. Stunning, Diego Riveresque murals grace its walls, and the art deco feel makes the drinks taste that much better. Well worth a visit.
- Beachbum Barry’s at Latitude 29: I stopped in briefly at this tiki bar on a hot day but was sadly in a hurry and couldn’t stay for a drink. Though the menu was impressive, the place seemed very new, and therefore lacked the old beach hut feel of most tiki bars. I’d love to go back.
- Napoleon House (pictured left): I found this ancient spot on my own. The room literally seems 500 years old, and is a stunning spot to enjoy a drink. The bar is a formal affair, with the bartender dressed in a red jacket and tie. The cocktails are what you would expect for
- Erin Rose: Hmm, not quite sure what to make of this place. A total dive bar, to be honest, where drinks are served in plastic cups. Everyone was smashed out of their minds when I stopped in. The place smelled of cheap beer as well, so I kind of left in a hurry.
- Compiere Lapin: I had a nice lunch at this restaurant on a crazy rainy afternoon. The rose-flavoured Pimm’s Cup gave me a subtle inkling of the seriousness of the bar service at this rabbit-themed spot.