New Orleans is known for being the birthplace of jazz, the mecca of Mardi Gras and an epicenter of the culinary world. Another – and very important – title for the Crescent City is the hometown of the cocktail. With the earliest mixologists and today’s drink craftsmen, New Orleans isn’t only responsible for the creation of the cocktail, but has also been integral to its evolution.
Summer is the perfect time to explore the gamut of imbibement, from classic concoctions to more modern refreshment. Whether you prefer liquor or beer, the heat of summer is the perfect time to enjoy these cool libations.
For beer-lovers, there’s no better place to unleash your inner brew snob than at The Avenue Pub (1732 St. Charles Ave., 586-9243). The pub features more than 40 draft taps ranging from local favorites such as NOLA Hopitoulas (a West Coast-style India Pale Ale with a bitter, hoppy flavor) and Lazy Magnolia Jefferson Stout (a Sweet Potato Cream Stout with notes of chocolate and coffee) to picks for the more worldly palette, such as Germany’s Kapuziner Weiss (a classic Bavarian wheat beer both light and complex). The pub also features food from J’anita’s in a joint venture between the two businesses, and it’s a match made in heaven. Nothing beats the “Best Ever Fish Sammich” – grilled redfish, feta cheese, bacon, grilled onions and Caesar dressing on Ciabatta bread – with a Northcoast Pranqster Golden Belgian Ale on a hot summer day. Happy Hour is every day from 4 to 7 p.m.
For those looking for the quintessential New Orleans cocktails, look no further than the French 75 bar at Arnaud’s (813 Rue Bienville, 523-5433). French 75 offers everything from wine, beer and champagne to martinis and classic New Orleans cocktails. One such uniquely local libation is the Herbsaint Frappé, a concoction of anise-flavored Herbsaint – developed by New Orleanians in the 1930s as an alternative to absinthe – and simple syrup, the result of which is a light, sweet, summer-friendly cocktail born in the Big Easy. A more up-and-coming summer drink is the Aperol Spritz, a mixture of Aperol (the little sister of Steve Zissou’s drink of choice, Italian apertif Campari – the same bitter, slightly fruity taste but half the alcoholic content), Prosecco, a dash of soda and an orange slice garnish. French 75 is the perfect place to spend a swanky evening in the French Quarter, complete with access to food from Arnaud’s, one of the city’s oldest restaurants.
New Orleans is famous for popularizing – and inventing – an array of cocktails, including the world’s first branded cocktail, the Sazerac, created in New Orleans in 1850. The legendary drink is traditionally made with Peychaud’s bitters, Herbsaint or absinthe, Sazerac Rye Whiskey or Buffalo Trace Bourbon, a sugar cube and a lemon peel. There are an endless number of bars and restaurants that offer this trademark drink, but a few stand above the rest. The Sazerac Bar in The Roosevelt New Orleans (123 Baronne St., 648-1200) was a favorite of Huey P. Long, who had a suite on the 12th floor. The Sazerac Bar is famous for its Ramos Gin Fizz (another iconic New Orleans drink made from gin, cream, egg white, simple syrup, lemon and lime juice, orange flower water and soda) and, of course, the Sazerac. This historic hotel is one of the best places to enjoy such a historic drink.
For a more low-key Sazerac experience, family-friendly Mandina’s (3800 Canal St., 482-9179) is known for its cocktails as well as its Creole/Italian cuisine. Mandina’s is open seven days a week and features seafood, steak, poor boys and more, all with the Southern authenticity that keeps regulars coming back for more. This may seem like an unlikely destination for such a delicately proportioned cocktail, but Mandina’s Sazerac is sure to surprise even the most refined tastes. Happy Hour offers $3 wines, $2 beers and $2 off mixed drinks from 3 to 6 p.m.
Another great place to get a Sazerac is Napoleon House Bar & Café (500 Chartres St., 524-5792). The intimate, casual environment belies the attention to detail given to its cocktails by experienced and serious bartenders, and the Sazerac is no exception. It avoids the cardinal sin of being too sweet and is made from quality, authentic ingredients. The Napoleon House is also known for another, very different, cocktail. While the crisp and refreshing Pimm’s Cup was invented in England (it’s one of the two staple drinks at Wimbledon, along with champagne), it obtained stateside popularity at Napoleon House. The New Orleans landmark offers great food and a small, historic ambience, but most patrons come for the trademark drink, made from Pimm’s No. 1, a gin-based liqueur; lemonade; club soda or Sprite; and the famous cucumber garnish. The exact recipe of Pimm’s, Napoleon House claims, is a secret known only to six people, which is part of what keeps people coming back for more – the ineffable combination of flavors that can’t quite be duplicated at home.
While locals and tourists alike flock to Pat O’Brien’s (718 St. Peter St., 525-4823) for the Hurricanes, the über-sweet concoction of rum and essentially Kool-Aid is really no more than a novelty when compared to true cocktails. Pat O’s does, however, redeem its spring break and souvenir cup reputation with its excellent Bloody Mary, voted one of the best in the city, prepared at any of its several bars, including a dueling piano bar. And for those who insist on a tropical mixed drink, Pat O’s Rainstorm, a melon, coconut and pineapple concoction, is a great alternative to the hangover-inducing punch of a Hurricane.
Some alcohol enthusiasts view a truly good drink as a religious experience (They are called spirits, right?), and the atmosphere at St. Joe’s Bar (5535 Magazine St., 899-3744) fits that bill perfectly. The décor is replete with mostly Catholic imagery: tabernacles, crosses hanging from the ceiling, Gothic-style wall fixtures and candleholders and pictures of Jesus himself. Even the seating in one area of the bar is church-like; aligned next to the pool table is a row of pews. The back patio is a completely different, but possibly still thematic, environment. Instead of Roman Catholic décor, the back bar is an outdoor courtyard decorated like an Asian pagoda, complete with red lanterns and fountains. Perhaps the Catholic/Hindu juxtaposition was intended, but regardless, the effect is interesting. The highlight of St. Joe’s, drink-wise, is the Blueberry Mojito, made with freshly muddled mint and fresh blueberries, rum, simple syrup, Sprite and club soda. It is fresh, fruity and perfect for a summer Sunday. Happy Hour is from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday and 6 to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
Part of New Orleans’ charm and appeal is its connection to and affinity for the past. With great museums, well-preserved historic buildings and landmarks, timeless architecture and white linen suits, New Orleans is a city that respects “the good old days.” The Columns Hotel (3811 St. Charles Ave., 899-9308), named one of the “Top Ten Sexiest Places on Earth” by Details Magazine, is truly a blast from the past with its 1920s atmosphere, complete with an elegant Victorian lounge, vintage uniforms and era-appropriate live jazz. Happy hour is from 5 to 7 p.m. and offers 50 percent off house wines, well drinks and domestic beers.
Bar Tonique (820 N. Rampart St., 324-6045) in the French Quarter offers an upscale yet relaxed vibe with its candlelit bar and clean atmosphere. The real attraction is, however, the attention to detail with drinks and cocktails.
From the glass and presentation down to the garnish, every detail is carefully crafted. Bar Tonique uses freshly squeezed fruit juice in all of their cocktails, including house favorite, the Blanche DuBois, which includes Death’s Door Gin, strawberries, mint, Curacao and house-made Orgeat. The Blanche DuBois was created for the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and is just one of many unique and festive cocktails. Happy Hour specials, which vary daily, include half-price Caipirinhas on Fridays, $5 Bloody Marys on Saturdays, and half-price beer with the purchase of a shot on Mondays.
For those looking just to relax, have a beer and watch the game, down-to-earth bar 45 Tchoup (4529 Tchoupitoulas St., 891-9066) is an undiscovered gem. Its casual atmosphere and charming, effervescent bartenders make this the place to unwind after work. They offer great daily Happy Hour specials, including $1.50 Miller Lite Draft and $2.50 Amber Draft daily from 4 to 8 p.m., Mojito Mondays ($4 mojitos from 2 to 9 p.m. followed by trivia) and Red Beans and Rice Thursdays.
For a truly decadent drink experience, Cure (4905 Freret St., 302-2357) offers a selection of gourmet cocktails, including The Rose Hinted Glass (Landy VSOP Cognac, fennel tea, mint, lemon and rose water), New Kind of Water (Lillet Blanc, St. Germaine, orange juice and Angostura Bitters) and the Bog Royale (house-made cranberry shrub, Prosecco, freshly ground cinnamon and lemon peel). Cure is open until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, with a full kitchen open the whole time.