For some, December is the time for long holiday lunches, those festive afternoon gatherings of friends and co-workers where drinks play a role as inevitable and essential as beads at a parade. The city’s French Creole restaurants are the traditional settings for these indulgent repasts. But for those who can’t quite swing that much time away from work –– or perhaps for those after a faster-paced jaunt –– I propose the French Creole Cocktail Crawl.
This upscale riff on the time-honored tradition of the pub crawl provides a comprehensive, if somewhat unorthodox, tour of the city’s traditional Creole restaurants as accessed through their bars. You’ll get a taste of history any time you make this circuit, though in December, when the Quarter is decorated for the season and filled with people making merry downtown, the French Creole Cocktail Crawl is at its prime.
Reservations aren’t necessary or even accepted for the bar, and cabs are readily available when your self-guided tour is done. Some of these bars open only during dinner service, so an evening itinerary is ideal. At a few stops you can order something to nibble from the bar, and at one there’s even live music, making it a fitting finale.
Tujague’s Restaurant is a good starting point, being situated in the lower Quarter a bit apart from its peers. The vintage neon “bar” sign outside leads the way to this long, narrow room where the pearly expanse of a huge antique mirror dominates the space. It’s a “stand-up bar,” meaning there are no stools, which is often better for mingling and socializing anyway.
Cross Jackson Square to Royal Street and soon you’re at the carriageway entrance to the Court of Two Sisters. The courtyard, buffet and jazz brunch are the main draws here for tourists, but for our French Creole Cocktail Crawl we’re concerned solely with the restaurant’s Carriageway Bar, a darkly picturesque nook cloistered behind iron gates in the cavernous passage between the street and the dining areas. This is not a bar many people visit specifically for drinks, but it makes an offbeat spot to sit for a spell amid classic French Quarter architecture.
The bar at Brennan’s Restaurant is a similarly unconventional perch as its bartenders are normally kept busy filling orders from the dining rooms. But here is a spot where you can order a traditional New Orleans cocktail within a richly historic building and take in a view of the restaurant’s famous courtyard just through the windows beside the bar.
Getting into Galatoire’s for Friday lunch in December takes some serious planning, at least if you’re after a table in the first-floor dining room. The ingenious and generous holiday charitable auctions for tables on the Friday before Christmas puts further pressure on demand for those remaining Fridays in December. But it’s easy enough to join the mix at these upper-crust bacchanals, if only for a short visit. Renovations to the restaurant in 1999 added a “patron bar” for the first time, and it fills with a well-dressed crowd waiting for their tables. Found at the top of a vertiginous flight of stairs and sequestered in a windowless space between dining rooms and kitchen, this attractive bar of polished wood and brass fixtures has the feel of an old-time private club and makes an interesting stop along any cocktail crawl.
Next up, the French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s seems tailor-made for the holiday circuit. It’s the kind of place where men who wear hats will find hooks on which to hang them and where women will be addressed politely by waiters and bartenders dressed in tuxedos. The bar is just one chamber in this rambling restaurant’s maze of rooms and corridors, though it serves double duty both as an area for diners waiting for tables and as a stand-alone destination for drinks. The growing acclaim of bartender Chris Hannah, a leading light of the city’s craft cocktail scene, has helped cement that latter role.
One block over, the bar at Broussard’s Restaurant is more of an undercover option. But just past the main dining room you’ll find a long, attractive barroom with windows facing the restaurant’s enormous courtyard and glittering panels of beveled glass reflecting the lamps slung from the ceiling.
For the last stop on this French Creole Cocktail Crawl, I’ve saved the newest option, which happens to be at the city’s oldest restaurant. Last year, Antoine’s Restaurant converted one of its many dining rooms into the Hermes Bar. Restaurant patrons retire here after dinner and curious passersby wander in off St. Louis Street, making for an especially diverse clientele. Museum-quality displays of Carnival memorabilia line the room, while bands set up under the chandeliers to perform on weekend nights. Luke Winslow King plays this Friday, Dec. 3, while Ingrid Lucia is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 4, with each starting at 9:30 p.m. There’s no cover charge.
You can order poor boys at the Hermes Bar or anything from Antoine’s traditional menu, from a bouquet of soufflé potatoes if you’re peckish to a $110 chateaubriand if you really feel the need to prove something. Anyway, if you finish this French Creole Cocktail Crawl in any fashion, you’ll likely need something to eat. And you’ll certainly need that cab.