New Orleans Cocktails: A Sip of Southern Comfort

This spirited pub tour of the French Quarter’s most famous cocktails returns after the devastating hurricane season to enchant visitors with great tales of New Orleans past.
Annette Thompson

Southern Comfort, Ramos Gin Fizz, Sazerac, Herbsaint, and Peychaud's Bitters all got their start in the French Quarter.

So what would be more fitting in New Orleans than a Southern Comfort Cocktail Tour? Our favorite guide, Joe Gendusa, and his pals lead two-and-a-half-hour walking forays, and each one is different.

A Tour of Refined Tastes
New Orleans claims to have birthed the cocktail. On Royal Street, Joe tells about a young apothecary named Antoine Peychaud who created a curative in the 1830s. He often mixed the medicine with brandy and absinthe. Served in a French eggcup called a coquetier, Peychaud's Bitters drink was mispronounced "cocktail."

Amid the chic stores, it's difficult to imagine absinthe bars. In 1912 the licorice-flavored liqueur was outlawed in the U.S. because of its hallucinatory properties. Joe suggests swashbuckling into Pirate's Alley Café after the tour for a Green Fairy, made with Absente (a legal version).

New Orleans's Natives
One of the surprises on Joe's tour is a stop at Arnaud's to celebrate its founder, "Count" Arnaud Cazenave. One of Arnaud's bars, Richelieu, is known for serving a cranberry-and-Southern Comfort drink called the Scarlett O'Hara.

Joe may take you into one of the Quarter's most famous establishments, Pat O'Brien's. During WWII, liquor suppliers had plenty of rum, so bar owners were required to buy multiple cases of rum for every case of whiskey. The bartender served Hurricanes in tall glasses to use up all that rum.

By far, the prettiest bar on the tour is the Carousel Piano Bar and Lounge at Hotel Monteleone, home of the Vieux Carré Cocktail (Bénédictine, bitters, Courvoisier, and vermouth) and the Southern Comfortini. The bar rotates fully every 15 minutes--just enough time to down an ice-cold cocktail. Like the rest of the Big Easy, it's enough to go to your head.

Southern Comfort Cocktail Tour:
(504) 569-1401, 1-800-535-7786, or www.southerncomfortcocktailtour.com. Tours: 4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday now through December; 4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday January-February; 4 p.m. daily beginning in March. Cost: $18 through December; $24 beginning in January. Participants must be at least 21 years old; each tour includes a sample drink.

DON'T MISS THIS BOOK
One of the best sources on New Orleans libations is Kerri McCaffety's wonderful book Obituary Cocktail: The Great Saloons of New Orleans. Kerri describes the drinks, bars, and restaurants of New Orleans alongside striking photographs that capture the soul of the Crescent City.

This article is from the December 2005 issue of Southern Living.