A first-timer's guide to drinking in the Crescent City.
If you’re planning a trip to New Orleans, especially for the first time, you can feel a bit like Matt Damon at the chalkboard in Good Will Hunting trying to triangulate and coordinate how you’ll get to all of the “must-visit” bars you’ve found from countless lists online. The first step to finding (and drinking) the best cocktails in New Orleans is to accept that you won’t experience them all in one trip. You will need to make return visits to enjoy all the city offers even on a basic level, not that it’s a problem. Second, try compiling your list by picking one drink from one place that exemplifies a certain category i.e. classic, dive, hotel, daiquiri destination, mixology must, etc.
Or you could just use this list for a jump-start.
Fancy: French 75 at Arnaud’s French 75
Helmed by perhaps the best bartender in a city filled with them, Chris Hannah, this cozy, elegant bar may be 130-years-old, but the cocktails feel fresh. It’s also the de facto home of the French 75, a flute filled with cognac (instead of gin), lemon juice, and simple syrup topped with champagne.
Dive: Neptune’s Monsoon at Port of Call
Leaving the argument that Port of Call may have one of the best burgers in the country (served with a loaded baked potato) aside, ordering a Neptune’s Monsoon is more than enough reason to seek out this vaguely nautical dive on the quiet side of the Quarter. Served in what would be considered an extra-large to-go cup, one could cautiously describe it as heavily spiked fruit punch.
Hotel: Vieux Carre at The Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone
While it’s almost cliche to say, the Carousel Bar is truly an “only in New Orleans” institution where patrons can take a seat at a functioning, slow-spinning carousel once visited by authors Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. In the 1930s, bartender Walter Bergeron first stirred whiskey, cognac, and sweet vermouth with Benedictine, Angostura, and Peychaud’s bitters together to create the Vieux Carre.
Hidden Gem: The Saint Claude at Bar Tonique
Across the street from the glowing archway to Louis Armstrong Park, tiny Bar Tonique has built a reputation as the place for serious cocktail appreciators. Nestle into the corner booth with a Saint Claude with Old New Orleans Cajun Spice Rum, Luxardo Cherry, lemon juice, and Marasca cherry.
Daiquiri: Thai Iced Tea Daiquiri at Red’s Chinese
Frozen daiquiris deserve their own list as they’re serious business in New Orleans, but Red’s Chinese freshens up this icy concoction with flavors that are less pretentious and more fun like Wild Hearts (strawberry with rosemary, mint, and basil) and Satsuma. The Thai Iced Tea version is a consistent favorite with swirl of sweetened condensed milk. If you want to level-up on your daiquiri game, head to Gene’s on Elysian Fields. Who knows? You might see one of the Knowles sisters there.
Craft: Ramos Gin Fizz at Cure
The classic cocktail happy hour in the courtyard at Cure, credited with kickstarting the cocktail renaissance in the city after Hurricane Katrina, makes for the perfect reason to drive over to Freret Street and the Carrollton. The neighborhood is also home to storied dives The Maple Leaf (one of the New Orleans’ best music venues) and Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge. The Ramos Gin Fizz, frothy, fizzy, and fruity, is a New Orleans original (from the 1880s) best made by professionals; that’s why you should drink it at Cure.
New On the Block: Ma’am Don’t Be Hysterical at Turkey and the Wolf
A Lower Garden District phenomenon created by Chef Mason Hereford (formerly of Coquette), Turkey and The Wolf is equal parts wacky and inspired from their lamb neck roti to their wedge salad dusted with “everything bagel crunchy stuff.” Their drinks are no exception with names like “Daddy’s Day Out” and “When I was 10 I went to school as a dead cheerleader for Halloween.” Our favorite combines gin, campari, house blackberry syrup, and lime with sweet and tangy pickled peppers.
Old-School: Sazerac at Sazerac Bar
For this New Orleans mandatory cocktail moment, head straight to the eponymous source where it’s still served the same way it was in the 1930s: an Herbsaint-rinsed glass with Sazerac rye (the bar goes through 3,000 bottles a year), Peychaud’s bitters, simple syrup, and a lemon twist.
Tiki: Nui Nui at Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29
While we may be in the middle of a tiki bar renaissance, you haven’t seen true tiki until you’ve been to Beachbum Berry’s at the Bienville House hotel. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is nothing short of a scholar on all things punch, rum, and blue liquor; he has also written the definitive collection of recipe books on recovered “lost recipes” related to tropical drinks. The ones you’ll find here are so thoughtfully put together you won’t miss the cheesy, anthropomorphic glasses. The best illustration of Latitude 29 is Berry’s Nui Nui, a rum punch first made by New Orleans-native Don The Beachcomber in 1937 and then lost until he found the recipe in the private papers of Don’s maître d’ Dick Santiago.
Tourist: Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s
Unfortunately labeled a tourist trap, Pat O’Brien’s may pack them in, especially on game days and Mardis Gras, but drinking a Hurricane in the courtyard amongst the green jacket-sporting servers, flaming fountain, and raucous customers is an experience you should have at least once. Pro tip: Pat O’s Hurricanes are served in souvenir glasses. If you don’t want to keep yours, just ask your server to take it off your bill.