New Orleans’ 10 Best Bars for Classic Cocktails

Courtesy of Hotel Monteleone

Bartenders have been mixing Sazeracs in the French Quarter since the 1850s, long before the first frozen daiquiri machine ever appeared on Bourbon Street. The Sazerac may be the Crescent City’s official drink, but other classics invented here include the Ramos Gin Fizz, Vieux Carré, and the Grasshopper. Thanks to the modern cocktail trend, plenty of New Orleans bars also have proprietary programs in addition to their classic offerings. It’s subject to debate whether the city is actually the birthplace of the first cocktail, but there’s no denying that the art of fine bartending is a vital part of New Orleans culture. Here are 10 bars where you can savor classic cocktails.

By Meredith Bethune

Meredith Bethune is a food & travel writer who lives in Austin by way of New York, New Orleans, and Rhode Island. Her work has appeared in Gastronomica, Bon Appetit, BUST, The Local Palate, and Modern Farmer.

The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel

The Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt Hotel

WHERE: Central Business District

After changing owners and locations through the years, the Art Deco Sazerac Bar inside the impeccable Roosevelt Hotel is the modern-day location of the original Sazerac Coffeehouse. Colorful Paul Ninas murals contrast with the African walnut bar where customers sip on two versions of the iconic drink. The modern interpretation is made with rye whiskey, while the Sazerac made with Cognac, Peychaud’s bitters, and Herbsaint Legendre is closer to the 19th-century original.

Insider Tip: The Sazerac Bar claims to serve the only authentic Ramos Gin Fizz in town. It was apparently Governor Huey P. Long’s favorite drink.

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George H. Long/Arnaud’s Restaurant

Arnaud’s French 75 Bar

WHERE: French Quarter

Despite the antique bar and pre-Prohibition decor, the French 75 Bar manages to preserve a masculine vibe from the days when it was the “gentlemen’s only” area of Arnaud’s Restaurant. Inside this 95-year-old space, acclaimed bartender Chris Hannah mixes a French 75 made with Cognac instead of gin, as well as concoctions like the fiery Caipa De Gallos made with Cachaca, lime juice, a Sriracha shrub, and strawberry-cucumber syrup. Of course a bar inside a legendary New Orleans restaurant would also serve Creole bar snacks like Boudin stuffed wontons and oysters en brochette.

Insider Tip: The extravagant Carnival gowns of Germaine Wells, the daughter of original owner Arnaud Cazenave, are on display upstairs in the restaurant’s Mardi Gras Museum.

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Kevin O’Mara for the Cure

Cure

WHERE: Uptown

In 2009, owners Neal Bodenheimer and Matthew Kohnke opened this refined cocktail bar in a renovated firehouse, which helped to revitalize the long neglected Freret Street corridor. The staggering drink menu at Cure combines unexpected flavors like amaro, Maraschino liqueur, and salted grapefruit with quirky names like For Whom the Sun Rises. The curated selection of classic cocktails are a great value at $6 and include New Orleans favorites like the Sazerac and the Pimm’s Cup, as well as bar snacks like steak tartare and duck liver pate.

Insider Tip: The drink list includes a handful of obscure libations from several pre-Prohibition era cocktail manuals like The Ideal Bartender by Tom Bullock.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fordor's New Orleans Travel Guide

Bar Tonique

WHERE: French Quarter

This brick-walled cocktail lounge promotes “handcrafted cocktails without the pretense.” The casual vibe at Bar Tonique feels far removed from the debauchery of Bourbon Street. But it’s actually just a short walk or cab ride to the bar on North Rampart Street, where the Tremé neighborhood meets the French Quarter. The book-like menu developed by owner Ed Diaz is separated by categories like true cocktails, sours, slings, punches, and possets. The space is quiet on weeknights, but it’s nearly impossible to grab a booth during the weekends, when the bar fills quickly with locals.

Insider Tip: Bar Tonique offers a different $5 special every day. Choices include Pimm’s Cups on Mondays and Caipirinhas on on Thursdays.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fordor's New Orleans Travel Guide

Courtesy of Napoleon House

Napoleon House

WHERE: French Quarter

This 200-year-old National Historic Landmark oozes semi-dilapidated charm from its crumbling stuccoed walls. Former New Orleans mayor Nicholas Girod famously offered it to Napoleon as a residence, but the exiled emperor never arrived in Louisiana. Owned by the Impastato family since 1914, the ideal pastime at Napoleon House is sipping cocktails (mixed by bow-tied bartenders) in the lush courtyard. But the menu also offers simple New Orleans food like po' boys, gumbo, and jambalaya for hungry drinkers.

Insider Tip:  Although the Pimm’s Cup was invented in England, the Napoleon House is credited with popularizing it in New Orleans. The bar makes theirs with Pimm’s #1, lemonade, 7-Up, and cucumber.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fordor's New Orleans Travel Guide

Courtesy of Hotel Monteleone

Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone

WHERE: French Quarter

In 1938, Walter Bergeron, the head bartender at the elegant Hotel Monteleone, combined whiskey, Cognac, vermouth, and bitters to create the potent Vieux Carré cocktail. The lounge’s real draw, however, is the carousel bar that was installed ten years later. It’s said that Truman Capote, while spinning and imbibing, would boast that he was born in the hotel. The space, adorned in chandeliers, was recently renovated and expanded, so there’s still plenty of room even if you can’t secure one of the 25 seats at the carousel.

Insider Tip: The Carousel Bar specializes in a rye whiskey Sazerac or an antebellum version made with Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac and absinthe.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fordor's New Orleans Travel Guide

Courtesy of SoBou

SoBou

Location: French Quarter

The newest restaurant from the Brennan Family opened in 2012 on Royal Street or just “South of Bourbon.” As part of the W French Quarter Hotel, the design of SoBou exudes youthful sophistication. Rows of shelves lined with glowing glassware wrap around the interior walls so that they’re visible to passersby on Royal Street. The Swizzle Stick Bar’s Lu Brow has developed the extensive cocktail menu with New York-trained bar manager Abigail Deirdre Gullo. The playful drinks include a Taylor Bird Sazerac made with both brandy and rye, and a Faubourg Punch featuring Earl Grey-infused gin, lemon, cassis, and sparkling wine.

Insider Tip: The space is arranged so that guests feel comfortable sitting down to a full meal or ordering a few snacks with cocktails. Some of the shareable plates from this “modern Louisiana street food” menu include rich duck debris and butter beignets and shrimp and tasso ham pintxos.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fordor's New Orleans Travel Guide

Dorothy Harris [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tujague’s

WHERE: French Quarter

The bar on the first floor of Tujague’s Restaurant, housed in a two story building on Decatur Street, seems permanently frozen in 1856, when Guillaume Tujague opened the classic Creole restaurant. This watering hole’s decor is on the sparser side, meaning the long cypress bar is stand-up only and has no stools. The old-fashioned drink menu, which offers the Absinthe Frappe; the Sazerac; and Brandy Milk Punch; is from a bygone era, too.

Insider Tip: The bartenders at Tujague’s also make the Grasshopper, the green after-dinner drink made with creme de menthe. It was actually invented in 1928 by one of the restaurant’s owners, Philibert Guichet, Jr.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fordor's New Orleans Travel Guide

Creole Cuisine

Broussard’s

Location: French Quarter

The recent renovation of Broussard’s Restaurant, which first opened inside a French Quarter mansion in 1920, included the installation of a marble-topped bar. Sunlight pours into the Empire Bar from the large windows that overlook what is perhaps the city’s loveliest tree-shaded courtyard. Head bartender and “Marshal of Imperial Libations”, Paul Gustings, pulls from his decades of experience working at Napoleon House and Tujague’s to create original drinks using time-honored methods. These include a clear milk punch of rum, brandy, lemon, pineapple, and green tea.

Insider Tip: Happy hour specials are offered seven days a week. They include bar snacks and Imperial Pimm’s Cups for $3. 

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fordor's New Orleans Travel Guide

Courtesy of Café Adelaide

Swizzle Stick Bar at Cafe Adelaide

WHERE: Central Business District

Tucked inside the Loews Hotel, Cafe Adelaide is a Brennan’s Family restaurant named for the owners’ bon-vivant aunt. In keeping with the theme, the restaurant’s Swizzle Stick Bar is named after their Aunt Adelaide’s famous gold swizzle stick necklace. Bar Chef Lu Brown shaves ice from a giant block in the center of the U-shaped zinc bar for classic drinks like the Ramos Gin Fizz and Absinthe Frappe, while signature drinks include the Adelaide Swizzle, made from amber rum, Peychaud’s bitters, and lime soda.

Insider Tip: Just like its sister restaurant, Commander’s Palace, the bar serves 25-cent martinis at lunch with the purchase of an entree.

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