A historic New Orleans hotel pours a very stiff drink.
The Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel is filled with stories that sound like tall tales: jazz legends, crazed Elvis fans, storms of suffragettes, a QUEEN music video, Bo Jackson, several presidents (and presidential biopics) are just some of the characters making up this New Orleans institution’s 125-year run. Now, the Sazerac 125, a commemorative cocktail at the hotel’s Sazerac Bar, celebrates the Roosevelt’s long, colorful past with a dramatic decadence fit for honoring the institution. Made from rare, top-shelf ingredients that nod at the Sazerac’s origins (both the cocktail’s and bar’s), this glass of booze rings in at a whopping $125. But before you write off its three-figure price tag, consider all that goes into the drink, including its legendary history.
All Roads Lead to the Sazerac Bar
A dimly lit lounge inside the Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel, nostalgia and romance drip from the Sazerac Bar’s wood-paneled walls—walls crafted from a single African Oak tree. Alternating the panels are the colorful murals of artist Paul Ninas, Art Deco scenes of social realism that Ninas painted during his 1930s residency in New Orleans.
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The hotel began as the Grunewald Hotel in 1893, and soon became a hub for entertainment at the city’s center. The Blue Room Supper Club, The Sazerac Bar, and The Cove, an underground den of stalactites and jazz, were soon filled with the country’s famous and infamous. The Sazerac Bar and its expert cocktails have long been one of the hotel’s draws. In the 1930s, famed Louisiana governor Huey P. Long is said to have extended Airline Highway (80 miles of it) so that he could more easily reach the Sazerac bar from Baton Rouge—a longtime New Orleans rumor the hotel staff still stand by.
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Sazeracs in the City
Huey P. might have preferred a Ramos Gin Fizz himself, but the Sazerac’s premiere drink has always been its namesake. Developed at a New Orleans saloon around 1850, the Sazerac is widely considered the first mixed drink in the world. A couple decades earlier, in 1830, the Creole apothecary Antoine Peychaud developed the drink’s signature Peychaud’s bitters, giving the Sazerac it’s slightly pink color and tinge of herbacity.
These days, the Sazerac Bar sells around a whopping 30,000 Sazeracs a year. Like most of the world’s earliest cocktails, the Sazerac is a simple drink, it’s only ingredients being sugar, Absinthe or Herbsaint, Peychaud’s bitters, and rye or cognac. The bar’s contemporary Sazerac still consists of Peychaud’s bitters, a single sugar cube, and Herbsaint, but the initial cognac has been swapped out for Buffalo Trace’s Sazerac Rye. The hotel bar alone sells around 30 percent of all the Sazerac Rye in the entire country.
Related: More Sazeracs and the best place to find them in the Best Cocktail Bars in New Orleans
$125 (and 125 Years of History) In A Glass
Taking the Sazerac to an ultra-luxe level (and price point) requires a thoughtful elevation in its essential ingredients. Before the drink is expertly stirred 30 (!) times, perfect measures of Thomas H. Handy Rye, Barrel-Aged Peychaud Pitters, and Herbsaint Legendre are added to the mixing glass.
Highly praised by the whiskey world, very limited bottles of 128.8-proof Thomas H. Handy rye are uncut and unfiltered, coming straight from the barrels at Buffalo Trace (who also makes Sazerac Rye), and named ceremoniously after the first bartender to ever serve a Sazerac with rye whiskey instead of cognac. The Barrel-Aged Peychaud Bitters are in part responsible for the cocktail’s supreme flavor. These special-edition bitters are aged in Sazerac Rye barrels for 140 days.
Herbsaint, similar to absinthe, is the result of rebranding during an anti-absinthe craze, when people feared absinthe made you go crazy. Limited batches of this original recipe, Herbsaint Legendre, are the closest you can get to the 1930s invention, made secretly in an upstairs room shortly after prohibition.
These ingredients (plus a sugar cube, an expressed lemon peel, and some careful mixing) result in the Sazerac 125: a boozy, slightly medicinal, slightly sweet, one-of-a-kind cocktail that’s smooth. Dangerously smooth, when you consider the cocktail’s high proof—and price per sip, of course.
Plan Your Trip with Fodor’s New Orleans Travel Guide to enjoy this indulgent cocktail (and many, many more).