Famed as the cradle of civilised drinking, the city of New Orleans has spent centuries perfecting the art of the cocktail. From historic bars like the Sazerac Bar, Carousel Bar, Antoine’s and Brennan’s, to home-grown cocktails like the Sazerac, the Hurricane, and the Ramos Gin Fizz, there are few other places in the world that compare to the Big Easy’s cocktail culture. You can even visit the Museum of the American Cocktail in this fun-loving city. To celebrate World Cocktail Day on 13 May, we’re embracing the motto of New Orleans – “Laissez les bon temps rouler” or “Let the good times roll” – and diving into 9 of the best cocktails in New Orleans and where to drink them.
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Sazerac at Sazerac Bar – 130 Roosevelt Way, New Orleans
Born and bred in the Big Easy, the Sazerac may just be the official cocktail of New Orleans. Legend says the Sazerac cocktail was the first cocktail ever made and it was invented by Antoine Amédée Peychaud at his pharmacy on Royal Street in New Orleans. The original concoction was made with two locally made ingredients – Peychaud’s bitters and brandy. Peychaud created the bitters around 1830 as a medicinal tonic and the cocktail became a crowd favourite at the Sazerac Coffee House on Exchange Place in the French Quarter.
A few decades later, in 1870, the main ingredient in the Sazerac was changed to rye whiskey to suit the changing tastes of drinkers at the time. Then, in 1934, they added Herbsaint to the cocktail. This anise-flavoured liqueur was originally created as a substitute for absinthe in New Orleans in 1934. J. Marion Legendre and Reginald Parker invented Herbsaint, after learning how to make absinthe in France in WWI.
Today you can get an authentic Sazerac in a Herbsaint-rinsed glass with bourbon or rye whiskey, a dash of Peychaud’s bitters, a sugar cube, and a lemon peel. But where to get it? While Sazeracs are served in bars all over the city, you’ve got to drink one at the swanky Sazerac Bar in the historic Roosevelt Hotel. This award-winning hotel bar is so dedicated to this iconic New Orleans cocktail they’re named for it, and you won’t find a better Sazerac in the city.
Café Brûlot at Antoine’s – 713 St Louis St, New Orleans
If you like to mix your coffee with your liqueur, this is one of the best cocktails in New Orleans for you. It was invented in the 1890s at Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter by Jules Alciatore, son of the legendary restaurant founder Antoine Alciatore. The flaming cocktail quickly became popular during the Prohibition era as the coffee was the perfect way to hide the alcohol within the drink.
A Café Brûlot is made with cognac, Cointreau or Grand Marnier, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, dark brown sugar, and New Orleans chicory coffee, but it’s more than just a cocktail – it’s a performance. The blazing drink is prepared tableside with much showmanship, as the waiter will make it in a special brûlot while expertly burning the orange peel in a single spiral.
If you want to see this brilliant show, you’ve got to head to the place where it all began – Antoine’s. This fifth-generation family-owned restaurant is now over 180 years old and if the history doesn’t pull you in, the irresistible scents of coffee, brandy and smouldering citrus definitely will. The grand restaurant even has 14 different dining rooms, each with its own unique history and decor, so you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience here.
Brandy Milk Punch at Brennan’s – 417 Royal St, New Orleans
With a history dating all the way back to the 17th century, Brandy Milk Punch is one ancient cocktail. One of the first recorded versions appeared in 1862 in Jerry Thomas’ first-ever bartender’s guide. And while the drink wasn’t invented in the Big Easy, it’s very much a part of New Orleans’ cocktail culture.
The cocktail first emerged in New Orleans in the 1940s. The story goes that famous restaurateur Antoine Alciatore and several other owners of bars and restaurants would gather to play poker. One of those people was Owen Brennan, owner of a bar on Bourbon Street. His friends made a bet with Brennan that he couldn’t open a restaurant as well. Someone remarked, “If there’s dinner at Antoine’s, why can’t there be breakfast at Brennan’s?” This led to the idea of a late and leisurely breakfast – or the modern-day brunch. Cocktails had to be a part of this breakfast tradition, so Brennan chose the Brandy Milk Punch cocktail.
Made with the star ingredients – brandy and milk – along with nutmeg, vanilla extract and powdered sugar, this is a true local favourite. You can even add rum and egg for a heartier drink. Of course, the best place for Brandy Milk Punch is still Brennan’s. Or you could head to Bourbon House to try a spin on the classic – their frozen Bourbon Milk Punch.
Ramos Gin Fizz at Sazerac Bar – 130 Roosevelt Way, New Orleans
The Ramos Gin Fizz is another icon of New Orleans, having been invented right here in the Big Easy. It was first created by Henry C. Ramos in 1888 at his bar, the Imperial Cabinet Saloon. He made it with a winning combo of gin, egg whites, orange flower water, lemon and lime juice, sugar, and cream, but the secret to his recipe was that it called for 12 minutes of vigorous shaking.
When Henry started a new bar called The Stag in 1907, he brought the cocktail with him – along with a team of shakers to help make the classic drink. The shakers stood in a line and each shook it for a minute before passing it down the line. Once it was shaken up, they’d add a dash of soda water to get that signature fizz.
Decades later, after Prohibition ended, the Roosevelt Hotel bought the rights to the drink from Henry C. Ramos’ son. While Henry had originally called the cocktail the New Orleans Fizz, the hotel honoured Henry by renaming it the Ramos Gin Fizz.
The Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel is still one of the best places to try this silky drink, so why not order one after trying their famous Sazerac cocktail. They also make a superb Ramos Gin Fizz at the Bar Tonique, Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, or Carousel Bar. Make sure you’re not in a hurry though, as this is one cocktail that needs a lot of time to make perfectly – although we can assure you it’s worth the wait.
The Vieux Carré at Carousel Bar – 214 Royal St, New Orleans
Famed as the French Quarter cocktail, the Vieux Carré is undoubtedly one of the best cocktails in New Orleans. The name (pronounced “VOO ka-RAY”) translates from French to “Old Square”, an old name for the French Quarter in New Orleans. It was invented here in the 1930s at Hotel Monteleone by head bartender Walter Bergeron. Walter combined cognac, rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine, Angostura bitters, and the home-grown Peychaud’s bitters – and the resulting drink certainly packs a punch.
The best place to enjoy this cocktail is in the same place it was invented – Hotel Monteleone. The hotel’s cocktail lounge where Walter first made the Vieux Carré has been known as the Carousel Bar since 1949. The bar not only makes the best Vieux Carré, but it also has a famous menu serving classic New Orleans cocktails like the Ramos Gin Fizz and Brandy Milk Punch.
But the cocktails aren’t the only star here. The Carousel Bar is aptly named as it’s centred around a large vintage rotating carousel where you sit to enjoy your drinks. You’ll slowly revolve around, taking in the old-world glamour and atmosphere – and it’s a classic New Orleans experience.
Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s Bar – 718 St Peter St, New Orleans
Jimmy Buffet once sang, “Pour me something tall and strong. Make it a hurricane, before I go insane.” He was talking about the legendary Hurricane drink, invented right here in New Orleans at Pat O’Brien’s Bar.
The bartenders of Pat O’Brien’s Bar first created the Hurricane in the 1940s after Prohibition ended. There was too much rum going around and Pat O’Brien’s liquor distributor would only sell them other popular liquors like scotch whiskey if they took large quantities of rum. To help get rid of the excess rum, they concocted the Hurricane, a powerful cocktail made of rum, lemon juice, and passionfruit syrup. They served it in hurricane lamp-shaped glasses and it ended up being their most popular cocktail.
Today, it’s one of the most famous New Orleans drinks and the best place to try it is still Pat O’Brien’s. You can still get it in an iconic hurricane lamp-shaped glass and the modern-day version also has a dash of grenadine and a cherry or orange slice garnish. This beloved bar is famous for more than just cocktails though. You’ll love kicking back in the courtyard by the flaming fountain while listening to duelling piano music.
Absinthe Frappé at the Old Absinthe House – 240 Bourbon St, New Orleans
Invented in the 1860s by head bartender Cayetano Ferrer at Aleix Coffee House, the Absinthe Frappé is one of the best cocktails in New Orleans. In fact, the drink was so popular that Aleix Coffee House was renamed the Absinthe Room by the new owner Cayetano Ferrer after the cocktail was created.
The bar is now known as the Old Absinthe House and you can still enjoy this simple yet potent cocktail here. It’s made with absinthe, rich syrup, chilled soda water, and optional anisette, and it comes in a bright neon green colour. But don’t let the mesmerising colour fool you – this cocktail’s main ingredient, absinthe, has up to 70% ABV, so you’ll want to pace yourself.
While you sip your cocktails at the Old Absinthe House, don’t forget to take in the history of this charming institution. The original bar opened in 1807 and it was here that Andrew Jackson and the notorious pirate Jean Lafitte planned their strategy in the Battle of New Orleans. You’ll also be walking in the footsteps of many famous figures who have enjoyed a drink here including Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, General Lee, P.T. Barnum, and Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau.
French 75 at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar – 813 Bienville St, New Orleans
While the original version of the famous French 75 cocktail was invented in London’s Savoy Hotel with gin and champagne, you’ll find a slightly different version down in New Orleans. At the French 75 Bar, attached to the iconic Arnaud’s restaurant, they make the signature cocktail with Moët & Chandon and cognac instead of gin since cognac is a French spirit. It’s a toast to the city’s French roots and Arnaud’s has been perfecting their craft since 1918.
The upscale atmosphere of Arnaud’s makes it the perfect place to sip on the elegant French 75. Expect to be served your cocktail in a tall champagne flute, garnished with a twist of lemon peel. And with white-tuxedoed bartenders, love seats, and a wooden bar reclaimed from an antique store, a leisurely afternoon here will take you back in time to the heyday of the roaring 20s.
Pimm’s Cup at Napoleon House – 500 Chartres St, New Orleans
The New Orleans locals have a knack for revamping classic British beverages – and the Pimm’s Cup is no different. It’s a beloved summer beverage in Britain, but it’s made for a place like New Orleans, where it’s hot almost all year round. Since the locals have been enjoying Pimm’s Cup for almost a century, this British icon has become a treasured part of New Orleans’ cocktail culture.
The historic Napoleon House bar and restaurant first began serving the refreshing Pimm’s Cup in the late 1940s. A savvy bartender at Napoleon House took the original Pimm’s No. 1 Cup and gave it a makeover by adding lemonade, 7-Up, and a cucumber garnish.
The building of Napoleon House has an interesting history too, as it was originally the home of Nicholas Girod, the mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815. Nicholas kept the house ready for the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, in the event he needed to escape France. While Napoleon never arrived in New Orleans, his namesake building is a beloved institution and the best place in the Big Easy to enjoy a Pimm’s Cup. Cheers to that!
What are your favourite cocktails to enjoy in New Orleans? Let us know in the comments below…