New Orleans has been home to some of the country’s most respected bartenders, who have envisioned, crafted and perfected many of the classic cocktails we see on bar menus today. Dropping in to one of the historic bars where these drinks were invented is one of the highlights of any trip to New Orleans and should be embarked upon as a journey through cocktail history.
Also check out our Shortcut Guide to the French Quarter (it’s a really fun infographic!)
⇒ Wondering where to stay in New Orleans? See our hotel recommendations at the end of the post. Or click here for a list of our favorite hotels near Bourbon Street.
Since you’re a cocktail fan, you might want to check out our guide to the best beach drinks to order!
Cocktails You Must Try in New Orleans
The Sazarac is one of the oldest known craft cocktails and there’s no better place to sit and sip one than in the Sazarac Bar in The Roosevelt Hotel in the Central Business District. In 2008, the Sazarac was named the official cocktail of New Orleans, and rightfully so. It was originally crafted in 1838 by Antoine Amedie Peychaud of Peychaud’s Bitters.
A potent cocktail, the French 75 is made with gin, Champagne, lemon juice, and sugar. The drink was created in 1915 at the New York Bar in Paris and was said to pack the punch of a French 75mm field gun, hence the name. The drink is served, appropriately, at the French 75 Bar connected to Arnaud’s Restaurant, and it feels right at home there.
A light and refreshing drink for a hot New Orleans summer is the Pimm’s Cup, a cocktail that was reinvented from the original Pimm’s cocktail that was created in London by James Pimm. The drink was adjusted by Napoleon House to include lemonade, spritzer and a cucumber slice. You can also find a great Pimm’s Cup made by one of NOLA’s famous bartenders, Chris McMillan at Kingfish.
Now famous a every beach bar in the world, the Hurricane was originally invented in New Orleans by bartender Louis Culligan of the legendary Pat O’Brien’s on Bourbon Street when the bar found itself overstocked with rum. The original recipe calls for passion fruit syrup, lemon and dark Jamaican rum, a far cry from the sugary, bright-red drinks now being served by the gallons at Pat O’Brien’s, but it’s still required drinking when in New Orleans.
Ramos Gin Fizz
If you’ve never heard of a Ramos Gin Fizz, it’s probably because you haven’t been to New Orleans. The drink is rarely seen on cocktail menus outside The Big Easy. A mix of gin, cream, lemon, lime, orange flower water and egg whites, the sweet drink was concocted by Henry Ramos in 1888 and has been a New Orleans favorite ever since. Try one at The Empire Bar at Broussard’s
The original name for the French Quarter, Vieux Carre was turned into a cocktail in the 1930s at the Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone. This rye and cognac-based cocktail is similar to a Sazarac with is slightly sweet, smooth finish. And by the way, the Carousel Bar is a classic New Orleans fixture and one you should definitely not miss. The rotating bar is magical.
The Brandy Crusta, originally invented in 1852 by Joseph Santina in New Orleans, consists of Brandy, Curacao, sugar, bitters, and lemon juice. The Brandy Crusta is often served in a frosted glass, with a large orange peel and sugar rim. Today, you can get a great Brandy Crusta at French 75, though it’s not on the menu.
Brandy Milk Punch
You probably thought you’d never order something called milk punch, right? It doesn’t sound great, but don’t miss the opportunity to try one — you might be surprised. Often served during brunch, the drink is sweet and strong and can stand up to rich breakfast dishes. A good place to try a Brandy Milk Punch is at Bourbon House, but it’s served at most brunch spots in the city.
I’m adding a drink of my own choosing to the list. It’s not a classic cocktail, but it’s a damn good one. One night, after a spirited cocktail journey through the French Quarter, we ended up at Kingfish, where we were a captive audience to famous New Orleans bartender, Chris McMillan. Upon request, he crafted a delicious cocktail that he calls the Jean Deaux, a perfect blend of gin, orange and candied ginger that was so good I didn’t want to finish it. Go there. Try that.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
Finding the right hotel in New Orleans comes down to whether you want to be right in the middle of the action, or slightly outside of the action. It can get noisy and crazy, and all kinds of fun, on Bourbon Street, but if you don’t want to be that close, at least stay within walking distance, so getting to the restaurants listed above is reasonable. All of our recommended hotels are with a few blocks of the action.
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