Louisiana’s history with cocktails is one of varied and legendary proportions. In the 19th century, Louisiana delivered unto the world the Sazerac, and with New Orleans as Louisiana’s major port, even during Prohibition, liquor made its way into our roots and across the state.
Of course, it’s no secret that alcohol holds a distinct place in the life and culture of Louisiana. From Mardi Gras celebrations to cocktail hours, fine dining to the New Orleans’ “go-cup,” few other places honor spirits in the same fashion.
But enjoying a cocktail is no longer merely sipping a mixed drink; it is something beyond the glass. In the endless pursuit of perfecting their craft, mixologists and bartenders throughout Louisiana work diligently to remain on the forefront of innovative cocktail experiences for connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike.
Expanding the use of infused liquors, mixing alcohols once considered unmixable, and incorporating food itself into drinks are techniques continually gaining prominence in Louisiana’s cocktail bars and changing the way consumers approach the happiest of hours.
Shaken, stirred, chilled, or on the rocks—whatever you’re having, our favorite cocktail bars will certainly lift your spirits.
Mexico meets Polynesia at Tiki Tolteca, the Latin American tiki bar from Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria that has been a fixture for colorful cocktails since 2013. Tiki Tolteca started as a pop-up bar above Felipe’s French Quarter location in 2013 and grew into a full-service bar in 2014.
Being under the Felipe’s umbrella made Latin American influences a given, but the theme was inspired even further by an oft-overlooked theory that the Polynesian people were descended from pre-Columbian South Americans, which could indicate that Polynesian flavors evolved from that continent.
Tiki Tolteca’s menu is divided into Tiki Classics and Tolteca Originals. You’ll find favorites like the Mai Tai alongside quaffs such as Another Layover in Tula, which incorporates Mexican flavors like tamarind.
The tiki lounge makes its own liqueurs and syrups for its creations, all served in festive glassware and its signature mug, which differs from those in the Polynesian style in that it doesn’t have a long face and does not depict a nautical figure. Instead, it resembles the Toltec statues in Tula, Mexico.
Pamplona Tapas Bar
Those with an appetite for old-world flair will find it in Lafayette at Pamplona Tapas Bar, building a strong Spanish aesthetic in every corner. Boasting only the freshest of ingredients and “timeless processes,” Pamplona prides itself on house-made syrups and tinctures.
The cocktail menu is extensive and includes limited-time offerings that reflect flavors of each passing season. But more extensive than the seasonal menu is its spread of faithful craft classics like the Manhattan and surprising twists on standards as with their Basil Pepper Lemon Drop.
What sets Pamplona apart from other cocktail bars in Louisiana is its focus on perhaps the most misunderstood spirit of all: absinthe. Pamplona’s team of mixologists dedicate an entire portion of the cocktail menu to the liquor. Absinthes from Switzerland, France, and the United States are found mixed with rums, gins, and ryes. The star among them is the bright and botanical Float On, a cocktail featuring Swiss Kübler Absinthe and St-Germain with orange blossom water and Cava.
Carousel Bar & Lounge
With a nightly schedule of live music, wide-ranging selection of specialty cocktails, and unique design, the opulent Carousel Bar & Lounge in Hotel Monteleone has long been a favorite rendezvous among New Orleans locals and tourists. The main attraction is the 25-seat rotating bar, which was first installed in 1949 and fashioned after a circus-themed merry-go-round. The spinning bar makes one revolution every 15 minutes, allowing visitors to look out onto bustling Royal Street as they pass by the vast windows.
The Carousel Bar has attracted several celebrities over the years, with performers like Liberace stopping in after playing shows at the hotel’s now-closed Swan Room. The current carousel top was added in 1992, and in 2011, the Carousel Bar underwent a renovation and expansion that included installing a larger lounge area and space for additional seating.
The Carousel Bar’s expansive list of craft cocktails includes local classics like the Sazerac and Vieux Carre, the latter of which was created there in 1938, as well as new favorites like the Per Sempre cocktail, which the bar made for Tales of the Cocktail in 2016. The nightly entertainment schedule features performances from a variety of New Orleans jazz musicians.
SoBou, the “modern Creole saloon” from the Commander’s Family of Restaurants, is a place where restaurant and bar harmoniously complement one another. Bar Chef Laura Bellucci says she finds herself in Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez’s kitchen as often as she finds him behind her bar, regularly integrating “food into booze and booze into food.”
Laura was raised in Massachusetts but fell in love with New Orleans and what she calls the “multifaceted passions” of its people. She now calls it home and has showcased her creativity on SoBou’s cocktail menu since 2015, incorporating everything from ghost pepper jelly to Honey Nut Cheerio-infused rum.
Laura’s debut cocktail on the SoBou menu was The Parakeet Nordine, a gin-based cocktail with Chartreuse and grapefruit liqueur—a drink so popular that it remains on the menu to this day.
“I’m so proud of it because it shows how far I’ve come. With all the cocktails I’ve invented since then, some that worked and some that didn’t, the Parakeet always gives me confidence,” she says.
Laura’s recent Pablo Neruda-inspired creation House of the Rind further reveals her evolution into kitchen-focused cocktails, using Earl Grey tea-infused honeysuckle vodka with lemon curd.
Nestled in the historic Hotel Bentley in downtown Alexandria, the Mirror Room is a relaxing escape for craft cocktails. The hotel first opened in 1908 and once served as a place where American military leaders gathered during World War II to strategize how to fight Axis forces in Europe.
After closing twice in the late 1960s and early 2000s, the hotel reopened in 2015 after a multimillion-dollar restoration, which included the return of the Mirror Room’s original massive stained glass windows depicting patrons from different European countries raising glasses for a toast.
The Mirror Room’s extensive seasonal drink menu features an impressive list of fine wines, premium spirits, and signature cocktails such as the Mirror Room Spa Water (with gin, elderflower liqueur, cucumber, basil, and lime juice).
Mirror Room visitors may also order from the Bentley Room Restaurant’s “Small Bites with Big Taste” menu, which includes items such as Crab Cake Sliders and Boudin Balls. The upscale cocktail lounge also hosts live music a few times a month.
Since 2011, The Radio Bar of Baton Rouge has been serving up something for everyone: business professionals, retirees, the young and hip crowds, and out-of-towners. “This was one of the first bars of its kind in Mid City,” says manager Kelli Paxton. “There were a couple of dives around, but nothing quite like this. It comes across as a neighborhood bar, so you never know you’re about to be transported to another place behind these doors.”
The Radio Bar is located in a building that was converted from a former Western Auto. During its renovation, owners kept the garage doors, allowing guests to easily transition from inside to outside during both summer and winter since gas lines run to heaters outside. In line with the name, The Radio Bar has an app that functions like a free jukebox, allowing guests to choose from a broad music library.
The Radio Bar has two running menus: one with familiar favorites like Sidecars and French 75s and another that is continually updated with their latest creations. Right now, The Radio Bar is staying on top of craft trends with shrubs, fruit-based drinking vinegars that provide a broad range and layer cocktails with tartness without having to use citrus.