New Orleans is knee-deep in booze. The city that brought the world the Sazerac, the Ramos Gin Fizz, and, depending on whose story you believe, even coined the term “cocktail,” has rarely run dry. However, the city’s long and storied cocktail past has recently been overshadowed by a tidal wave of neon libations poured freely for tourists on Bourbon Street.
The story of New Orleans’s cocktail culture is an old and oft-told tale by now. For years, the stalwart Grande Dames of the French Quarter kept the candle burning. Tujague’s, Arnaud’s French 75, and the like poured the classics: venerable drinks such as Vieux Carres, Sazeracs, and the arm-burning Ramos Gin Fizz (which is shaken up to 12 minutes) for anyone in search of something more refined.
Then, in 2002 the scene began to shift. In its inaugural year, Tales of the Cocktail—the now-annual pilgrimage of cocktail professionals—boosted the city’s cocktail profile and brought a fresh stream of aficionados and industry talent into bars . Through seminars, lectures, and tastings, Tales did much to elevate local expectations. Under the direction of Ann and Paul Tuennerman, Tales of the Cocktail became one of the most important gatherings of industry professionals in the country. Paul believes that “over the last few years, New Orleans has gained a reputation for well-crafted cocktails and is frequently referenced along with New York and San Francisco as places to go for those interested in exploring the revitalization of cocktails and bartending as a profession.” Tales and its participants have played an important role in this shifting landscape.
Sadly and famously, New Orleans and its cocktail resurgence were waylaid, like so many other things, by the floods and fires of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But from the ashes of Freret Street came Cure, a boundary-breaking magic-making cocktail bar. Cure took the burgeoning cocktail scene to another level, raising the bar and offering its patrons both well-crafted classics and inventive new concoctions that kept them coming back night after night.
While New Orleans seems rarely, if ever, to be on the forefront of cultural trends, this has not been the case when it comes to cocktails. The growing popularity of cocktail-heavy bars did not stop with Cure. Others followed, including Bar Tonique, Cane and Table, Bellocq, Twelve Mile Limit, Loa, Tivoli & Lee, and Treo. Now, a restaurant rarely opens without a thoughtful, original cocktail program. A quick glance at the menus of Sylvain, Maurepas Foods, or Sobu proves this point neatly.
Even the small-batch bitters maker Bittermens has joined this continued resurgence, relocating its business from Brooklyn to New Orleans earlier this year. Co-founders Avery and Janet Glasser have been impressed with the Crescent City and satisfied with their choice to move. “Corner bars, dive bars, neighborhoods bars…have great cocktail programs,” says Avery. “From Felipe’s Taqueria to Cure, the places that you wouldn’t necessarily expect are making amazing cocktails and impressing.” No doubt in part because of Bittermens’s original ingredients and fantastic products.
New Orleans always puts its stamp on things, and cocktails are no exception. No matter where you pull up your bar stool in this great city, you’ll never be at a loss for a great cocktail. And despite the enduring and admittedly important presence of daiquiri chains and vibrantly colored Monsoons, New Orleans’s cocktail culture and those who love it have a bright, if slightly blurry, future ahead of them.
Classic New Orleans Cocktails