The Best Bars Beyond Bourbon
If you're ready to branch out of your drinking environment as well as your choice of drinks, you'll find no lack of options. Given the rise of the craft cocktail movement, the choices are plentiful. We've suffered through the legwork for you to devise this short-list.
- French 75 Bar at Arnaud's, 813 Bienville St. (tel. 504/523-5433): A beautiful, intimate bar space in one of the Quarter's most venerable restaurants, it feels like drinking in New Orleans should: both classic and classy (and cigar-smoky later in the eve). Acclaimed bartender Chris Hannah and others are equally adept at vintage cocktails and original concoctions, including a perfect Ramos Gin Fizz and the namesake French 75 champagne cocktail. Tip: Order a side of Arnaud's dreamy soufflé potatoes to munch on.
- Napoleon House, 500 Chartres St. (tel. 504/524-9752): Set in a landmark building, this is a New Orleans must-do. It looks its age (over a century) and seems too perfect to be real -- surely it must be constructed just for tourists -- but it's not. Even locals like it here. Classical and jazz music play gently in the cave-dark room -- making it all the better to sip their house cocktail (the glass of summer known as a Pimm's Cup) and chow on their popular warm muffuletta.
- Carousel Bar at the Monteleone Hotel, 214 Royal St. (tel. 504/523-3341): No, you're not drunk (or maybe you are). The bar is actually spinning; the stools rotate around the central hub of the Carousel Bar (one drink per rotation is the purported ratio -- don't worry, it spins slo-o-o-wly). It's a great place for a grown-up cocktail (with prices to match), particularly the Vieux Carré Cocktail, their signature drink for nearly 75 years.
- Cure, 4905 Freret St. (tel. 504/302-2357): This mixologist's mecca helped instigate the resurgence of both craft cocktails in New Orleans and of Freret Street. The anachronistic oasis of sleek boasts great small plates and some of the most knowledgeable bar chefs in town, who blend fine spirits, house-made infusions, and friendly chat -- if you can get near them through the thick crowds. Try going early.
- The Columns, 3811 St. Charles Ave. (tel. 504/899-9308): The interior substituted for the brothel in the movie Pretty Baby, but there's no substitute for the warm, Southern, summer night, mint julep-sipping fantasies you can satisfy while outside on the wide, oak-shaded veranda. Their ravishing bloody marys will satisfy other needs.
- Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt, 123 Barronne St. (tel. 504/529-4733): In terms of New Orleans cocktail royalty, the 2009 reopening of the Sazerac Bar was the Mafia equivalent of unearthing Jimmy Hoffa, alive and well, counting wads of cash and sipping Barolo. The sinuous wood walls and Deco-era murals here have surely heard stories, seen stars, and launched scandals too numerous to count (but start with that bullet hole above the back kitchen door -- it wasn't touched in the hotel's $170-million renovation). You're here for all that panache as much as the namesake cocktail.
- Swizzle Stick Bar at Café Adelaide, 300 Poydras St., in the Loews Hotel (tel. 504/595-3305): It's classy, art-filled, and a tad sassy, and equally comfortable for solo visitors and those on a date. Revered mixologist Lu Brow blends stellar pre-Prohibition classics: the playful Swizzle Stick cocktail (with a "special ingredient"), and the infamous Corpse Reviver No. 2. Wafflers can order the Trouble Tree, with branches of cocktail shots. Excellent bar food comes from Café Adelaide.
- Bar Tonique, 820 N. Rampart St. (tel. 504/324-6045): Please, oh please, move Tonique next door to me, for it is the neighborhood bar of my dreams. Candles bounce off the original brick walls in the small, comfortable room, which is flanked by a smattering of smoochy booths and a swankier offshoot room. The superbly poured cocktails, from well-selected, hand-squeezed, and house-made ingredients, are served with authenticity, not attitude. The classics are in good hands here, particularly the Dark and Stormy made with fresh ginger juice. Their own Tru Kick and the Blanche Dubois rocked our barstools. There's a short but thoughtful beer and wine list, daily specials, and reasonable prices (but no food). Maybe we'll just move next door to Tonique.
- Three Muses, 536 Frenchmen St. (tel. 504/298-8746): Sophisticated modern lounge meets classic 1920s saloon, and we likey. The muses (owners) each contribute an essential expertise: beautifully balanced cocktails, mouthwatering (quite) small plates¸ and a songstress supreme with loads of talented friends. Serving new-timey cocktails and cuisine to old-timey (and acoustic) tunes, this smallish room is just what the Frenchmen Street scene needed. It's usually packed, and rightly so.
- Tujagues, 823 Decatur St. (tel. 504/525-8676): The attraction here is the centuries-old bar with the wall-size mirror, which was essentially hand carried -- whole -- from France to New Orleans (well, there was some sailing involved). The bartenders will gladly tell the remarkable tale, while pouring some of the better classic cocktails in town. In fact, after extensive personal research, we've ranked their Sazerac in our top five -- above some far more hoity locales. There are no seats here but usually some colorful characters worth sidling up to.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.