Sampling New Orleans’ craft cocktails is a top experience to have when visiting. Some believe cocktails were invented in New Orleans, specifically with the birth of Sazerac in the early 1800s. While cocktail standards started to decline in the 1970s due to people wanting things cheaper and quicker, New Orleans stayed true to its classic cocktail roots and has been creating high-quality drinks for over 200 years. Because of this, you’ll find numerous establishments offering craft cocktails. Start your “spirited” journey by going back in time at French 75 (813 Bienville Street). Once a gentlemen-only club, the sophisticated French Quarter establishment takes you back in time to the old school bars of the early 18th century, with monkey lamps, dark varnished woods, a vintage bar, low tables and settees and tiled floors. The establishment is named after the classic French 75 cocktail, crafted with Courvoisier VS, sugar, lemon juice, Moet and Chandon for a drink combing the light, uplifting bubbles of Champagne and the rich flavors and warmth of brandy. If you want something personalized, you can tell head bartender Chris Hannah or one of the other skilled mixologists what types of flavors you enjoy for a well-balanced drink suited to your tastes. Some other cocktails on their menu include the “Lillet Cobbler” with Lillet, Creme de Mure and lime juice; “The Baroness” with Boobles gin, Aperol, Ruby Red grapefruit juice, Rhubarb Cordial and Orange Bitters; and “La Louisiane” with rye whiskey, vermouth, Benedictine, Herbsaint, Angostura and Peychaud Bitters.
Another worthwhile option for those wanting to explore New Orleans’ craft cocktail culture is Cure (4905 Freret Street). Reminiscent of a time when cocktails grew from home remedies, Cure offers a sophisticated venue for cultured discussion and quality drinks. The dimly lit renovated firehouse features a impressive bar shelved with quality spirits, as well as round tables illuminated by candlelight. Sample my personal favorite, their “White Witch,” crafted with Cocchi Americano, Barsol Primero Pisco, Strega and Witch Bitters; the “Ms. Camille” featuring Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, Marolo “Milla” Chamomile Liqueur, sparkling wine, honey and lemon; or an “Escana Cao” featuring Rare Wine Charleston Sercial Madeira, Germain Robin Craft Method American Brandy, Peychaud’s Bitters and orange peel.
And for a farm-to-bar craft cocktail experience, The Three Muses (536 Frenchmen Street) serves thoughtful drinks made with local and housemade ingredients, for example, their ginger beer, cherry cola, bitters, olive brine and fruit juices. In a contemporary country atmosphere sip a “Luisas Husky Revenge” made with Zaya rum, housemade ginger beer and basil-lemongrass bitters; “Suspiciously Absinthe” with Toulouse Red Absinthe, housemade grapefruit-dill bitters and hibiscus grapefruit soda; or a ”Tequila Tiff” concocted with Avion Reposado with Agave Nectar, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and soda. Their spin on the classic “Sazerac” is also a great option, featuring house-infused vanilla Sazerac rye whiskey, Cointreau and housemade orange-fennel seed bitters. Leave pretension at the door, as this place is all about quality drinks, delicious tapas, live jazz music and having fun.
Those interested in exploring New Orleans’ craft cocktail scene should also visit the Museum of the American Cocktail (currently housed in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum until mid-2013 when it will open in its new location at 1504 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard). The museum features informative cocktail exhibits and drink history displays and puts on lectures and workshops for those who want to learn more about cocktail making as an art.