Another round of Vicki Arkoff’s historic drinking tour of the French Quarter where legendary libations were first concocted.
In the heart of the French Quarter is the novel Carousel Bar & Lounge at the elegant Hotel Monteleone. A favorite since 1949, the round, 25-seat bar actually revolves, and has been a favorite attraction for such illustrious hotel guests as Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Liberace (who has performed here) and William Faulkner. Built to resemble an actual merry-go-round, the room’s centerpiece was once painted in bright circus colors, but was recently muted in the bar’s 2011 remodel and expansion. It takes a leisurely 15 minutes to make one slow revolution, so grab any revolving seat, order a classic Vieux Carre Cocktail or The Goody – both invented here in the 1950s – and eventually you’ll have a front row seat in front of the nightly entertainment and the picture windows overlooking Royal Street. For a few minutes at a time, that is. Carousel Bar & Lounge at Hotel Monteleone: 214 Royal St.
New Orleans is known for two kinds of hurricanes: the dangerous and destructive wind storm that has wreaked havoc on the city more than once; and the dangerous and destructive alcoholic beverage that wreaks havoc on tourists who drink more than one. The Hurricane cocktail looks harmless enough. It’s bright red like fruit punch, served in a tall glass resembling a hurricane lamp (hence the name), and topped with an orange slice and a cherry. But it packs a category-5 punch with 4 ounces of rum camouflaged by a sugary-sweet mix of juices, simple syrup and grenadine. Diabetic or not, every tourist who visits New Orleans is required by law (or should be) to drink at least one Hurricane at the legendary Pat O’Brien’s patio or piano bar. It was my first stop after arriving on my first NoLa trip for Mardi Gras in 1984, and my last drink last summer during the August heat wave when I ordered it in a souvenir ToGo cup to take it next door for a brilliant concert the bar-less Preservation Hall. Pat O’Brien’s, 718 St. Peters St.
Stumbling distance from the Quarter is the relatively new Swizzle Stick Bar at Loew’s New Orleans Hotel where Bar Chef Lu Brow – named New Orleans best bartender in 2006 – has been reviving classic New Orleans cocktails like the Side Car, the Corpse Reviver #2, and the Adelaide Swizzle, named for the fun-loving grand dame of the legendary Brennan’s restaurant who famously wore a gold swizzle stick necklace to dramatically stir her drinks with. When she passed on, she passed the torch to Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan, first cousins carrying on the family cocktail tradition by carrying on, of course, and by penning the definitive New Orleans book on the subject: “In The Land of Cocktails: Recipes and Adventures from the Cocktail Chicks” (William Morrow). Swizzle Stick Bar, 300 Poydras St.
Other historic French Quarter bars not to be missed:
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (941 Bourbon Street): Built between 1722 and 1732, this is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States. Rumor has it that between 1772 and 1791, the property was used by the Lafitte brothers, Jean and Pierre, as a New Orleans base for their Barataria nefarious smuggling operation. True or not, the creakingly-old building truly did escape two great fires at the turn of the 19th Century, and is still alive and kicking as a rustic piano bar.
French 75 (813 Rue Bienville): Widely considered one of the Top 10 historic bars in North America, this sophisticated lounge is a former “gentlemen only area” from the late 1800s, now the sidecar for legendary Arnaud’s restaurant, one of New Orleans’ oldest and finest. The emphasis here is premium spirits and cigars, making it a refined respite from the party-hearty neighborhood. It’s not where the French 75 cocktail was invented, but it’s the perfect place to order a perfect one from friendly, knowledgeable bartender Chris Hannah, who knows everything about it.
Napoleon House (500 Chartres St.): Precious few places capture the true essence of New Orleans like the Napoleon House, a 200-year old landmark that housed the mayor of New Orleans from 1812-1815. In 1821, he offered his home to Napoleon as a refuge during his exile. Napoleon never made it, but the name stuck, and since then the corner bar has become one of the most famous in America. I found myself drawn to it again and again, at first because it shows its scars of age so honestly, then later because of the charm of the Impastato family who have owned it since 1914 and rescued it following Hurricane Katrina. It also doesn’t hurt that they make a great Muffelata and my absolute favorite Pimm’s Cup in a city that makes the best Pimm’s Cups in the world. (Fact. Sorry, England.)