Few things are as American as baseball, apple pie and the Sazerac, that sublimely strong rye whiskey concoction developed in New Orleans around 1850, making it one of America's oldest cocktails. The city also gave birth to the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Hurricane and the Vieux Carré, making New Orleans America's unofficial cocktail capital and a must-see stop for every connoisseur. For those planning a pilgrimage, whether it's for next month's Jazz Fest or a visit without an official itinerary, you'll need to sip something other than the sweeter-than-syrup Hurricanes served on touristy Bourbon Street to get an authentic taste of what the Big Easy does best. Here are seven of the city's most magnificent cocktails and where to drink them.
No visit to New Orleans is complete without sampling the city's official cocktail at the bar named for it in the historic Roosevelt hotel. Stepping into the grand lounge, with its dripping chandeliers, African-walnut bar and Paul Ninas murals, is like stepping back in time. Bartenders give chilled glasses a rinse with anise-flavored Legendre Herbsaint before pouring a stiff version of the Sazerac with rye whiskey, sugar and Peychaud's bitters.
Sazerac Bar | Roosevelt hotel, 123 Baronne St.; (504) 648-1200
In the Crescent City, bourbon milk punch is as ubiquitous as a Bloody Mary on brunch menus. Many of these creamy concoctions resemble eggnog, but our favorite version relies on an old English technique that combines hot ingredients with cold to clarify the milk until the liquid is clear. That's the method used for the spectacular Golden Lion milk punch at Cane & Table, whose "ProtoTiki" cocktails are, bar none, the best in town. For the Golden Lion, so named for the brothel that once inhabited the location, bartender David Gonsalves infuses rum with pineapple and then finishes the cocktail with fino and grated nutmeg.
Cane & Table | 1113 Decatur St.; (504) 581-1112
Ramos Gin Fizz
The Ramos Gin Fizz is a labor oflove — the original 1887 concoction created by New Orleanian Henry Charles Ramos calls for the drink to be shaken vigorously for as long as 15 minutes. At Tujagues, which looks exactly like a centuries-old bar should, you won't find a Ramos Gin Fizz on the menu, but if you ask nicely you'll be treated to a mind-blowing rendition of egg whites, cream, orange flower water, citrus and London gin.
Tujagues | 823 Decatur St.; (504) 525-8676
New Orleans reappropriated the English Pimm's Cup sometime in the 1950s by ditching the drink's strawberries and orange slices and sticking to a Pimm's liqueur, lemon-lime soda (such as 7-Up) and sliced cucumber concoction that tastes more Arnold Palmer than fruit cocktail. Napoleon House on Chartres Street serves the definitive New Orleans version, but we love the addition of Hendrick's cucumber-infused gin and fresh ginger in the cheeky Gnome's Cup at the trendy Coquette restaurant.
Coquette | 2800 Magazine St.; (504) 265-0421
There is little that's more romantic than sipping an elegant French 75 Champagne cocktail in the clubby Arnaud's French 75 Bar. As Dixieland jazz spills out from the dining room next door, bartenders in crisp white jackets and bow ties deftly mix Moët & Chandon Champagne with Courvoisier VS, fresh lemon juice and sugar before straining into a flute garnished with a lemon peel.
Arnaud's | 813 Bienville Ave.; (504) 523-5433
Named for the city's French Quarter, the Vieux Carré (or Old Square) was invented in 1938 at the Hotel Monteleone, where you'll still find the best rendition of this boozy drink at the hotel's rotating Carousel Bar. Take a seat underneath the circus-clad carousel and order the signature Vieux Carré — a potent mix of Bulleit Rye, Hennessy, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine, Angostura and Peychaud's bitters. The experience will leave you, dare we say, spinning.
Carousel Bar | Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal St.; (504) 523-3341
The Big Red Hammer
Then there's the morning after. La Petite Grocery's take on the Bloody Mary is served with a fork at the restaurant's outstanding Sunday brunch (three words: blue crab beignets). For the Big Red Hammer cocktail, chef Justin Devillier stirs his house-made Bloody Mary mix with Tito's Handmade Vodka in a generous Mason jar and tops it with poached shrimp, blue-crab claws and house-pickled vegetables to cure what ails ye.
La Petite Grocery | 4238 Magazine St.; (504) 891-3377
This story is part of the Los Angeles Times' Image Magazine spring fashion and travel issue.