Drinking NOLA: The Most Famous (& Infamous) New Orleans Cocktails
Nov 02 2016

Drinking NOLA: The Most Famous (& Infamous) New Orleans Cocktails

By: Kathy Bradshaw

No one can deny New Orleans’ love of the drink. Not only have we turned drinking into an art form, we’ve also made works of art out of what we drink. Here in the cocktail capital of the South, bartenders are called “bar chefs,” countless cocktails have originated, and even the cocktail experts come to learn about cocktails. We are absolute masters at mixing up a fancy drink. Below you will find a list of just a few of the tipples that make New Orleans proud.

And yet, we all know that with alcohol often comes indiscretion—like drunk texting, public vomiting and embarrassing sexual exploits. So we’ve also included those notorious drinks whose reputation might, for whatever reason, carry a bit of stigma or scandal (or, at least, the drinking of said drinks might lead to it). 

In other words, here is a guide to five famous New Orleans cocktails, followed by a list of five infamous New Orleans cocktails. Bottoms up. 


FIVE FAMOUS NEW ORLEANS COCKTAILS

Drinking NOLA: The Most Famous (& Infamous) New Orleans Cocktails

1. Brandy Milk Punch

When Ben Franklin wasn’t flying a kite in a thunderstorm, he was known to imbibe a Brandy Milk Punch or two. At the very least, the cocktail supposedly dates back to pre-Colonial days, and rumor has it that Ben was a big fan. As the name suggests, it’s made with milk (or cream) and brandy, a little vanilla and simple syrup, and is topped off with nutmeg. A cousin of eggnog, this Southern classic cocktail has spread its hangover-curing charm beyond the holidays and is now more associated with brunch in New Orleans.

Where to get a good one: Brennan’s (pictured above), 417 Royal St., 504-525-9711, brennansneworleans.com  •  Muriel’s Jackson Square, 801 Chartres St., 504-568-1885, muriels.com

 

Drinking NOLA: The Most Famous (& Infamous) New Orleans Cocktails

2. French 75

The exact origins of this classic drink are a little fuzzy, but one thing seems certain. The drink dates back to at least World War I and was named after the French 75mm field gun that was the weapon of choice in France at the time. The story goes that when war-weary soldiers had some time away from the battlefield, they’d head to the nearest bar and toast to victory with a cocktail that combined either Cognac or gin and lemon, sugar and Champagne. The French 75 was born. Like so many goodies that New Orleans has collected from France throughout our history, we have likewise adopted this cocktail of French descent as our own. Places like Arnaud’s have popularized the drink and even named the restaurant’s bar after it.

Where to get a good one: Q&C Hotel Bar (pictured above), 344 Camp St., 504-587-9700, qandc.com  •  Arnaud’s, 813 Bienville St., 504-523-5433, arnaudsrestaurant.com  •  Patrick’s Bar Vin, 730 Bienville St., 504-200-3180, patricksbarvin.com

 

Drinking NOLA: The Most Famous (& Infamous) New Orleans Cocktails

3. Ramos Gin Fizz

The Ramos Gin Fizz, aka “How to Piss Off Your Bartender,” is the most labor-intensive drink known to man. Not only does it have a laundry list of ingredients—lemon juice, lime juice, cream, gin, simple syrup, the white of a single egg, orange flower water and club soda—but it also requires being shaken until your arms feel like you’ve bench pressed an entire boy band. Nowadays, your average bartender will likely shake the drink for a couple minutes (and some places even employ shaking machines to do the labor instead). But back when Mr. Ramos invented the drink in 1888, right here in town at the long-since defunct Imperial Cabinet Saloon on Gravier Street, they used to shake these things for an average of 12 minutes! The Imperial actually had 20 Ramos-shaking bartenders on staff (32 at Mardi Gras one year) whose sole purpose was to shake the heck out of some Ramos Gin Fizzes. Former governor Huey P. Long’s favorite, the cocktail tastes just like key lime pie in a glass.

Where to get a good one: Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel (pictured above), 130 Roosevelt Way, 504-648-1200, therooseveltneworleans.com/dining  •  Kingfish, 337 Chartres St., 504-598-5005, kingfishneworleans.com

 

Drinking NOLA: The Most Famous (& Infamous) New Orleans Cocktails

4. Sazerac

A little like a New Orleans version of an Old Fashioned, the Sazerac is considered to be one of the world’s first cocktails … some even claim it’s the very first ever, hands down. Created right here in New Orleans in the 1830s, most credit M. Antoine Peychaud with its invention. Peychaud owned an apothecary in the French Quarter and mixed up his world-famous bitters—which are still a crucial ingredient in the drink today—from a Haitian family recipe. When Peychaud added his homemade bitters to some Cognac with just a splash of absinthe, and garnished the whole potent combo with a lemon peel, the Sazerac came into being. Some nasty little buggers known as phylloxera soon wiped out most of the Cognac-producing grapevines in France, so cocktail professionals filled the ever-growing demand for Sazeracs with the locally-produced and more readily available rye whiskey instead. And this is the recipe that stuck … more or less. 

Where to get a good one: Bombay Club, 830 Conti St., 504-577-2237 (pictured above), bombayclubneworleans.com  •  Cure, 4905 Freret St., 504-302-2357, curenola.com

 

Drinking NOLA: The Most Famous (& Infamous) New Orleans Cocktails

5. Vieux Carré

If New Orleans could be personified in liquid form, the Vieux Carré would be it. Our fine city has long been described as a “cultural gumbo” due to the melding of so many cultures in one place, and the Vieux Carré cocktail is definitely gumbo in a glass. Each of the ingredients represents a different community of folks who came to New Orleans and helped make it great. There’s Cognac and Benedictine to symbolize our founding French fathers, sweet vermouth to represent our Italian heritage, rye for the early Americans who came to town, Angostura bitters for our African people, and Peychaud’s bitters for the Creoles from way back. The cocktail was invented by bartender Walter Bergeron in the 1930s at the Hotel Monteleone. One tale suggests that he created the drink for a regular customer, who promptly (albeit happily) died upon tasting it. True or not, one thing is clear: just like New Orleans, this drink is not for the faint of heart.

Where to get a good one: Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (pictured above), 214 Royal St., 504-523-3341, hotelmonteleone.com/entertainment.carousel-bar  •  Bar Tonique, 830 Rampart St., 504-324-6045, bartonique.com

 

FIVE INFAMOUS NEW ORLEANS COCKTAILS

Drinking NOLA: The Most Famous (& Infamous) New Orleans Cocktails

1. Hurricane

New Orleans is a town known for the over-powering effects of its hurricanes—and this goes for cocktails as well as gale force winds. The hurricane cocktail was invented right here in New Orleans in the 1940s by Mr. Pat O’Brien himself, naturally of the world-famous bar by the same name. Like many things during World War II, whiskey and scotch were rationed, while rum, on the other hand, was cheap and free-flowing. Rum-pushing liquor salesmen used to force bar owners to buy up to 50 cases of rum before they’d pony up a single case of the coveted good stuff (whiskey). So what do you do with an over-abundance of rum and a bunch of thirsty soldiers? You add fruit juices, including (in some recipes) passionfruit, and make it red with grenadine (because red drinks are better and easier to spot when recycled on Bourbon Street sidewalks). And if you serve it in a glass shaped like a hurricane lamp, you call it just that. A hurricane. 

Where to get a good one: Pat O’Briens (pictured above), 718 St. Peter St., 504-525-4823, patobriens.com  •  Crazy Lobster, 500 Port of New Orleans Place, Suite 83, 504-569-3380, thecrazylobster.com

 

Drinking NOLA: The Most Famous (& Infamous) New Orleans Cocktails

2. Hand Grenade

A commonplace site on Bourbon Street, this stiff neon green cocktail is served in its signature, giant, same-shade-of-neon-green plastic “yard glass” shaped like a happy hand grenade—with eyes and a smiley face. It tastes like melon and is jacked up with grain alcohol. But if you want to know what else is in there, don’t bother … they keep the recipe under wraps. Available only at the various Tropical Island locations and The Funky Pirate—all Bourbon Street establishments—Hand Grenades are strong enough to pack as much of a wallop as their namesake weapon. Not only will they make you drunk, they’ll make you cool, too … apparently Ludacris both drinks and raps about them. 

Where to get one: Tropical Isle (pictured above), Multiple Locations, tropicalisle.com  •  The Funky Pirate, 727 Bourbon St., 504-523-1960, thefunkypirate.com

 

Drinking NOLA: The Most Famous (& Infamous) New Orleans Cocktails

3. Frozen Daiquiri

In New Orleans, if it’s frozen and boozy, it’s a daiquiri. Daiquiris come in every color in the box of Crayolas and a medley of tasty flavors with cool names like Jungle Juice and Swamp Water. They are sickeningly sugary and have a day’s worth of calories, but they’re good and refreshing and are a very common guilty pleasure. In fact, almost everyone has at least one story that starts with a frozen daiquiri and at least one souvenir cup leftover afterwards. They’re perfect on the go, even if you’re going by car, since New Orleans is the home of the famous drive-thru daiquiri. While you’ll find them on every corner of Bourbon Street, it’s worth venturing just a half block off the beaten path to try a highly acclaimed Frozen Irish Coffee at Erin Rose. Sure, they might not call this a daiquiri, but a frozen cocktail by any other name tastes just as sweet.

Where to get a good one: Your favorite corner daiquiri shop  •  Compère Lapin in the Old No. 77 Hotel and Chandlery (pictured above), 535 Tchoupitoulas St., comperlapin.com  •  Erin Rose, 811 Conti St., 504-522-3573, erinrosebar.com

 

Drinking NOLA: The Most Famous (& Infamous) New Orleans Cocktails

4. Café Brulot

Starbucks and friends may have come up with almost every coffee concoction imaginable—if you’re into frou frou coffee drinks—but there’s one thing they fail to do: spike it with brandy and set it on fire. So get your caffeine fix while also indulging your inner pyromaniac with a Café Brulot. Made with Cognac or brandy, cinnamon and cloves, orange and lemon peels, and of course coffee, the challenge of preparation comes in managing to peel the orange in one single spiral and in not burning the place down. According to one account, our scandalous friend Jean Lafitte invented the cocktail, yet most folks give credit to Jules Alciatore as the inventor in the 1890s. Jules was the son of Antoine Alciatore, the founder of Antoine’s Restaurant, where the drink is still served daily. Café Brulot was especially popular during Prohibition since the coffee was a perfect cover for the hidden alcohol within, but today people mainly like them for the blazing presentation.

Where to get a good one: Antoine’s (pictured above), 713 St. Louis St., 504-581-4422, antoines.com  •  Galatoire’s, 209 Bourbon St., 504-525-2021, galatoires.com

 

Drinking NOLA: The Most Famous (& Infamous) New Orleans Cocktails

5. Absinthe

Absinthe, often referred to as the “green fairy,” is a high-proof, usually green, anise-flavored spirit made with a slew of herbs and botanicals. It was popular among artsy bohemians of the 19th and 20th centuries, and gained a bad rep for causing hallucinations among those who imbibed it. This was blamed on the presence of herbal wormwood or poisonous chemicals formerly added to cheaper brands but has since been debunked as more likely the result of mere overindulgence and alcohol-induced delirium. Still, this didn’t stop absinthe from being outlawed in the U.S. from 1912 until 2007. Since being legalized again, the licorice-y liquor is making a big comeback, especially in New Orleans. It’s usually served by pouring water over a sugar cube and through a slotted spoon, which in turn drips into a glass filled with absinthe. This process is often done by an elaborate contraption called an absinthe fountain, which is essentially a jar with spigots. Absinthe is a good thing to try for the spectacle and the notoriety, but if you’re the type who picked the black jelly beans out of your Easter basket as a kid, you won’t be able to get past the taste.

Where to get the good stuff: Absinthe House, 240 Bourbon St., 504-523-3181, ruebourbon.com/oldabsinthehouse  •  Pirate’s Alley Café (pictured above), 622 Pirates Alley, 504-524-9332, piratesalleycafe.com 

New Orleans Cocktail and Spirits

The Only New Orleans Bar Guide You'll Ever Need
Abita Brewing Debuts Abita 99