It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Well, at least it is for me and the thousands of bartenders soon to descend upon New Orleans for the 12th annual Tales of the Cocktail. In a little over a week, I’ll begin my journey back home to Louisiana. This year, however, will be very different from past years. This year, I get to represent Easy Bistro & Bar in the Cocktail Apprentice Program. What does that mean? Long hours, lots of work, little sleep and lack of social time. So why participate? Hard work is rewarding. I’ve been blessed enough to attend for the past three years, and it’s my turn to put in the effort that makes it magical for someone else.
When I do get a chance to sneak away, here are a few spots that I'll hit and the classic New Orleans cocktails that made them what they are today. Check them out on your next trip to the Big Easy!
Arnaud’s French 75 Bar
Tucked away on Bienville Street in the French Quarter, Arnaud’s Restaurant reincarnated their neighboring bar in 2003, revealing a most exquisite cigar bar. With lead barman Chris Hannah heading up the beverage program, it’s hard to go wrong in ordering the classics, like the bar’s namesake French 75. Hannah’s revelry in the historical aspect of cocktails and bartending is a perfect complement to the culture of the New Orleans drinking scene.
If it’s been a while since you’ve brushed up on your French 75 recipe, check out the archives for my take on its great base spirit debate: cognac or gin? The deceptively boozy classic is said to have been named because it kicks like a powerful French 75-millimeter field gun. The refreshing mixture of cognac or gin with lemon, sugar and champagne is enough to leave you shell-shocked if you aren’t careful.
Old Absinthe House
Their motto is one to live by, especially during Tales of the Cocktail: "Everyone you have known or ever will know eventually ends up at the Old Absinthe House." Located on the corner of Bourbon Street and Bienville, it is where most nights end in New Orleans. Although you’ll have a hard time getting through the crowd, having a drink here is a must-do. After being established for 200 years, it seems they are here to stick around. Don’t forget to sneak a peek at the marble absinthe fountains. After being tucked away for many years, they were finally reinstalled in 2004 to their original glory. If you look closely, you can see the divots from cold water wear over the years.
Located in the historic Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street, the Carousel Bar boasts the only revolving bar in New Orleans. The rotating bar is an old merry-go-round with 25 seats to accommodate guests, making one rotation every 15 minutes. While the idea is dizzying, the bar tends to retain guests who get lost in the experience. It doesn’t hurt to have the bartenders ply you with well-made classic drinks like the Vieux Carré or Sazerac.
Can’t make it to New Orleans in the near future? Check out this article for a list of the city's classic drinks and how to make them. Happy imbibing!
Laura Kelton is a recent graduate of UTC and currently runs the bar program at Easy Bistro & Bar. Feel free to reach out to her by email with any questions, comments or requests. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.