New Orleans is a bona fide drinking city. People come from near and far to celebrate everything from bachelorette parties and family reunions to divorces and who knows what else. It’s home to Tales of the Cocktail, a yearly drinking festival that brings together bartenders, distillers, journalists, and enthusiasts from around the world. The city is open container and some bars never close. If you want, you can get a classy cocktail or a sugary daiquiri on the same block. Without New Orleans, American drinking culture wouldn’t be what it is today.
With so many great bars, it can be difficult to choose which spots to visit if you don’t have a lot of time. So we asked four New Orleans bartenders about their favorite watering holes in the city. If you’re looking to get the most out of your cocktailing in the Big Easy, you can’t go wrong with these nine spots.
This corner dive has been serving thirsty NOLA patrons for more than 40 years, and it’s an oasis if you’re looking for a French Quarter spot that isn’t overrun with tourists. The last time we were in the city, we stopped by after dinner for a hefty cup of Fernet that we nursed while walking to our next destination. “Everybody knows everybody and they pour nice pours,” says Crystal Pavlas, head bartender at Bywater American Bistro. Chart Room is the kind of bar that can make you feel at home, even if it’s your first time in New Orleans.
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We love a dive bar that’s been refurbished a bit because it still has that awesome old-school character, but with a drink selection that’s more than just straight pours. Black Penny features more than 90 regional, American, and imported craft beers, and it’s the place to go to catch a Saints game with a cold one in hand. “Chill vibe, great craft beer selection, and bartenders who know how to whip up fabulous cocktails (there isn’t a cocktail menu, just ask for what you want and they can make it!),” says Yaz Servara, bartender at Bar 1908 inside the Pythian Market.
Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge
You can’t visit New Orleans without stopping by this tiny freestanding bar, which boasts a wreath above the door and a ceiling strung with hundreds of twinkling Christmas lights. “Like the best neighborhood bars, Snake’s has created its own micro-economy within itself,” says Bryson Downham, beverage director of Toups South and Toups’ Meatery. “Purchased rounds, dollars loaned, ordered food, and favors forgotten as often as remembered are exchanged freely amongst the citizens of the Christmas Club Lounge. When you [walk] into Snake’s, it’s almost impossible not to leave your worries and fears at the door. I just hope you like Schlitz!”
When a relaxed neighborhood bar serves some of the best cocktails in town, that’s where we want to spend all of our time. Downham agrees, especially when he’s at Revel, where every classic cocktail on the menu is perfectly executed. “Sitting at Chris McMillian’s bar is more like being a guest at a wonderful cocktail party than being a customer at a bar,” he says. “His extensive knowledge, built from years of research and experience — and his commanding presence — make for a great drinking experience.”
Abigail Gullo, head bartender at Compère Lapin, couldn’t agree more. “Chris was a legend to me before I even moved to New Orleans as he had these amazing YouTube videos of crushing ice and making Mint Juleps while he read poetry,” she says. “Now I get to see him pontificate beauty in real life and in cocktails. The food is always astounding too!”
Bayou Beer Garden
Sometimes you don’t need a fancy cocktail and just want to relax with a cold brew. Bayou Beer Garden has a huge list from which to choose, and the setting isn’t your typical spread of cornhole and picnic tables. In fact, it’s one of the prettiest beer gardens we’ve ever seen. “One word: ambience,” Servara says. “It’s huge, also a great place to watch a game or just catch up with friends in the neighborhood. Always a good time.”
We’re not usually ones to make touristy spots a top priority when we travel, but we make an exception for Carousel Bar every single time. Tucked inside the Hotel Monteleone, this legendary bar is one of the most beautiful in the country, and maybe the world. “This bar is absolutely stunning and a must see when in NOLA,” Pavlas says, adding, “The cocktails are really delicious.” Check out the schedule and make sure you go for live jazz to get the full experience.
Molly’s at the Market
Locals and tourists alike flock to Molly’s, a classic French Quarter spot known for its frozen Irish Coffee and friendly staff. “Best jukebox in the city,” Servara says. “A meeting place of fellow members of the service industry, musicians, and some tourists.” Go there for a drink, and order the Mollyburger if you’re feeling peckish. The Irish-inspired sandwich is topped with Guinness-braised cabbage, whole grain mustard aioli, and white cheddar.
Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29
Here’s to a truly memorable #totc2018! #beachbumberry chose to forgo doing a seminar this year so he could hang out at #latitude29nola with our amazing guests. It’s been an absolute pleasure to spend so much time in our place and see folks enjoying our food, drink, and the service provided by our awesome crew. Mahalo and Aloha and much love. Photo courtesy of @nolabeings and @punch_drink
Lovers of tropical tipples have to put this mainstay high on their list of drinking priorities. “Opened by the godfather of the modern tiki movement, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, this place is an oasis in the French Quarter,” Gullo says. “Be swept away by tiki tunes, Polynesian bites, and the tiki drinks as big as your head. Bring a crowd and go big, or sit by yourself at the gorgeous bar and have an aged rhum agricole Old Fashioned and make new friends.”
If the sugary drinks and rowdy Bourbon Street crowds are getting to you, French Quarter newcomer Longway Tavern is like a port in the storm. Not only is it one of our favorite restaurants in the city, it’s also the perfect spot if you just need to unwind with a drink, whether that’s a nice cocktail or a beer and shot combo. “It has a beautiful courtyard, Green Chartreuse coladas and radishes with butter and Cajun caviar,” Gullo says. “This place is civilized. So civilized, I often feel the need to go to Bourbon Street before and bring them a Shark Attack just so they don’t forget where they are.”
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