Celebrate the Cocktail
These bars have earned the right as the best in the city.
No one has ever questioned New Orleans’ dedication to drinking culture. While you can pop into any number of bars throughout the city—or stroll down Bourbon or Frenchmen streets with a plastic cup carrying a “roadie”— a few locations in the Big Easy continue to rise above the rest. Some have been around well over a century and helped create classic cocktails like the Sazerac, while others are newcomers that quickly made an impact.
What makes these places so much better? These are the award winners, the trendsetters, the places with bartenders who seek out better ingredients to improve upon drinks of yore. Ready to drink?
While exact opening dates for each are fuzzy with closings, re-openings and the like, the Sazerac Bar, Arnaud’s and Carousel Bar have played an important role in New Orleans cocktail culture and continue to do so. While all three have become requisite stops on the city’s classic cocktail tour and are frequented by many tourists, they’re all still worth a visit. Each has been lauded with accolades many times over and each is known for certain drinks. If you want a Sazerac, you know where to go, but you can also get a delicious Ramos Gin Fizz. At Arnaud’s, yes, you can get an expertly made French 75 with champagne and cognac, but you can also get a well-made Brandy Crusta, another cocktail birthed in the Big Easy. And at the Carousel Bar, you definitely want to order a signature Vieux Carre.
Cure and Cane & Table
When Cure opened in 2009, it ushered in a new era of cocktailing in New Orleans. With a focus on higher-quality ingredients and top-shelf spirits, Matthew Kohnke as well as Neal Bodenheimer and Kirk Estopinal (who operate as both owners and bartenders) brought a new sense of mixology to New Orleans. The Cure cocktail menu features updated riffs on numerous classics, and it has had such an impact that the bar earned Outstanding Bar Program at the James Beard Awards in 2018.
The team followed Cure’s success with Cane & Table, which quickly achieved the same level of accolades and acclaim for its “prototiki cocktails,” essentially modern versions of classic tiki drinks. “Our approach is simple: tasty first, on trend last,” explains co-owner Kirk Estopinal, who gained much influence behind the bar at Chicago’s Violet Hour. “No one cares if you are hip if it doesn’t taste amazing. A culinary approach rooted in history with eyes on today’s palates is what makes New Orleans special. The city’s size narrows the target and that gives us a box to work in. The constant question when working is, ‘Does this drink make me happy?’ If it doesn’t, I move on.”