The Basics Drinking Out

A Drinker’s Tour: New Orleans

Nine great spots to wet your whistle and soak up booze in the Big Easy.

The classic sazerac cocktail from New Orleans
The Sazerac cocktail is a New Orleans classic. Image: / Tim Nusog

Drinking in New Orleans is a dangerous proposition. One cocktail quickly leads to a second, and then a third, until you find yourself closing down Bourbon Street and wandering back to your hotel as the sun comes up. This is a familiar phenomenon for anyone who has attended Tales of the Cocktail, the city’s annual cocktail festival, or has just spent time in the Crescent City. Because, in addition to hundreds of great bars and restaurants, New Orleans cocktail culture runs deep. The city brought us classic favorites like the Sazerac and Vieux Carre, and is home to some of the country’s best, oldest and most important drinking establishments.

So, there’s no shortage of options for spending time in the city. The hard part is narrowing things down to a manageable list of must-visit spots that give you a varied experience. For some inspiration, these are nine great places to drink (and eat) in NOLA.

1. Café Du Monde

Beignets and strong chicory coffee have been a hangover-eradicating New Orleans tradition at Café Du Monde since 1862. Few things taste better first thing in the morning than a plate of these pillows of hot fried dough, heavily dusted in powdered sugar. The French Market location is also open 24 hours a day if you have a late-night craving.

2. Cure

New Orleans is famous for drinks like the Sazerac and Ramos Gin Fizz. But if you’re looking for tasty, original cocktails, head to Cure. The Uptown bar employs some of the city’s finest mixologists, who are creative geniuses behind the stick. Order from the impressive menu, or ask the barkeeps to make you something with one of the hundreds of bottles lining the back bar.

3. Daisy Dukes

No matter what time you stumble into Daisy Dukes, you can order almost every New Orleans classic comfort food—from po’boys and gumbo to jambalaya. This greasy institution is also famous for serving breakfast 24 hours a day and just might be your savior after a long night.

4. d.b.a.

A world of whiskey and beer await you at d.b.a., just past the French Quarter on Frenchman Street. While the funky jazz bar offers an amazing drinks menu (arguably one of the city’s best), you won’t find any pretension or snobbery here: just a good time.

5. French 75 Bar

Stepping into the French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s restaurant is like entering a time warp. The bar has an old-world elegance and a menu of fine cognacs and cocktails, including its namesake French 75, of course. That shouldn’t be a surprise, since long-time bartender and cocktail maestro Chris Hannah runs the show here.

6. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop

Drink in some history at Lafitte’s, which dates back to the early 1700s. Despite its name, the establishment is actually a fine tavern, and it may even be the oldest building used as a bar in the country. Whether or not that’s true, Lafitte’s has centuries of character to explore as you sit at the bar, so make sure you don’t miss it.

7. The Museum of the American Cocktail

Take a break from your bar crawl for a history lesson. Don’t worry: It’s a drinks-related history lesson. Visit the Museum of the American Cocktail, and check out its collection of vintage glassware, tools and classic cocktail books. It’s a great way to put all those great bars and cocktails in perspective, as you learn more about the history of mixology and the people behind some of your favorite drinks.

8. Old Absinthe House

A favorite watering hole for locals and visitors alike, the historic Old Absinthe House has been around since the 1800s. There is plenty of history to discuss, but that’s just about the last thing on anyone’s mind as the bartenders pour Jameson shots and cups of cold beer. So settle into a worn bar stool, and enjoy the well-earned atmosphere.

9. Revel Café & Bar

As one of the main players in the modern cocktail renaissance and a co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail, Chris McMillian has tended bar all over New Orleans and built up a loyal following. So make sure to go visit him at Revel, the bar he opened with his wife on Carrollton Avenue near Canal Street. Order a bartender’s choice, since, after all, you’re in the hands of a cocktail master, and he’ll surprise you with a well-made drink that’s perfectly matched to your tastes.