Wander off the beaten path
These are places that might not spring to mind even for folks who are really familiar with the New Orleans cocktail scene, but these spots are great, unexpected places to grab a drink.
Rusty Nail has made a pretty major transformation in recent years: for quite some time, Ferrel Dugas says, you’d only get drinks with two ingredients at this joint (read: gin & tonic or rum & coke). But they've gotten in the craft cocktail game with plenty of classics, like the paloma, dark & stormy, or the eponymous Rusty Nail, as well as originals, like a beer-and-grapefruit vodka Collins variation called the Grasshound. Ferrel swears by the Corpse Reviver.
Bakery Bar made the so-obvious-it's-brilliant discovery that pairing booze with cake is a great idea. The geniuses behind the Bakery Bar provide classic cocktails, like the best gimlet you’ll ever try, as well as the Absinthe Frappe. They also have original cocktails, slices of doberge cake (if you don’t know what that is, go there any find out), dobites, chocolate salty balls (ahem), and a pretty decent savory menu, including cheese & charcuterie platters and pimento cheese sconewiches.
Carmo, in the Warehouse District, develops cocktails inspired by fresh fruit and clean flavors (and offers up vegetarian-friendly food, to boot). Nathan Dalton, of the Catahoula Hotel, says, "They don't have your typical craft cocktail bar, but the drinks they make are very unique in this city and super tasty." Try a classic caipirinha, or the Ooo La La, made with Old New Orleans rum, graviola fruit juice, and bitters.
Bouligny Tavern, a converted, 100-year-old New Orleans home with classic features, is a hidden gem next to Lillette restaurant (and run by the same management team). Inside, it’s like an upscale jazz hidey-hole, with vintage midcentury modern furnishings. Try the Demara rum and sherry concoction called Wei Wei Punch, or an Eddie Taylor, made with Scotch, tawny port, and ginger beer. And you know just from the decor that this place has all the classics, as well.