1. New Orleans, LA
The city did not ACTUALLY invent the cocktail, but it’s a fun story to believe, especially for a city that did birth the Grasshopper, the Sazerac, the Ramos Gin Fizz, the brandy milk punch, and the fiery cafe brulot, among other booze-laden concoctions. And you can get those drinks and any classic ‘tail you want at bars (Arnaud’s French 75, Sazerac Bar, Carousel Bar) that were serving them before other cities decided it was trendy again. There are plenty of newer cocktail bars, too, that stand large on the national level (Cure, SoBou, Cane & Table). But ask an outsider to name a hyped “it” spot in NOLA, and you might not get an answer. This is where New Orleans is a bit of an oddity in its drinking culture: it lacks the fanboy fervor or speakeasy-induced wait times that come with the opening of new spots in cities like SF or NYC, and that’s because amazing cocktails and a huge audience to appreciate them never disappeared here. World-class cocktails are just what New Orleanians know to expect.
The city’s not ignorant of its beer, either: for decades, the field was sparse, but Heiner Brau, Chafunkta, Courtyard, 40 Arpent, Old Rail Brewing, Covington Brewhouse, and NOLA have all joined Abita in the last few years to boost the area's craft beer strength. And Avenue Pub will always be one of our favorite craft beer bars.
Basically, New Orleans has a drinking culture that fosters and demands amazing booze, and it all comes without the price tags or crowds of bigger cities. Add in no last call and no open-container laws, and there's a winning formula for amazing drinking.
Major players: Cure, Cane & Table, Bellocq, Avenue Pub, Kingfish, d.b.a., French 75
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Andy Kryza is a senior editor on Thrillist’s Food and Drink team, and is drinking in Portland this very moment. Probably. Follow him to alarmingly early happy hours: @apkryza.
Liz Childers is the associate editor of Food/Drink and likes drinking in every city. New Orleans might be her favorite, but she's an unbiased professional. Follow her to Southern booze: @lizchilders1.