Specialty: The Manhattan. (“My Gramps taught me how to make one when I was eight, so I've been making that one the longest.”) What makes her a good bartender: Her 15 years of experience as a teacher means she is a great wrangler of kids -- or in her current life, less-than-sober patrons. What she’s doing when she’s not working: Enjoying New Orleans and hanging out with her dog Ronnie. Favorite thing about New Orleans: “New Orleans has a unique culture and tradition. And we are fiercely protective of that. I love the spirit here. It’s a sweet smell in the air, and it invigorates me every day.”
Where to find her: Three Muses (address and info), Dryades Public Market (address and info) Specialty: The Spaghetti Western - High rye content bourbon, rosemary syrup, Campari marinated orange slice. What makes her a good bartender: “I think when you love what you do, it's easy for the guest to have a good time. If the guests see you having a good time with your staff and include them in the fun, then it's infectious.” What she’s doing when she’s not working: KPB’s been fencing epée and sabre for almost five years, finding it a great way to get frustrations out. She also loves to cook Mexican food when listening to French music. Favorite thing about New Orleans: “Its beauty, its defiance of what every other city is doing, its embrace of the unique, the sense of community, and dammit, the food.”
Specialty: classic Cuban cocktails and creative rum drinks What makes her a good bartender: Being welcoming and making sure everyone who drinks at El Libre feel like they’re hanging out in a friend’s living room. But she can also nerd out about spirits and cocktails with the best of them. What she’s doing when she’s not working: Art -- oil painting, crafting, photography, jewelry -- and travel. She visits at least one new country a year, but always aims for more. In 2015 she’s been to Greece, Turkey, Germany, Mexico, and Panama. Favorite thing about New Orleans: “New Orleans is such a unique and magical place. I like to call it the farthest you can get from the US within the US, because it really does feel more like a European city. Also, go-cups.”
Specialty: The classics, and variations thereof, like the Saint 75, a play on a French 75 that uses basil infused simple syrup and St. Germain along with gin. What makes her a good bartender: Ability to multi-task, have a sense of urgency, attention to detail, creativity, and hospitable. What she’s doing when she’s not working: Spending time making cocktails at family parties and gatherings. Favorite thing about New Orleans: Great cocktails, live music, and food that can’t be beat. Born and raised here, she can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Specialty: Seasonal toddies and hot drinks. What makes her a good bartender: A healthy appreciation for chaos. What she’s doing when she’s not working: Supporting her friends’ new food truck endeavor, Electric Eggroll by, um, testing the truck’s egg rolls and dumplings. Favorite thing about New Orleans: How it’s always changing, but will still always be New Orleans. It’s a place with a real soul.
Specialty: Frozen Irish Coffee. What makes her a good bartender: The pure love of hosting a party and facilitating fun. Also, reading a room and maintaining controlled chaos. What she’s doing when she’s not working: Taking history classes and spending time with her new pet bunny, Dennis Hopper. Favorite thing about New Orleans: “This place has a strong and magical draw, a sense of pride, and a culture so rich that you could study for your whole life and still not understand some of the rituals. I love that people who visit here almost universally remember it fondly, and when I travel to other cities and bars, if I say I'm visiting from New Orleans the person on the other side of the bar always smiles and wants to talk about the city.”
Specialty: A variation on a Sidecar made with rye, Grand Marnier, and a twist of orange peel. What makes her a good bartender: A long standing passion for craft beer and a love for sharing it with others. A persistent curiosity; behind every bottle lies a story. What she’s doing when she’s not working: Singing in in a four piece psychedelic flamenco surf noir band called Freedom Tickler. She’s also been a longtime homebrewer. Favorite thing about New Orleans: “There's an undeniable magic here. Its power has propelled driven individuals to contribute in myriad ways. I love the beads in the trees, the mysterious street signs, the oaks busting through the sidewalks and ivy interlacing through all the wrought iron fences, the marching bands -- the city is a living work of art.”
Where to find her: Cajun Mike's Pub (address and info), Cosimo's (address and info), and is also the face of Piehole Whiskey Specialty: Anything with whiskey, gin, or green chartreuse. What makes her a good bartender: A natural knack for making people feel welcome and telling really terrible jokes. What she’s doing when she’s not working: Drawing and painting has been a longtime passion. Brooke also hangs with her three dogs and has inadvertently created a local social group called Ladies Who Lunch. Favorite thing about New Orleans: The close-knit hospitality industry family. “We all support one another's endeavors fully and there's a major sense of camaraderie. We're some of the most genuine people I know.”
Specialty: A special drink on-the-spot, especially for guests who want to try something different. What makes her a good bartender: Following the Golden Rule. What she’s doing when she’s not working: Writing her sixteenth book, working on graphic design projects, interior design projects, coin collecting, and walking the French Quarter. Favorite thing about New Orleans: The diversity of its people.
Specialty: The Last Word, or anything with chartreuse. What makes her a good bartender: Getting behind the bar to make people laugh, tell a story, create a story, and listen. “I make friends with my customers. You can't trade that for any level of skill.” What she’s doing when she’s not working: Practicing yoga regularly and reading to her badass dog (who enjoys it thoroughly). Favorite thing about New Orleans: The neighborhoods. “When I get together with friends that live in other parts of town, I meet new people, try new places, gain new stories. For as small as this city is, there is so much happening in such small pockets. Every neighborhood is a brave new world of sorts, and experiencing each nook through the eyes of a frequent traveller adds a bright level of insight.”
Specialty: The Wild Yamagishi. It has a Hakushu 12yr Japanese whisky base, with Peychaud’s bitters, Benedictine, and Chartreuse. The glass is rubbed with a Shiso leaf, an Asian herb that leaves an incredible perfumed aroma similar to mint or anise. What makes her a good bartender: Making the guest a cocktail that is a good fit for both their palate, and a nice complement to their plate if they are dining. Acceptance of everyone’s tastes and preference. Building confidence in her guests. What she’s doing when she’s not working: Reading about food, cocktails, wine, cooking, chefs, and hot food cities across the country, as well as practicing her cocktail craft and enjoying time spent with loved ones. Favorite thing about New Orleans: Parading with friends on Mardi Gras, the sound of the street cars, being in the middle of a second line with a brass band right behind you, the way everyone speaks to each other on the street, in grocery stores, in lines, and just about everywhere.
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Nora McGunnigle is a New Orleans native and professional lady drunk, so she stands by her selections. Follow her on Twitter at @noradeirdre, and read her other recommendations here on Thrillist
Lead by Top Chef contestant Nina Compton, Compére Lapin is Caribbean-meets-Louisiana-Creole cuisine that is thoughtful and refined, but not fussy. Add a killer bar program (headed by NOLA barkeep Abigail Gullo from SoBou), and you've got yourself your next Friday night dinner reservation. Located in the Warehouse District, the space is a stunner, with exposed brick walls, wood finishes and a mosaic tile floor.
"Whiskey evangelist" Kimberly Patton-Bragg's the Three Muses was voted as one of New Orleans Magazine’s Top Bars, and if that wasn't reason enough to check it out, there's also a great small plates menu and nightly live jazz in store. Try The Muses' signature dish, fries with feta cheese and gremolata, while you sip on signature cocktails, the Spaghetti Western, which combines Bulleit bourbon muddled with Campari-soaked oranges and rosemary spirits.
3. El Libre 508 Dumaine St, New Orleans, LA 70116 (French Quarter)
If there’s one thing New Orleans could always use more of, it’s Cuban restaurants. What, do you think we’re going to wait all year for the Cubano from Canseco's at Jazz Fest? Thankfully, we have El Libre in the French Quarter, which is snapping spicy new life into the New Orleans dining scene. Also, this spot tends to give out free shots with every Saints score if you happen to watch the game there, which might just make you a fan of our boys in black and gold (if you weren’t already).
This notable New Orleans spot offers refined Creole fare in a historic setting. The Garden District landmark has been around since 1893 and has since won six James Beard Foundation awards, in part due to its seamless execution of its "dirt to plate within 100 miles" policy, which strives for 90% of ingredients to come from within 100 miles of the back door. Come in for inspired (and environmentally-friendly!) offerings like cypress smoked Muscovy duck and shrimp and pork belly carbonara.
A half block away from Bourbon St, this friendly neighborhood bar is covered in framed photographs, car parts autographed by drag racers, and other memorabilia from NOLA's glory days. Erin Rose is known for their Bloody Marys and frozen or hot Irish coffee as well as their killer po' boys, like their Dark 'n Stormy Po' Boy, made with rum-braised pork.
Located in the Lower Garden District, this American craft beer pub is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The tap list is heavy on one-and-done offerings with enough rarities to keep the beer nerds at bay, while the bottle list is about as thick as a small-town phone book, offering up everything from Belgian farmhouses to all-American IPAs, all of which taste considerably better when paired with the famous bechamel and pork Dump Truck Fries.
When the doors swing wide open to Bourbon Street, and the lively chatter of tourists and locals fills the bar, you can understand why many call Bourbon O' one of the most scene-representative, upmarket bars in New Orleans. In addition to live music four days a week, the venue offers six flat-screen TVs and cocktails -- like their popular Ramon Gin Fizz, a New Orleans classic invented by a former bar owner -- prepared with fresh squeezed juice and handmade syrups.