Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. And that eye tends to behold significantly more when the mouth below it has had a snootful. Still, you don’t have to be three sheets to the wind to enjoy a fine beverage in fine surroundings, and when it comes to drinking in beautiful environs, New Orleans has you covered in spades. From modern chic to antique and historic, here are the most eye-catching watering holes the Crescent City has to offer.
At the forefront of the “new cocktail culture” -- which, oddly enough, has much to do with the original cocktail culture of New Orleans -- was Cure, the first spot in town to breathe fresh new life into what had become a somewhat staid drinking scene. The cocktails are lovely, but the room is even more impressive, with a back bar filled with seemingly hundreds of spirits you've probably never heard of and might not even be able to pronounce. It’s a sophisticated, yet comfortable place to have a drink.
If it’s not enough to imbibe the signature cocktail of the City of New Orleans (as voted into state law) at the place for which it is named, then consider the sheer elegance of the place. From the African walnut bar to the lovely etchings in the mirror, murals by Paul Ninas, and accents like an Ascot Cup from 1878, the place will transport you to the elegance of New Orleans' past. Also, the drinks are great.
If you haven’t had a Vieux Carre cocktail while revolving on an intricately decorated, circus-themed vintage bar at the Monteleone, you’ve never truly experienced New Orleans. That drink, we’ll add, was invented at this hotel, though it pre-dates the installation of the carousel. Legend has it, entertainers like Louis Prima and Liberace would head to the carousel for a tipple after performing in the hotel’s Swan Room back in the day. Have a drink there, and you’ll see why they loved it (especially Liberace).
It took the owners of this place three years to restore the crumbling remnants of what was once known as the Swoop-Duggins House at 916 Lafayette St, possibly one of the oldest (if not *the* oldest) house in Downtown New Orleans. And what did they decide to do with it? Open a bar, of course! The exposed brick and woodwork give the joint a decidedly old-school (as in 1830s) vibe, and the leather-bound tables, chandelier, and bookcases are classy additions to the atmosphere. Note: the building is said to “definitely” contain ghosts.
The bar at one of the oldest Grand Dame eateries in the French Quarter simply cannot be left off this list. Between the vintage monkey lamps, the Old World antique touches, a bar that dates back to around 1800, and the servers decked out in full tuxedos (including a white jacket for acclaimed bartender and cocktail historian Chris Hannah), this is where you want to go if you want some serious old-time NOLA decor, drinks, and service.
As a companion restaurant to Commander’s Palace, you know that Cafe Adelaide is going to be on top of its game when it comes to providing a lovely dining experience. Better still is the bar, the Swizzle Stick, which has a decidedly feminine feel. The best part: a giant ice block behind the bar, from which bartenders hand-chisel the cubes for your cocktail. It’s a sight to see.
Lower Garden District
Amidst all the old bars and restaurants in the Big Easy (and there are a lot of them), there is one that is decidedly and unabashedly new. With the success of his modern, whimsical eatery Root, Chef Phillip Lopez decided to open an even more ambitious venture with the chef-table, prix fixe-only Square Root. If you don’t have the duckets to plunk down on a 15-course molecular gastronomy parade, head upstairs to the bar, Root Squared, which offers similarly modern fare, only with cocktails, and in a stunningly sleek environment not often seen in a nearly 300-year-old city.
If Thurston Howell III or the Winklevoss twins were to come to New Orleans and wanted to grab a drink somewhere, they’d likely be headed to the Polo Lounge. With handsome, overstuffed leather club chairs, dark wood, and an artistic dedication to the equine sport of kings, this place just screams “old money.” That said, you don’t have to have said cred to enjoy the room for a drink accompanied by live piano. You might want to change out of those cargo shorts and Crocs, though.
Named after the “divine spirits in the Vodou faith tradition,” Loa’s personality is nothing if not romantic, featuring plush velvet stools and an abundance of candlelight, as well as an “enchanting ceiling-scape hand crafted by Armenian-born lighting-meister Peter Manukyan in his studio.” Fancy! If you want to get lucky, taking a date here is not a bad bet.
Everyone in town knows that you should head to Kingfish for cocktails at the hands of Chris McMillian, but one shouldn’t overlook the fact that the space itself, named after legendary Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long, is a stunner, with an old-meets-new feel featuring a pressed-tin back bar, exposed hanging Edison lamps, plenty of French Quarter brickwork, and, naturally, an oversized photo at the end of the bar of the Kingfish himself.
If you’re looking for an elegant spot to complement your inner oenophile (and of course a few glasses of choice grape juice), this hidden gem is definitely suited to your needs. From the leather-bound barstools to the cozy loveseats, handsome wine cabinets, and the corner piano, it’s bold, but not overly so, with notes of oak, roses, and candle wax.
Is it martini time? Yes, it’s definitely martini time, and that means a trip to the Bombay Club, which, even after a recent ownership switcheroo and a renovation, still retains its regal countenance. You want antique grandfather clocks, private booths with emerald velvet curtains, elaborate sculptured candelabras, and the amount of leather you’d get from an entire herd of cattle? You’ve got all of that and more here. It’s manly as hell, and we love it.
There are many types of beauty, as any true aesthete will tell you, and sometimes the beauty of a place -- and in this case a bar -- has everything to do with a story. The Southern Food and Beverage Museum, which houses the lovely new restaurant Purloo, saved the original oak and cypress bar from Bruning’s Restaurant, a longtime New Orleans institution (once the third-oldest eatery in NOLA), from the trash pile after Katrina by restoring it, piece by piece and plank by plank, eventually reconstituting the entire bar for all to enjoy. It is a marvelous piece of history, and a beautiful one indeed.
As far as hotel bars go, it’s difficult to beat the Columns'. In fact, most people visit the hotel not for a stay in one of its rooms, but to drink and carry forth in its Victorian Lounge, filled with classical Queen Anne design, including 12ft solid mahogany doors at the entrance, and, inside, paneled Honduran mahogany ceilings, which, by the way, are 15ft high, giving the room some real old South grandeur.
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1. Sazerac Bar130 Roosevelt Way, New Orleans
2. The Carousel Bar & Lounge214 Royal St, New Orleans
3. CellarDoor921 Lafayette St, New Orleans
4. Arnaud's French 75 Bar813 Bienville St, New Orleans
5. Café Adelaide & the Swizzle Stick Bar300 Poydras St, New Orleans
6. Root Squared1800 Magazine St, New Orleans
7. The Polo Club Lounge300 Gravier St, New Orleans
8. LOA new orleans221 Camp St, New Orleans
9. Kingfish337 Chartres, New Orleans
10. Patrick's Bar Vin730 Bienville St, New Orleans
11. The Bombay Club830 Conti St, New Orleans
12. Bruning's Bar at Purloo1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans
13. The Victorian Lounge3811 Saint Charles Ave, New Orleans
14. Cure4905 Freret St, New Orleans
Inside the swanky, lost-in-time Sazerac Bar, you could find yourself looking at all kinds of historical wonders: WPA-era murals by Paul Ninas, the 1878 Ascot Cup, and a bullet hole that erroneous lore credits to an assassination attempt on then-Senator Huey P. Long, who liked to sip Ramos Gin Fizzes at the bar. While you’re sipping your expertly made cocktail in the dark, well-appointed room, consider what you are not seeing: tourists in cargo shorts sipping watery beer. Even if some of your comrades in drink are tossing back domestic swill instead of, say, the bar’s namesake, the historic decor buffers it. It’s hard to imagine a prettier bar in New Orleans.
Aptly named, the famous Carousel Bar & Lounge in the Hotel Monteleone is NOLA's only revolving bar. But don't worry -- you'll only turn one revolution every 15 minutes, so you probably won't puke up that last Vieux Carre on that pretty patron sitting to your right.
CellarDoor serves delightfully crafted cocktails, both modern and classic, along with an extensive yet approachable selection of wines. The food menu features a combination of small and large plates, all centered around the concept of locally sourced, seasonal cuisine. Favorites include black Angus beef with chimichurri, arugula, smoked tomato jam, duck fat potatoes, and ponzu reduction, and ceviche with mango, pineapple, bibb lettuce, and pickled peppers. CellarDoor is unique for its in-house art collection and rotating art shows, all exhibited in the historic restaurant, which is located in the restored Swoop-Duggins House.
Originally designated as a "gentlemen only area" in NOLA's early days, this cocktail bar located within Arnaud's Restaurant features drinks like the Pisco Derby (that's pisco, lavender honey syrup, lime, and grapefruit) and bar snacks like Oysters en Brochette (translation: oysters wrapped with bacon and deep fried). You'll feel extra fancy having those cocktails and snacks served to you by bartenders clad in white tuxedos. In addition to more inventive drinks, you can't go wrong with the killer Old Fashioned or Sidecar either.
This Central Business District resto & bar serves a variety of delectable food and drink options, like signature cocktail-paired brunches (concocted by Executive Chef Carl Schaubhut and Bar Chef Lu Brow), and they also dole out 25 cent martinis. Yeah, that’s a quarter of a buck, friend. The relaxed vibe of this cocktail bar makes you feel comfortable to chat with your friends, and the friendly atmosphere will make you want to stay for hours.
If you’re not in the mood (or don’t have the coin) for an 8-15 course chef’s table tasting menu at Philip Lopez’s sparkling restaurant-cum-food laboratory Square Root, head to the upstairs bar Root Squared, which features experimental cocktails that keep pace with the ambitious menu below.
Located in the Windsor Court Hotel, this English-themed lounge exudes aristocratic charm with dark wood accents, plush, overstuffed furniture, and soft, richly patterned carpeting that beckons to a country club era. True to nature, the bar carries over 600 wines and serves upscale bar fare like truffle fries, accompanied by nightly jazz music.
This intimate yet sophisticated space, located in the International House Hotel, is about as romantic as a bar can get. Candlelight and plush velvet stools are aplenty, and the ambiance is only improved by the expertly crafted cocktails. The Central Business District bar believes the background of the drink is just as important as the actual libation, so each cocktail on the menu comes with extremely entertaining stories.
Thibodaux native, Chef Nathan Richard, created a menu at the casual Kingfish restaurant that combines the Cajun reverence for honoring ingredients and culinary history with a sophisticated, often playful take on modern trends that excite visitors and natives alike. The plateau de fruits des mer is this spots take on a traditional meat charcuterie board, using local seafood to create all manner of fresh and cured sausages, terrines, and smoked items.
When you're looking for a handsome, upscale wine spot in the middle of the Quarter, Patrick’s is the spot you want to find. The wine list is solid, it's got a lovely courtyard, and you don't want to miss the happy hour special (4-7pm Mon-Thur) -- featuring domestic beer at $2, plus well drinks and house wine for $4. If you happen to need your own personal, climate-controlled wine locker -- engraved with your name -- it has that, too.
This upscale bar, complete with private booths, dazzling candelabras and antique grandfather clocks, looks like a rich man's paradise. The martinis, however, are for everyone, and few do the classic cocktail quite like The Bombay Club.
This bar is housed in restaurant Purloo, which resides in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. The structure itself was taken from the original Bruning's Restaurant, a New Orleans institution. It was reconstructed, piece by piece, after it was initially destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
The Columns is a pretty bar. You’ll be able to tell as you walk up to the 19th century private-home-turned-hotel: a white mansion with a handsome veranda that overlooks a picturesque stretch of St. Charles Avenue. You can sit on that veranda and watch streetcars rumble by while you tipple concoctions: a Ramos Gin Fizz, a Brandy Milk Punch, a Kir Royale, an Old Fashioned. Or you can steal inside to the stunning Victorian Lounge -- the origin of your al fresco cocktail. If you belly up to the bar, while you wait you can let your eyes devour the sights of the room -- the curved mahogany walls and coffered cove ceiling, the gilded bronze chandelier hanging above you. Enjoy the view. That’s the Columns’ raison d’etre.
Cure in Uptown is one of the mainstays of the New Orleans cocktail bar scene. The lush and lavish interior invites cocktail snobs and newbies alike to indulge in the varied cocktail list with hilarious and inventive names. In addition to cocktails, Cure features great food options that range from small bites to larger entrees. The bar hosts a great happy hour every day of the week, so check its website for the ever-changing deals.