The Crescent City is known across the globe for its distinctive and passionate cuisine. It’s also known for its love of a fine tipple, of course, and that shouldn’t be surprising, since New Orleans invented the cocktail. (You’re welcome by the way, entire planet.)
But if you’re looking for the best cocktails in the Big Easy, you might be surprised to find that they’re not all necessarily found in the city’s cocktail bars. That’s not to besmirch the fine name of the town’s admittedly stunning drinkeries, far from it, they’re justified every ounce, dash, and measure of praise they receive -- but rather to pay due deference to the fact that you can find a cocktail just as good, if not better, at one of New Orleans’ restaurants.
Why? Well, for one, something that’s been known in NOLA for well over a hundred years: any great restaurant in this city is going to have a great bar. In fact, it’s one of the more important criteria for judging a restaurant 'round these parts. And it means that their mixologists have access to the fresh and heavily seasonal ingredients that NOLA’s restos thrive on, and in the bulk needed to properly experiment with them. There’s also a great chef on hand to help develop the drinks, and pair them with food (or vice versa). Plus, it's easier for them to forget about using pre-made syrups and cordials, etc., with fresh ingredients constantly on hand. All in all, a bar with a resto attached leads to a delicious arms race, and a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Here are a few that stand out.
According to SoBou’s bar chef extraordinaire, Abigail Gullo, "For a city that takes such great pride in its cuisine AND as much pride in its liquid culture, it's only natural that they would be combined and paired. This is a city of mash-ups, from Cajun and Creole cuisine to Vietnamese to the different ingredients of the Sazerac. We love to incorporate the whole culture into one big gumbo pot, literally. So it only makes sense that we would want to have our exquisite cuisine matched by exquisite drinks." Hence, if Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez has certain chilis on the menu, you’d better believe that those same chilis will find themselves into Abigail’s list of house cocktails.
It may be a newcomer to the local restaurant scene, but Oxalis kills it when it comes to food and drink pairings, particularly whiskey. Their carefully curated bar includes not only more famous and expensive offerings of bourbon, rye, and Scotch, but also satisfying and affordable “plastic cap” options as well. And, naturally, mixed drinks here tend towards the brown stuff, working well with Chef Jonathan Lestingi’s eclectic menu.
There’s a small handful of mixologists in New Orleans who are as well known and respected as celebrity chefs, and Arnaud’s Chris Hannah is one of them. A proper French 75, and those air-light soufflé potatoes will get anyone’s evening off to the proper start.
Tivoli & Lee
Kimberly Patton-Bragg is kind of a mad genius behind the bar at Tivoli & Lee. She specializes in American whiskey, and offers flights and lessons to go along with the restaurant's gastropub fare, which according to her, is an essential part of her cocktail program: “In New Orleans, eating and drinking go hand in hand... you really have to honor the food to make the cocktails respectful to what the chefs are doing in the back.” The result? She takes classics like the bourbon milk punch and reinvents them in her unique style, incorporating milk infused with breakfast cereal.
It might be known for dumplings, soups, and noodles (and the "obtuse poetry" in their fortune cookies), but the bar at Lucky Rooster offers big, bold cocktails that pair well with the punchy Asian food. Oh, did we mention that the cocktails are named after Wu Tang Clan songs?
The head barman at Kingfish, Chris McMillian, is often referred to as “legendary”. That’s not hype, just a simple fact. Pair his expertise in the New Orleans bar with Chef Greg Sonnier in the kitchen, and you’ll have a meal -- or an entire night, rather -- you’re not likely to forget. Pro tip: start at the bar early when you can get a great seat, knock back a few, then move to a table.
Cafe Adelaide & the Swizzle Stick Bar
It isn’t surprising that some of the top New Orleans bar chefs and mixologists are women. There’s an outstanding camaraderie and sorority in the Big Easy between the talented ladies behind the bar, and Lu Brow is certainly one of them, serving signature cocktail-paired brunches that also feature 25 cent martinis. Yeah, that’s a quarter of a buck, friend. Regarding the resto, she tells us, “In a lot of ways, chefs and bartenders think the same, though our techniques are different. It’s wonderful to bounce ideas off each other -- that’s how I actually learned how to craft a great cocktail. If I weren’t behind a bar that wasn’t attached to a restaurant, it would never be as exciting for me. Also: the excesses go hand in hand!"
Curmudgeonly? Famously so, but iconic New Orleans barman Paul Gustings has always cared more about proper drinks than giving you a big warm fuzzy feeling. This is serious business, and Gustings -- now located in the gloriously renovated Broussard's -- is a serious man, and he makes a serious drink.
Dominique's on Magazine
Chef Dominique Maquet might have his name on the restaurant, but Ian Julian is doing masterful things at the bar, all in step with the chef’s menu. For instance, he crafts a “pho Cajun sour” using pho broth to make a sour syrup, then combines it with vodka and lime, as well as cilantro, green onions, ginger, lime, and habanero salt. Bonus points for titling cocktails after dark movie moments, including the “What’s in the Box”, and the “Why So Serious”.
1. SoBou310 Chartres St, New Orleans
2. Oxalis3162 Dauphine St, New Orleans
3. Arnaud's Restaurant813 Bienville St, New Orleans
4. Tivoli & Lee2 Lee Circle, New Orleans
5. Lucky Rooster515 Baronne, New Orleans
6. Kingfish337 Chartres, New Orleans
7. Café Adelaide & the Swizzle Stick Bar300 Poydras St, New Orleans
8. Broussard's Restaurant & Courtyard819 Conti St, New Orleans
9. Dominique's on Magazine4213 Magazine, New Orleans
Located inside the W Hotel, SoBou is a spirited restaurant south of Bourbon St (hence the name) feels like a modern-day Creole saloon. The restaurant and lounge is known for its hand-crafted cocktails, and serves creative spins on traditional bar snacks like crispy pork skin and spicy beer nuts, as well as some heartier dishes. SoBou also has a beer garden with beer taps in the tables and self-serve wine machines.
Oxalis is a can't-miss when it comes to drinking in Bywater. This trendy and lively bar/eatery features a brown alcohol-focused selection of spirits with over 30 bourbons on reserve, and a myriad of classic, well-prepared cocktails. The food at Oxalis, which ranges from small plates to burgers and wings, is the kind of solid fare you'll want after knocking back a few.
Arnaud’s is a decades-old French Quarter staple that embodies the French Creole style in architecture, décor, and, of course, food. Inside the red building lined with innumerable French windows and a second-story balcony ornamented with mint green railing and shutters is a dining room straight out of a southern novel, with potted palm fronds, mosaic tile floors, and opulent chandeliers. Come for dinner or for the jazz brunch, where a jazz trio will serenade you while you decide among the menu’s Cajun and Creole items, from gumbo to crab cakes to shrimp remoulade.
This sleek neighborhood bistro focuses on Southern favorites like fried oysters, andouille tater tots, and pork belly. If you're into American whiskey, check out their flights of the day and cocktail specials.
Best known for their dumplings, soups, and noodles, The Lucky Rooster ALSO has a terrific selection of bold cocktails to pair with your food, as well as an extensive wine list.
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.
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.
This resto plates seafood, a variety of savory meat options, and a number of vegetarian dishes, while offering an extensive wine list in an upscale and picturesque setting. It is also features the Empire Bar, which is run by notable mixologist Paul Gustings, who makes some of the best drinks in the city.
Ian Julian is doing masterful things at the bar of this Uptown haunt, like crafting a "pho Cajun sour" using pho broth to make a sour syrup, then combining it with vodka and lime, as well as cilantro, green onions, ginger, lime, and habanero salt. Dominique's also gets bonus points for naming cocktails after dark movie moments, including the "What’s in the Box", and the "Why So Serious".