The Big Easy is known around the world for its cocktail culture (and its go-cup culture, and its frozen daiquiri culture, and its dive bar culture...). That said, there are watering holes and lounges that clearly stand above and influence their brethren, and are shining beacons for what a truly great bar should be in the Crescent City. In 2014, here are the ones that had the most influence.
New Orleans' 11 most influential bars of the year
The lavishly renovated Broussard’s is a gorgeous place to dine, and locals have been both impressed and appreciative of the Grand Dame restaurant’s reopening. Just as important, however, is the handsome Empire Bar, sporting the famously cranky barman Paul Gustings, looking more and more like a stern Zen cocktail master at its helm. Whether or not you’re having a meal at Broussard’s, the Empire Bar is a new must if you’re looking for a perfect traditional New Orleans tipple.
Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s shrine to all things Tiki might have only recently opened, but it’s already proven itself to be a refreshing and enlightened new addition to the NOLA drinks scene. It also doesn’t hurt to have bartender Steven Yamada (formerly of Restaurant R’evolution, Tivoli & Lee, and Victory) fashioning the Mai Tais and Zombies.
Bartender Kimberly Patton-Bragg left her position at Tivoli & Lee to revamp the cocktail program at this always-packed Frenchmen St haunt, and the results are nothing less than impressive. You’re advised to go early and settle in before the crowds mount, and have a few of Patton-Bragg’s signature libations like the West Bank Daiquiri or the Conjugal Visit as the live music heats up the room.
Chris Hannah does more than just look swell in a white tuxedo jacket behind the famous French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s -- the man knows his cocktailing and cocktail history. Having a Brandy Crusta or a Sazerac here can be an opportunity to go to “bar university”, almost literally. Historic cocktail books sit behind the bar along with the spirits. It is a level of attentiveness of which all bars, not just in New Orleans, should strive. Also, there are souffle potatoes. You cannot go wrong.
While this humble Mid-City neighborhood bar might have recently lost prominent bartender T. Cole Newton to the cocktail program at Square Root, his influence couldn’t be overstated. Twelve Mile is a joint of a place with a seriously ambitious cocktail program, something you’re not likely to find outside of the Crescent City.
While Freret Street’s Cure might not still be the new hotness on the cocktail scene, its sister bar, Cane & Table, surely is. Tropical drinks in NOLA can often be a syrupy-sweet affair, but C&T does it right, and authentic, right down to the navy-strength rum and banana leaf garnishes. Bonus points for the terrific Caribbean small plates menu, as well.
Okay, so the Roosevelt Hotel is home to both the historic Sazerac Bar as well as the restaurant Domenica, in both of which you’ll find excellent cocktails. But why stop there? Adding to the Roosevelt’s embarrassment of drinking riches is the newly opened, gloriously designed Fountain Lounge, a lush, swanky (but never cheesy) place for a romantic evening of food, libations, and live music.
No longer is Mid-City solely the provenance of corner beer bars, old-school Italian joints, and Irish pubs. Along with Twelve Mile Limit, Treo has seriously upped the neighborhood’s cocktail game, and it couldn’t have come at a more welcome time, especially since it also celebrates and embraces local art and artists, as well as food and spirits.
A cocktail at the hands of Bar Chef Abigail Gullo, the singing, drink-slinging bar chef at SoBou will never treat you wrong. Whether it’s the Charbonneau Way (a nod to her French Canadian roots) or the Phil Collins (garnished with a song), an afternoon or evening at SoBou’s bar is always an entertaining affair.
An elegant bar in an elegant restaurant, the Swizzle Stick keeps things elevated at the hands of bartender Lu Brow, consistently one of the best barkeeps in town. And that’s saying a lot in a city like New Orleans. Check out the “Didn’t He Ramble”, a bramble variant that’ll have you humming a tune before you know it.
With the craft beer tide rising in America, the go-to spot in New Orleans for beer nerds is clearly the Avenue, which features a beer list that will make even the geekiest of beer geeks totally geek out, and friendly, knowledgeable bartenders to guide you through the brews. Whether you prefer Flemish sours or hop-tastic IPAs, you know you’ll find it over at the Avenue. And don’t forget to order some Dump Truck Fries to soak up some of that ale, while you’re at it.
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1. The Empire Bar at Broussard's819 Conti St, New Orleans
2. Beachbum Berry's Latitude 29321 N Peters St, New Orleans
3. Three Muses536 Frenchmen St, New Orleans
4. Arnaud's French 75 Bar813 Bienville St, New Orleans
5. Twelve Mile Limit500 S Telemachus St, New Orleans
6. Cane & Table1113 Decatur St, New Orleans
7. Fountain Lounge130 Roosevelt Way, New Orleans
8. Treo3835 Tulane Ave, New Orleans
9. SoBou310 Chartres St, New Orleans
10. Café Adelaide & the Swizzle Stick Bar300 Poydras St, New Orleans
11. The Avenue Pub1732 Saint Charles Ave, New Orleans
Located at the fine dining establishment Broussard's, the Empire Bar houses a lavish marble bar, behind which barman supreme Paul Gustings will be waiting to make you a Ramos Fizz, or one of the other extraordinary 'tails on the menu. Try one of Gustings' signature Napoleon brandy-based cocktails or the Leite de Onca, which is a cachaça-based cocktail with toasted coconut shavings, pineapple syrup, heavy cream, condensed milk, and Mexican chocolate.
Latitude 29 in the French Quarter is a Tiki lover's paradise. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s shrine to all things Tiki has proven itself to be a refreshing and enlightened pillar of the NOLA drinks scene due to its large menu of deliciously concocted cocktails. Check out the bar's take on classics like Mai Tai and Zombies, and for something a bit more inventive, go for the Davy Jones' Lager, which is a mix of Antigua gold rum, Japanese beer Curacao, and spiced cane syrup.
"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.
Originally designated as a "gentlemen only area" in NOLA's early days, this cocktail bar located within Arnaud's Restaurant features cocktails 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). Feel fancy as you sip your drinks that are served to you by white tuxedo-wearing bartenders. In addition to the more inventive drinks, you can't go wrong with the killer Old Fashioned or Sidecar.
At this Mid-City craft cocktail lounge, affordable, creative and deliciously crafted drinks might be the main draw, but cheap beers are also served in equal numbers. In addition to fantastic cocktails, this bar provides trivia, pool, a jukebox, and loaded destination tater tots.
There are many things to enjoy about this throwback Caribbean restaurant and bar -- think Navy-strength rum and house-made falernum -- but best enjoyed here is the “Boss Colada”, a long and tropical drink fashioned from fresh pineapple, lime, Baska Snäps, and Peychauds bitters, garnished with a long pineapple leaf. Be warned: this bar is so low-key that there isn't even a sign out front. To find it, look for the line at Coop's on Decatur; it's next door.
Located at the Roosevelt Hotel, the Fountain Lounge is an upscale bar and resto serving fine cocktails and small plates in an ornate space featuring rich wood floors and luxurious fabrics.
Brought to you by the owners of Finn McCool's, Treo brings inventive craft cocktails and small plates to Mid-City, a neighborhood that’s traditionally been more of a po-boy, beer-and-a-shot kind of place.
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.
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.
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.