Fourteen years together and SVV and I had never taken a trip to New Orleans as a pair—until this fall, that is. I’ve been to New Orleans with my family, with girls’ groups and for business, but never with my husband. And if you know us at all, you know we have a very different travel style than some: Our trips are very heavily steered by the vibe of the place, and in an unblushing city like the Big Easy, that is the bar scene. So it’s fitting that we spent four days unearthing the best bars in New Orleans.
We even went a step further than that and took it upon ourselves to try a Sazerac in every joint we visited. Because did you really go to New Orleans if you didn’t learn your way around the city’s token cocktail?
This project was sponsored by New Orleans & Company. All recommendations and Sazeracs consumed were entirely of our own decision-making.
The Best Bars in New Orleans, according to us
As with any “best of” guide, keep in mind that we only had four days on the ground and an exhaustive list of places that we wanted to try, so obviously didn’t make it to every notable bar in New Orleans. That said, we definitely whittled away at our ever-growing list and wanted to share our favorites with you, so here’s every bar we stopped in for a drink—and a few our locals friends also threw in for consideration—each one worthy for a different reason.
Central Business District
If you’re going to New Orleans for work, there’s a good chance you’ll be staying or meeting in the Central Business District (or CBD), because the convention center is right there along the Mississippi River. This is not yo momma’s standard financial district, though; in true New Orleans fashion, it’s brimming with creative bars and cool restaurants of all kinds, so check it out even if you aren’t sleeping in the CBD.
Fresh off the plane, hungry and thirsty, we checked into our hotel and went straight down the street to the Eliza Jane, as its hotel bar was one of the few places in the neighborhood open midday for snacks and booze. This hotel may very well be one of the most Instagrammable spots in a city of Instagrammable moments, and I squealed over every design element throughout the lobby spaces. SVV began his Sazerac journey here, and we noshed on a well-curated charcuterie board and pommes frites from the bar bites menu to hold us over until dinner. New Orleans is a city filled with hotels that nail the cocktail program, and you could easily plan your entire trip around hotel bar-hopping and not be disappointed.
My drink recommendation: Rue Cafe (bourbon, Hoodoo Chicory, bitters, grated coffee)
Staying on trend with the hotel bar theme, the International House Hotel where we crashed for three nights has a velvet-tinged bar, Loa, that opens daily at 4pm. According to the bar literature, “Loa are divine spirits in the Vodou faith tradition, but it is spirit of space and spirits in the glass that make loa the destination watering hole for New Orleans’ more creative artists, entrepreneurs and hotel guests alike.” And we did just that: mingled with fellow entrepreneurs we met in the cozy bar while SVV downed a pair of Sazeracs and I went with the bartender’s recommendation of the most popular drink on the menu. Loa celebrates artisans of all kinds, so you’ll likely find a boutique wine brand or a small-batch distiller in the bar that you didn’t know existed. Let the bartenders be your guide and use Loa as an excuse to expand your taste buds by trying something new and unusual.
My drink recommendation: Fresh Plum Lemongrass cocktail with gin
Two years ago when I went on a girls’ trip to New Orleans, we stayed at the Catahoula Hotel and frequented this lobby bar that highlights a bevy of pisco-inspired cocktails. This unaged grape brandy is a spirit with which I’m not overly familiar, other than a Pisco sour here, a Pisco sour there, so I enjoyed a crash course in the South American spirit alongside some classic Peruvian fare. Stop in during their happy hour specials, which also feature light bites like Asian dumplings, daily between 4 and 7pm. Note: They also have a plant-based menu for the vegans among us.
My drink recommendation: the Desiigner (Pisco, pineapple, coconut, pandan, Blanc Vermouth)
Other bars in the Central Business District:
- The Sazerac House
- Pythian Market
- The Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt
- Alto rooftop bar at the Ace Hotel New Orleans
The most iconic (and therefore touristy) part of New Orleans, the French Quarter is packed with bodies no matter the time of day or day of the week. And while I prefer to spend the bulk of my time exploring neighborhoods outside of the quarter, there are still plenty of bars there you must visit, particularly if it’s your first time in NOLA.
Featuring one of the most interesting menus we’ve ever encountered, this restaurant’s mission is to reflect, via food and drink, the historical cross blending of cultures that New Orleans represents. Featuring hallmarks from Spain, France, Italy, Central America and beyond, the menu leans heavily into the fresh seafood and eclectic ingredients available in this port town. The cocktails are on the high side of the price point—with top-shelf drink options posting a whopping $650 if you opt for the Tricentennial Sazerac—but the ingredients at this upscale locale are simply some of the best available on earth. Expect mostly classic, pre-Prohibition selections on the cocktail menu and fancy, luxe surroundings at the table or bar; this is where you take a girl (or guy) to impress her/him on a first date.
My drink recommendation: Charred Citrus Old Fashioned (Elijah Craig R’evolution Barrel Bourbon, Bigallet China China Amer, Regan’s orange bitters, brûléed orange)
Opened in 1949, this 70-year-old, slowly rotating bar is a staple on the New Orleans cocktail trail and full of literary history; wordsmiths like Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote were not only regulars, but many wove stories based in the bar into their works. Though I’d been in before, it was SVV’s first time and he didn’t know what to expect, assuming that we’d be sitting on a fiberglass horse in kitschy surrounds, but Carousel Bar is both a classy and approachable venue for sampling a little liquor by the drink, favored by natives and newbies alike. Since the room rotates every 15 minutes, the views never get boring. I recommend going midday since Carousel is housed inside the Hotel Monteleone and opens daily at 11am; at night, it becomes crowded and is tough to get a seat at the bar.
My drink recommendation: a classic Sidecar
As a tribute to the failed effort to repatriate Napoleon Bonaparte (he died before the secret rescue) by the former mayor, Nicholas Girod, this open-air bar has a story to tell and, in theory, would have been the home of the Lion of Naples, who conquered most of Europe before being exiled permanently. Built in the late 1700s, it’s a classic of early French architecture and a little gem of a spot to snatch a cocktail during a stroll through the delightfully decadent French Quarter. Remember: Open containers are not only allowed but heavily encouraged in the French Quarter!
My drink recommendation: Pimm’s Cup, made famous worldwide thanks to this bar
I’ve yet to meet an Irish bar I dislike, and the dive-y Erin Rose follows suit. Tucked away on a side alley just off Bourbon Street, this lively spot is small and dark and, thus, the perfect place to grab a drink on the go. While I’m not typically a milky cocktail person, you honestly can’t come to Erin Rose without trying the Irish coffee. It would be considered a sin (and it’s dangerously delicious and not too sweet, too!).
My drink recommendation: frozen Irish coffee—didn’t you hear me the first time?
Other bars in the French Quarter:
- Cane & Table
- The Chart Room
- Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
- Longway Tavern
- Old Absinthe House
- Bar Tonique
- Jewel of the South
- Latitude 29
Warehouse District, Uptown & Garden District
The artsy part of town, the Warehouse District is populated with old buildings inhabited by modern concepts, like the uber-chic Auction House Market; it’s also home to famed attractions like the National WWII Museum and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. From the district, you’ll find Uptown spreads southwest and includes both Saint Chartres—made popular by the streetcar flanked by towering, historic homes—and Magazine Street, alive with independently-owned bars, quirky restaurants and shops of all kinds, running through the Garden District.
We went to this restaurant/bar at the Pontchartrain Hotel for dinner, but dang if it isn’t one of the coolest interiors in town. Be it a full meal or just a pre-dinner cocktail, you need to get yourself to Jack Rose in any way, shape or form. With fabric-draped walls, a truly wild collection of artwork that spans a wide range of styles and plush, non-matching lounges and dining tables, the restaurant is a killer place to glam it up in an unpretentious manner while chowing down on French Creole cuisine and inventive alcoholic beverages.
My drink recommendation: The Jack Rose (whiskey calvados, pomegranate, rose, citrus, egg white)
There’s not a lot that we don’t like about this sustainable and classic food destination in the heart of New Orleans. Focused on what some of the best restaurants in the country do, and do well, Pêche serves up French and Italian food with a high-end eye on the star of the event: the ingredients. This James Beard award-winning restaurant and bar is all rough-hewn beams, wide-open spaces, twists on liquor drinks and an extensive wine list so expect to make a reservation at this hotspot if you plan to eat (we made the mistake of trying to drop in for dinner and were not successful, so we returned the following day mid-afternoon for cocktails instead). Otherwise, saddle up to the bar as we did and soak in the vibe.
My drink recommendation: Little Red Corvette (Banhez mezcal, hibiscus, jalapeño, lime)
Concepts like these make us cheer for entrepreneurs while drooling for the future. Set in a warehouse that’s been converted to lofts with retail on the bottom floors, the market has a central common bar made from marble surrounded by a collection of individually-run restaurant concepts. Thai, Indian, Japanese, empanadas, seafood, coffee, macaroons and more populate the stalls on the fringes of the bar. Fairly casual, this is a great place to grab a lunch and cocktail or local beer at The Mayhaw.
My drink recommendation: Germain and Juice
This is technically far west down Magazine Street out of the Garden District, but when we couldn’t find a place to eat on Magazine Street without a lengthy wait on a Tuesday, we found ourselves grabbing an outdoor table at Picnic Provisions & Whiskey, which true to its name has a pretty lengthy list of spirits. The skillet melted pimento cheese dish is the perfect pairing for a liquor drink if you’re just there for the booze.
My drink recommendation: Picnic Old Fashioned
Other bars near the Warehouse District and Uptown:
Bywater & Marigny
These colorful, adjacent neighborhoods are quickly becoming my favorite part of New Orleans thanks to their street art, creative vibe and funky buildings around every corner.
Boasting a lucky number of 13 vendors, St. Roch Market was first opened in 1875. It’s seen many phases of life since then—and was nearly decimated by Hurricane Katrina—but has been completely rehabbed as a chef-centric food hall and a favorite stop for Millennials. Like its sister, the Auction House, there’s a central bar, also called the Mayhaw, for all your libation needs.
My drink recommendation: Daft Pump (Buffalo Trace bourbon, apple brandy, butternut squash puree, allspice dram, coconut cream, angostura)
A self-proclaimed “wine laboratory” which also calls itself “NOLA’s backyard party,” Bacchanal confused this pair of travelers when we first pulled up in our car. You enter through the wine shop, where you can pick from hundreds of bottles and also select a few cheeses for your charcuterie board, then you proceed outside and around back to either sit in the courtyard or upstairs in the covered bar. The upstairs has a full cocktail bar, which is where SVV continued his Sazerac journey and I made the most of the daily happy hour specials, from 11am to 5pm ($6 cocktails, $5 glasses of wine, $1 off beer). There’s live jazz seven days a week, and though it originated as a pop-up with rotating chefs in the wake of Katrina recovery—which was later raided by the city, creating an entirely new set of struggles—Bacchanal is now one of the most energetic spots in the Bywater. I recommend going mid-afternoon or on the early side of dinner, around 5pm, since reservations are not accepted.
My drink recommendation: Blackbird Cooler (blackberry vodka, Tattersall Creme de Fleur, lemon, iced tea)
Other bars in the Bywater and Marigny:
Take a guided cocktail tour of New Orleans
Even if you’ve visited all the best bars in New Orleans already, I guarantee you won’t want to miss a tour with Confederacy of Cruisers, a bike tour company that offers the best deep-dive into New Orleans’ bar history.
This four-hour tour had us bopping all over the French Quarter, along the river and down through the Central Business District. True to NOLA form, we even had to-go daiquiris for the ride, which we were able to balance in the cup holders attached to our bikes. The guide, an experienced hand at navigating the narrow streets, fills your ears with history and details on how New Orleans came to be known as the loving host of tender, ethanol-fueled debauchery and an entity unto itself within the United States.
The tour costs $89, which includes the tour itself, all booze at the five different stops you make throughout the afternoon, tips, etc. It’s definitely worth the cost! Obviously, you need to be 21 to take this tour, but I’m going to assume that’s the case if you’re reading this blog post in the first place.
Do you have any input into the best bars in New Orleans that we need to try on our next trip back?
Make your own Sazerac at home
After trying more than a dozen Sazeracs in New Orleans—and interviewing every bartender who would let us bend their ear—SVV came home and put his newfound mixology knowledge to use. We even hosted a cocktail party the following week where he whipped up his own Sazerac for the masses, which has the following ingredients:
- 6 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
- 1 dash of Angostura bitters
- 1/3 ounce of simple syrup
- 2 ounces of rye (preferably Sazerac Rye from Buffalo Trace)
- a rinse of Herbsaint or Emile Pernot
New Orleans is home to some of the greatest bartenders and humans on this God-green earth, and they aren’t afraid to share their secrets with strangers. SVV received one-on-one training from no less than three mixologists, just by asking, and he watched intently as five more whipped up this boozy concoction, which is essentially a whiskey martini.
To a man and woman, they made this drink exactly the same, with the following steps being critical to an authentic Sazerac:
- Chill the glass. Scoop some ice into a rocks or highball glass, pour water in, and let it rest on the countertop while you complete the process. Since the drink doesn’t have ice to keep it cold, this is critical
- In a shaker, combine ingredients. Pour another healthy portion of ice and all the above ingredients except the Herbsaint (otherwise known as absinthe).
- Stir! Absolutely do not shake the mixer. You’ll be struck by lightning or visited by haints, neither of which is desirable.
- Wash the glass with absinthe. While traditionally bartenders would do a rinse with the spirit before dumping it out, modern mixologists use olive oil sprayers, which we saw everywhere in New Orleans. One now lives in our bar because it’s handy! Just a single, heavy spritz into the chilled glass does the trick.
- After a vigorous stir to blend everything up, dump out the ice water and strain the liquor from the mixer into the glass.
- Serve. Enjoy and get ready for a second!
This is an alcohol-forward cocktail, so be aware and pace yourself accordingly. The hint of licorice from the absinthe combined with the medicinal properties of the bitters combined with the strong shot of whiskey makes it heady, and psychedelic, some might say.
Looking for more New Orleans travel tips? Start here:
- 5 ways to get out and about in New Orleans
- Planning the ultimate girls’ trip to New Orleans
- Swap this for that: Where to eat in New Orleans
- A recap of my own NOLA bachelorette weekend