One of the most fascinating aspects about the French Quarter, and New Orleans in general, is the cocktail culture. I mean, this is a place where not only can you find anything from huge-ass beers to wine smoothies to neon-colored daiquiris, but you can walk around with them as you amble down the street to find your next destination. But if giant alcoholic slushies aren’t your particular bag, it’s just as easy to enjoy a well-crafted drink in a gorgeous bar and add a touch of sophistication to your debauchery.
Both of these are in vaunted spaces: the Carousel Bar is in the Hotel Monteleone and it actually rotates, and the French 75 occupies owned by the legendary Arnaud’s that at one time was a gentlemen’s-only bar. Both were also on my list of must-visit venues, and as it goes, they were they only two places that we went to more than once on our trip. (Granted, it was easy to visit the Carousel more than one time as we were staying in the Monteleone, but still.)
When we were able to hop onto the rotating bar at the Carousel, we tended to stick to classics: Sazerac, Aviation, and of course the Vieux Carré, their specialty. While all of them were delicious, the Vieux Carré was by far my favorite, because it was such a classic cocktail-bar-cocktail: made with rye, Benedictine, sweet vermouth, cognac, and two kinds of bitters, it’s the kind of drink that is complex and not the most ideal to make at home (that is, unless you enjoy collecting obscure liquors), but is perfect for sipping at a bar.
French 75, on the other hand, was our place to try out some more unique tipples in a slightly less-energetic ambiance. Resplendent with dark wood and subway tiles, it’s a place that demands you to linger while you savor your drinks, if only because you want to try more than one while you’re there. The menu is filled with unique signature concoctions featuring ingredients I’ve never heard of, like Plymnia Dram or Falernum; fortunately, there’s little need to know anything about them because you are in the very capable hands of main bartender Chris Hannah, and absolutely nothing we tried failed in delighting us.
Of the drinks we were able to try, my absolute favorite was the Thamaryis: made with gin, the aforementioned Plymnia Dram and Cynar, it’s bitter and complex and perhaps the perfect antidote to all of the sweet drinks that are readily available elsewhere in the Quarter. It’s also strong, which was unexpected as so many of the cocktails we had elsewhere were decidedly not. Another favorite was the Pisco Derby: tart and sweet thanks to lime and grapefruit juices and lavender honey, it was never cloyingly so. It’s also one I’d like to try my hand at soon, if only to try to take advantage of the last grapefruit of the season. It should go without saying that the bar’s eponymous cocktail is delicious, but I wanted to say it anyway.
Ten years had passed between MIchael’s first time to New Orleans and this trip, and I hope that we don’t let that much time go before our next trip to the city because that is far too long to wait to have another spin on the Carousel and a sip of a creative libation. Given how easy it was to get there, I’m hopeful we won’t have to wait that long to make our return.