Cocktails and Other Night Sights in New Orleans
Last time, we covered the bevy of food I ate after dark in New Orleans. In this post, we’ll take a look at all the tantalizing libations Ben and I imbibed in the Big Easy in early December. You may question this claim by the end, but I swear we weren’t drinking at all times. Sometimes, we were walking. Walking off-kilter, but walking nonetheless.
It was Saturday evening when we arrived in New Orleans, and there were surprisingly few people around. We began our journey in the Central Business District.
In short time, or rather, short time to me and my warped concept of a city block—we really should have taken a streetcar—we made it to the French Quarter. The first few western blocks of Decatur and Chartres Streets were all but abandoned, but we did not yet know we needed to continue on toward Jackson Square to find the crowds or head north a few blocks to Bourbon St. So when the modern, romantic vibe of Evangeline (329 Decatur St.) caught our eye, we stepped in for Drink #1.
You’ll note their signature drink, the Ginger Mint Julep, advertised on the building behind the restaurant.
It was refreshing, but not the sort of cocktail that keeps my attention for long. Too much club soda for that, and who knew what was waiting for me in a city known for its mixology? My husband went for one of our trusty standards, the Sazerac, and we were surprised by how sweet it was. Sugar is not something I associate with a Sazerac, but several bars served it that way in New Orleans. Simple syrup appears to be in the standard recipe for it, but I think bars outside of New Orleans may skimp on it—and I approve of that decision.
We moved on after one drink, not realizing there was a full courtyard in back that would have been more appealing than the abandoned bar—obviously, we were newcomers to this city. Many French Quarter joints have a courtyard. But the change of locale had its rewards. Our next choice was the Carousel Bar inside the Monteleone Hotel (214 Royal St.).
It’s hard to make out in that second picture, but if there’s room at the actual bar rather than in the parlor, grab a spot! The bar is a beautiful old carousel and it spins!
That beauty is the Vieux Carré, one of the many drinks invented in New Orleans, invented in that very spot in fact. Vieux Carré, French for Old Square, is another name for the French Quarter, and I don’t know how, but I think that rye, cognac, vermouth, Bénédictine, and bitters mixture manages to distill the Quarter’s essence into a glass. Definitely my favorite drink of the trip.
My husband had the Brazilian Sparkler with rum, lime, lemon, pineapple, and club soda. He remembers it not. That’s no complaint. We did a lot of drinking.
After Drink #2, more exploring ensued. The streets were still remarkably empty for a Saturday night, but I didn’t mind—I had been worried it would be wall-to-wall people. As it turns out, December is a wonderful time to visit. There are lights everywhere for Christmas, and it’s not prime tourist season, so you can breathe. Plus, the weather was beautiful; we only hit humidity on our last day. But back to exploring!
Around the corner from a particularly lively restaurant,
we suddenly discovered where all the people were!
Yes, folks, we had made it to Bourbon St. It has plenty of neon, plenty of gay bars in the eastern blocks, and plenty of dance and live music clubs everywhere you look.
You bet we crowded onto one of those balconies, though I threw no beads. A few hit me in the head, however!
I also engaged in a task required of anyone who strolls a party street anywhere in the world:
The drinking of a cheap, godawful concoction. This one was called the Hand Grenade, and it was as bad as it looks. I’m a little sad I forgot to bring the cup home, though.
The next night began with stumbling upon Jackson Square at night.
I don’t know why, but a sidewalk full of fortune tellers feels right.
We walked back to CBD and the hotel that evening by way of Woldenberg Riverfront Park. It was a scenic, romantic way to get a good, long look at the Mississippi River.
Harrah’s casino is pretty in the night sky, too.
It looks even better after you win $250 at slots. Trust me on that.
On the third night, we moved on to the French Quarter after dinner as was our custom. Yes, we developed customs in a total of four days in New Orleans. Don’t scoff. But first, because it was on our way and we’d been gaping at it each time we passed, we investigated the strange, abandoned Piazza D’Italia (Lafayette and Commerce) behind Harrah’s hotel.
I have no idea what to make of it, but it’d be a lot cooler if the pool was full of flowing gold rather than water.
This was our last evening in town, and my Louisianan relatives told me I couldn’t miss Pat O’Brien’s (718 St. Peter St.). They did not steer me wrong.
It’s the home of the Hurricane—I told you New Orleans was the granddaddy of cocktails!
Honestly, their version was too sweet for me, but I drank it like the dutiful tourist I am. You can keep the souvenir glass if you want, but if you don’t, turn that sucker in before you go to get a few extra dollars back. The real draw at Pat O’Brien’s is the gorgeous courtyard and the flaming fountain.
Thus, it was time to walk off another drink and make our way to a new one, by way of more lit up French Quarter side streets.
Back on Bourbon St., us absinthe lovers decided to risk the Old Absinthe House (240 Bourbon St.) despite warnings from a few fellow aficionados to not let anyone flame the precious Green Fairy. That goth/sports bar mix had a nice vibe if you don’t count the extra-loud, drunken trio who kept talking about needing to leave so they could go have sex (Ah, Bourbon St.!).
Our lovely bartender determined that the Mata Hari would be a good absinthe for us and set up the louche.
Before we could stop it, that absinthe was flamed!
I swear I didn’t know she was going to light it, absinthe lovers! Regardless, it made for a dramatic presentation. The check presentation was just as dramatic, as we learned those servings were $30 each! Well, Ben, swears it was $20, but still!
“Oops,” said the bartender when we confirmed the tab. “I was supposed to tell you the price first.” I would have raged, but I’m far too mellow for that, and besides, I had drunk absinthe.
That strikes me as an excellent way to end this post on nightlife in the Big Easy: with a note of contentedness and a note of confusion. Really, isn’t that how all good bar crawls should finish? If you want more pictures for our eats and drinks in the dark times, click here.
My next post on New Orleans will drag you through the swamp—the Honey Island Swamp to be exact. Who knew moss and the threat of alligators could be so alluring?by