New Orleans is well known for its reputation as a favorite party place for tourists. Mardi Gras, certainly, attracts the student crowd who tend to migrate en masse towards the French Quarter (mainly the aptly-named Bourbon Street) and get rowdy drunk. However, that's only one aspect of a multi-faceted bar scene in New Orleans. The city's locals enjoy a good drink and, in stark contrast to many an over-enthusiastic visitor, New Orleans folks take their alcohol seriously. Beyond the crowded corners, NOLA offers a much more refined, rewarding and delectable drinks culture to be discovered. To truly immerse yourself in the authentic smooth jazz and smooth drinks experience of The Big Easy, we recommend you sample the incredible ambience and drinks on offer at these five best cocktail bars in New Orleans.
SoBou (South of Bourbon) is miles away from the Bourbon scene in terms of its atmosphere. Bright bulbs cover one wall, shedding a glittery light over the intimate bar. Some of the tables even have their own taps, allowing beer enthusiasts to pull their own pints. Delicately flavored cocktails like the lavender margarita will appeal to cocktail connoisseurs, and the kooky house cocktail names (like the Michael Collins and the Paris Between the Wars) reflect the familiar, laid back atmosphere. There's a menu of manageable snacks for those who want to focus their energy on sampling the extensive drinks list, but the full dining menu is popular too.
Cure’s philosophy stems from a past era when cocktails were imbibed alongside medicine and home remedies. The cocktail bar itself is located in the Freret neighborhood, a little way from downtown New Orleans, and it's a distinctly trendy, civilized and grown-up option for cocktail lovers. The cocktails are complex – many have herbal undertones or darker, more intricate flavors – and the bar staff are well-informed and attentive. Cure is a perfect remedy to the rowdier downtown scene.
The Carousel Bar, inside the French Quarter's Hotel Monteleone, is a stunning retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is brim-full of Old World charm and perfectly captures the colorful, festive character of New Orleans. The (rotating!) bar is designed as a carousel, with the vibrant carnival theme extending to the seating and the decor. It isn't all just novelty here, though; the cocktail menu is diverse, though the drinks are largely sweet, fizzy and delectable. This one can become quite packed with tourists and locals, so arrive early if you want to nab a seat on the carousel.
With original, adapted and classic cocktails, Bar Tonique doesn't hold back on variety with an almost overwhelming range of choices depicted on a large chalkboard behind the bar. Quantity doesn't compromise quality however, as the cocktails here are made with fresh juice and premium liquor. It's communal bar seating here for the most part, encouraging a sense of revelry and sociability that serves to enhance the casual, relaxed and intimate atmosphere. Just outside the French Quarter, this bar serves as a tranquil escape from the party scene without compromising on fun or youthful energy.
French 75 has been named among some of the best bars in the United States, and for those seeking a truly authentic New Orleans drinks experience this should feature high on the must-visit list. The vintage cigars-and-cocktails approach is heavily emphasized here, with a sumptuous carved mahogany bar and a huge cocktail list including all the classics (the eponymous Arnaud cocktail, a mix of champagne and brandy, comes highly recommended) as well as specially tailored local, seasonal mix drinks. If you fancy a lazy Sunday afternoon cocktail, French 75 hosts Jazz Brunch Sundays between 10am and 2.30pm.