Chuck's Picks

While I don't have all the reviews completed yet, I wanted at least to get a list up. More details will be forthcoming, as I find the free time to work on the page!

French 75 Bar, at Arnaud's, 813 Rue Bienville, French Quarter.
It's a cigar bar, but if this doesn't bother you you can get some great drinks here. One of the city's best bartenders, Chris Hannah, is often behind the stick here, with spot-on renditions of New Orleans' and other classic cocktails, and his creative and delicious original creations.

The Swizzle Stick Bar at Café Adelaide, 300 Poydras St. in the Loew's Hotel, Central Business District.
Not only is Café Adelaide one of my very favorite restaurants in the city, their bar is one of my favorite (and one of the best) watering holes. Ti Martin and Lally Brennan (aka "The Cocktail Chicks") run Commander's Palace as well as this restaurant, named for their Aunt Adelaide Brennan, a true bon vivant whose motto for how to live one's life was "Eating, drinking, and carrying on ..." (We agree.)

Lu Brow runs the bar, and she's made of awesome. The drink menu changes fairly often, but is based solidly on New Orleans classics, Swizzle Stick originals (such as the Adelaide Swizzle, a lovely, refreshing long drink with New Orleans rum, lime, Peychaud's bitters and a secret ingredient) and classic cocktails going back not only to pre-Prohibition days but to the 19th Century (not too many bars have Jerry Thomas' Improved Whiskey Cocktail on their menu). Lu, Michael Glassberg and the rest of the gang behind the stick at the Swizzle will take very, very good care of you.

Bar Uncommon at the Renaissance Père Marquette Hotel, 817 Common St., Central Business District.
This is the lobby bar at the Père Marquette (formerly an office building), beautiful and modern and new. While it doesn't have what you might consider the "look" of an old New Orleans bar, this is indeed a 21st Century bar but its head bartender will gladly take you back to the 19th. Chris McMillian is the dean of New Orleans bartenders, and one of the founders of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans. His bartendintg skills and the depth of his knowledge are vast, and he'll come up with great, tasty new drinks on the spot as well as delve into the classics. One of the best experiences you'll ever have at a bar is to ask Chris for a Mint Julep -- do so and see what happens.

Cure, 4905 Freret St. at Upperline St., Uptown.
One of the city's newest bars and (many say) one of its best, Cure is dedicated to making great cocktails and has been from the start. There's a commitment to only the best spirits, fresh juices only, a well-trained bartending staff, an interesting cocktail menu and actual knowledge of the history of cocktails. These folks aren't just drink dispensers, they know what they're doing. I haven't been yet (too new), but I'll have more to report after Tales of the Coctktail in July '09.

Bar Tonique, 820 N. Rampart St. across from Armstrong Park, edge of the French Quarter.
Open since August of 2008, this is a sister bar to The Delachaise, owned by the same people. Really good cocktail list, fresh juices and they make their own tonic water (natch, from the name).

The Carousel Bar, Monteleone Hotel, 214 Royal St., French Quarter.
One of my favorite bars in the city. There's a section in the back with booths and a piano, but my favorite place there is on a stool at the bar, which looks like the centerpiece of an actual carousel (or "flyin' horses", as we grew up calling them in N.O.) and the stools actually revolve around the bar. Good Sazeracs, and they have a house cocktail called the "Vieux Carré", which was created by their then-head bartender Walter Bergeron in 1938. It's equal parts of rye, cognac and vermouth, a little Benedictine, plus Peychaud's and Angostura bitters, on the rocks. Lovely, lovely drink. As far as I know the original called for sweet vermouth, but these days they seem to be making it with dry, which is good too.

The Maple Leaf Bar, 8316 Oak Street, Uptown.
A great music bar, but I never drink anything here but beer or straight spirits. Started back in the Sixties by a few Loyola and Tulane alumni who wanted to have a bar that was cool enough that they'd want to hang out in it themselves. I think they did a pretty good job. There's front bar, a long music room and a nice patio bar in the back. One of my favorite bars anywhere, the Maple Leaf also features live Louisiana roots music practically every night -- Cajun, zydeco, blues, and the Iguanas most Sundays. Abita beer on tap. Nice during the day, packed in the evenings when bands play.

Napoleon House, Chartres at St. Louis, French Quarter.
Napoleon House is named for the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The story behind the place is that a group of New Orleanians, including Nicholas Girod, mayor of New Orleans and the pirate Jean Lafitte planned to mount a rescue mission to the island of St. Helena in 1821, where Napoleon had been imprisoned since his defeat at Waterloo in 1815. They purchased a house on Chartres and St. Louis Streets that was to be the Emperor's home while they figured out how to get him back to France. Unfortunately, Napoleon died on St. Helena before they could execute their plan.

Napoleon never actually lived there, but the house that bears his name is one of the greatest and most civilized drinking establishments anywhere. The background music (and yes, it's in the background, not drowning out conversations) is generally classical or jazz, and this is a perfect place to sit, hang out and talk. It drips atmosphere and history. Try their signature drink, the "Pimm's Cup", served with a cucumber slice. (Sadly, their Sazeracs are not very good, and this seems to be consistent.) It's one of the great civilized drinking establishments anywhere, though -- just sit back, relax, and take it all in. A must.

Pat O'Brien's, 718 St. Peter, French Quarter.
No, it's not one of those tourists-only places. Locals actually do drink here on occasion, although if there's a big line of tourists in front, locals will generally skip it until another time ... it'll always be there.

Pat O's serves, among many many others in the extensive menu of specialty drinks, the infamous Hurricane, a sweet, powerful and incredibly stealthy fruit punch that contains about 4 ounces of rum and will knock you right on your butt if you're not careful. If you're a fan of quality cocktails it's pretty awful, but you should try it at least once. It's all made from an artificial mix that they have made in astronomincal quantities. (That said, it's not nearly as apocalyptically horrible as a neighboring establishments highly-trademarked drink named after something you throw at an enemy in war. Don't drink those, ever.) For major LOLz, watch for someone who orders the Magnum Hurricane, a 3-gallon sized Hurricane glass big enough to be used as an aquarium (and there is a Magnum Hurricane aquarium behind the courtyard bar) -- it's served with a few dozen straws, and you need at least six or eight people to finish it, all of whom have to drink it standing up. Quite a sight, and it's fun to watch groups of Texas frat boys try this and drop one by one.

My favorite part of Pat O's is the nifty outdoor courtyard bar, featuring the flaming fountain in the center. It's a wonderful palce to sit back, hang out and sip your drink, if you order a real one. The lady who comes around to ask you if she can take a Polaroid of you for six bucks, and comes back at least three times after you've told her no, is delightfully annoying. There's also a piano bar (which I call "Fake Book Hell" ... avoid if you don't like singalongs) and what they call the Main Bar (which is tiny) off the carriageway, but try to get a place in the courtyard if you can. And if you really want to, you can take all your souvenir crested glasses home, but a warning -- if you walk around the Quarter carrying those little Pat O'Brien's bags, you'll really look like a tourist ...

The Saturn Bar, 3067 St. Claude Ave., Bywater.
This is a great bar. This is an extremely strange bar. There's a lot of ... stuff in this bar. I can't quite describe it. All I can say is, go there. It's extremely cool. The crowd picks up at midnight, when the young, hip crowd begins to wander in and then wonder what they've got themselves into when the eccentric Bywater locals start trickling in ...

This is a beer bar. Don't try ordering anything complicated here (like, say, a cocktail beyond anything basic like a Martini or Manhattan) or you'll get a strange look.

It's in an iffy part of town, so be careful.

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Chuck Taggart   email chuck (at) gumbopages (dot) com