There’s no excuse for being thirsty or sober in New Orleans. Read on to learn about the best New Orleans drinks and discover where to try them all.
Considering that New Orleans is a port city where the good times roll 365 days each year, it’s no surprise that liquor has long played a role in the city’s storied history. Some people even go so far to assert that cocktails were invented in the fun-loving city.
While that claim is debatable, it’s no debate that Antoine Peychaud invented the Sazerac cocktail in his Royal Street apothecary in the early 1800s. But the Sazerac isn’t the only tasty tipple invented in New Orleans and it’s just one of many drinks to enjoy in the Crescent City.
Some of the city’s best drinks, like the Sazerac, are classic cocktails while others don’t contain any liquor at all. However, they’ll all cool you down from the Bayou’s unrelenting heat and humidity.
Classic New Orleans Cocktails
You don’t have to look hard to find cocktails in New Orleans. Restaurants and bars serve them in elegant glasses but will also pack them “with legs” in plastic go-cups. Some NOLA cocktails are stirred while others are shaken. Several, such as the Sazerac, were invented in the city while others have been welcomed into the city’s rich cocktail tapestry.
Read on to discover 14 classic cocktails that you must drink at least once in New Orleans.
A complex cocktail that’s simultaneously strong, spicy and sweet, the Sazerac is more than a popular cocktail invented in the Crescent City. According to the Louisiana legislature, it’s also the official drink of New Orleans.
The potent potable’s history dates back to the 1930s when Antoine Peychaud created the original Sazerac at his French Quarter apothecary using a recipe involving Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils cognac, absinthe and bitters. Almost a century later, Peychaud’s signature bitters remain a key ingredient in any proper Sazerac.
We enjoyed learning all about the history of this classic New Orleans cocktail during a fascinating tour at the Sazerac House (see below). However, we typically enjoy drinking Sazeracs whenever we see the cocktail on a New Orleans menu.
Great Spot to Drink a Sazerac
Any Reputable Bar in New Orleans
Like many classic cocktails, the Grasshopper was invented by a New Orleans bartender. In this case, the bartender was the owner of legendary Tujague’s and the year was around 1918. Records are a bit shady prior to Prohibition. Regardless of the exact date. the Grasshopper was created eight decades after the Sazerac debuted in the Crescent City.
→ Craft a creamy green cocktail at home with our classic Grasshopper recipe.
Records reveal that Philip Guichet created the Grasshopper for a cocktail competition in New York City. While Guichet placed second in the competition, he won the true prize by creating a timeless drink that remains a staple at bars, including Tujague’s, across America.
3. Brandy Milk Punch
The Brandy Milk Punch, one of the oldest cocktails in the world, is proof that milk belongs in cocktails. Though not invented in New Orleans, it’s one of the very best cocktails to drink at a French Quarter watering hole or during a lazy morning meal.
The creamy Brandy Milk Punch just has a handful of simple ingredients – brandy, milk, nutmeg, sugar and vanilla extract. But there’s nothing simple about the happiness we’ve achieved while sipping the classic New Orleans cocktail at bars like Tujague’s or during our breakfast at Brennan’s.
Crowds fill Pat O’Brien’s each night to drink Hurricanes at the bar where the cocktail was invented. O’Brien originally crafted the Hurricane in the 1940s. The red rum drink is just as popular today as when sailors originally slurped the drink in glasses shaped like hurricane lamps.
With ingredients like dark rum, white rum, passionfruit syrup and lemon juice, this fruity, boozy cocktail is dangerously easy to drink. Love it or hate it, the Hurricane is so iconic that it has its own glass.
While it’s not our favorite New Orleans cocktail, the Hurricane is a fun drink to imbibe around the corner from Bourbon Street on a hot New Orleans day. It’s also a fun drink to enjoy with friends in Philadelphia when the occasional hurricane is storming up the coast every decade or so.
Iconic Spot to Drink a Hurricane
5. French 75
Dating back to the early 18th century when New Orleans was named La Nouvelle-Orléans after a French nobleman, the Louisiana city has long French roots. Visitors can see the French connection in NOLA’s architecture and taste it in the city’s cuisine. Cocktail connoisseurs can also find it in cocktails like the French 75.
Though not invented in New Orleans, the French 75 is one of the most popular New Orleans cocktails. You can find the bubbly drink on menus at upscale cocktail lounges and bars including the bar at Arnaud’s which is named… wait for it… The French 75 Bar. We drank our very first French 75 at a different New Orleans establishment, Luke, years ago and we’ve been known to enjoy the lush gin and champagne cocktail at home.
→ Craft a fizzy cocktail at home with our French 75 recipe.
6. Absinthe Frappe
If you thought that the Grasshopper was the only green cocktail invented in New Orleans, you would be wrong. Invented by Cayetano Ferrer at The Old Absinthe House in 1874, the Absinthe Frappe is as green as it is potent.
We’re not exaggerating when we say that the Absinthe Frappe is potent. Absinthe, the drink’s primary ingredient, packs a wallop with ABVs as high as 70%. As for its neon green color, seeing is believing.
Banned for almost a century, absinthe isn’t as popular as vodka or rum. But those who like anise-flavored liqueurs like Pastis and Herbsaint will like Absinthe Frappes blended with absinthe, simple syrup, soda water, mint leaves and crushed ice. The key is not to drink too many of these mean, green cocktails at one sitting!
Iconic Spot to Drink an Absinthe Frappe
Old Absinthe House
7. 25¢ Martini
Three martini lunches harken back to a simpler time before the internet and the me too movement. We’ve all seen these lunches on Mad Men. But, as it turn out, these lunches are alive and well at upscale New Orleans restaurants.
Similar to tapas bars in Spain where free food is served as an enticement for people to order more drinks, certain upscale NOLA restaurants offer 25¢ martinis to entice customers to make lunch reservations.
We experienced a delightful three-martini lunch at Commander’s Palace in which one of us literally drank three martinis during our meal. (The other one named Daryl drank French wine instead.) And the best part? Each full-sized martini only cost 25 cents.
8. Vieux Carré
Yet another cocktail with New Orleans roots, the Vieux Carré is named after the neighborhood where it was invented. Literally translating to ‘old square’, this French name is another name for NOLA’s French Quarter.
We suspect that the Walter Bergeron, a bartender at Hotel Monteleone’s Caurousel Bar, was a big fan of the Manhattan when he crafted the original Vieux Carré almost a century ago. After all, this New Orleans drink is basically a Manhattan with a couple extra ingredients, namely cognac and Bénédictine herbal liqueur. He also added Peychaud’s bitters because that’s what one does in New Orleans
9. Pimm’s Cup
The Pimm’s Cup wasn’t invented in New Orleans but this London drink fits seamlessly into the city’s cocktail culture. Neither new nor trendy, the gin-based cocktail has been a fixture since it debuted at the Napoleon House in the 1940s.
A savvy Napoleon House’s mixologist doctored the Pimm’s Cup recipe to include lemonade and 7-Up, so perhaps it’s a New Orleans drink after all. It’s certainly a topic worth debating while drinking a Pimm’s Cup… or three.
Iconic Spot to Drink a Pimm’s Cup
10. Creole Bloody Mary
We don’t know where the Blood Mary was invented though history indicates the timing to be in the first half of the 20th century. Bartenders in both Paris and New York have staked claims to bragging rights. But, considering the juicy cocktail’s spicy flavors, we think that this cocktail, that doubles as a hair-of-the-dog hangover cure, was perfected in New Orleans.
New Orleanians must agree with us since Creole Bloody Mary cocktails are available at practically every local bar. We’ve enjoyed inspired versions at all ends of the spectrum from dive bars like St. Roch Tavern and Coop’s Place to Brennan’s Restaurant. And guess what? They’ve all been outstanding.
Then again, it’s difficult to imagine a cocktail flavored with hot sauce not being good in New Orleans. That would just be wrong.
Great Spot to Drink a Creole Bloody Mary
Any Bar in New Orleans
11. Frozen Irish Coffee
It’s no secret that the Bayou gets hot. It’s also no secret that drinking a Frozen Irish Coffee is one of the best things to do in New Orleans when heat and humidity levels soar.
Made with Kleinpeter vanilla ice cream and liquor and then topped with whipped cream and coffee grinds, Molly’s at the Market’s decadent Frozen Irish Coffee is like nothing we’ve tasted in Dublin or the rest of Ireland. We best describe it as a boozy milkshake with a caffeine kick.
Watching the bartender serve the drink from a frozen daiquiri scene is part of the fun. Splurging for a shot of Jameson cold brew whiskey is optional. Slurping the first sip through a straw is priceless.
Great Spot to Drink a Frozen Irish Coffee
Molly’s at the Market
12. Frozen Daiquiri
Drinking at least one Frozen Daiquiri is a must for many tourists who travel to travel to New Orleans. They’ve encountered the sugary frozen drink at the Fat Tuesday chain (a sister chain to New Orleans Original Daiquiris) in cities around the country and want to try the drink in its home city. It’s either that or a Hand Grenade and, clearly, drinking a Frozen Daiquiri is the better choice.
To be clear, NOLA’s Frozen Daiquiri has little in common with the classic Daiquiri cocktail. It’s sweet, it’s frozen, it’s often super-potent (as is the case with the 190 octane flavor) and it’s sipped through a straw. Many bars serve Frozen Daiquiris in go cups, and some serve them at drive-thru stands.
While we do NOT condone drinking and driving, we understand the desire to drink a Frozen Daiquiri in New Orleans. We recommend going whole hog with a Purple Voodoo Daiquiri at Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Otherwise, you can try an elevated version at Manolito or the rooftop bar Monkey Board.
13. Mint Julep
Typically served in a silver cup and requiring just three ingredients plus ice, the Mint Julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby with nearly 120,000 people sipping Mint Juleps at Churchill Downs each May. That’s a lot of bourbon, fresh mint, sugar and crushed ice.
Hold your horses!! if you think that this drink is exclusively available in Louisville on Derby Day each May, you’re wrong. To the contrary – the Mint Julep is a great cocktail to enjoy both at home and in bars in cities like New Orleans all year round.
→ Craft this classic bourbon cocktail at home with our classic Mint Julep recipe.
Invented in Virginia and made famous in Kentucky, the Mint Julep fits the New Orleans lifestyle to a tee. Chilled under a dome of crushed ice that resembles a snowball, this bourbon cocktail stays cold even on hot days. And, when it comes to bourbon in a New Orleans Mint Julep, two shots are always better than one.
Greap Spot to Drink a Mint Julep
Revel Cafe and Bar
14. Ramos Gin Fizz
Harry Ramos literally shook things up when he invented the created the New Orleans Fizz in 1988.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of this classic New Orleans cocktail named after its home city – a name which was later changed to Ramos Gin Fizz in honor of its inventor. If you’ve never heard of the Ramos Gin Fizz, let us give you the fizzy scoop.
To craft this cocktail, Harry Ramos took the relatively simple Gin Fizz to the next level by adding lime juice, an egg white, sugar, cream and orange flower water to the recipe. He then shook each cocktail for a whopping 12 minutes to create super frothy cocktails that many liken to lemon meringue pie.
The Roosevelt Hotel bought the rights to the drink where it’s currently a signature cocktail in the hotel’s Sazerac Bar. However, for better or worse, bartenders at the hotel bar and around town no longer shake Ramos Gin Fizz cocktails for a full 12 minutes. We think it’s a good thing.
Other Adult Beverages
As much as we enjoy drinking cocktails in the city that may have invented the genre, they’re not the only drinks available in New Orleans. Read on to discover two additional adult beverages to consider when you’re feeling thirsty in New Orleans.
Abita Brewing Company was probably a novelty when it starting brewing beer on the outskirts of New Orleans in 1986, just a couple years after Sam Adams beer hit the market in Boston. Available at bars and restaurants all over town, this New Orleans brewery has gone mainstream and is no longer the city’s only brewery.
Obsessed beer drinkers can spend days exploring New Orleans’ burgeoning craft beer scene while others will want to take a more condensed crawl. Notable local breweries include Brieux Carré, Faubourg Brewing Co., Miel Brewery and Tap Room, NOLA Brewing Company, Parleaux Beer Lab, Port Orleans Brewing Co., Royal Brewery New Orleans, Second Line Brewing and Urban South Brewery.
The city also has a plethora of dedicated beer bars for those who would rather sit than crawl. Heading to The Avenue Pub in the Lower Garden District is a no-brainer for thirsty beer geeks and their friends. Open since 2000 on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny neighborhood, d.b.a. is an another option for multitaskers who like to drink craft beer and listen to live music at the same time.
Despite its deep cocktail culture and blossoming beer scene, New Orleans is no slacker when it comes to wine.
Blue chips restaurants like Commander’s Palace and Brennan’s have staggering wine collections. The latter has rebuilt its wine cellar back to pre-Katrina levels with a 14,000+ bottle collection that features $15,000 bottles of Romanée-Conti as well as more affordable selections.
Fancy restaurants aren’t the only establishments where oenophiles can enjoy wine in New Orleans. The savviest head to the Bywater neighborhood where they can drink wine at Saint-Germain, a restaurant bar that reminds of our favorite Paris wine bars. Also in the Bywater, Bacchanal Wine combines a wine shop with a restaurant and adds live music to create the ninth ward’s most festive backyard party.
Liquor isn’t the only stimulant worth drinking in New Orleans especially when you consider that alcohol is technically a depressant. We recommend the following three beverages for those times when caffeine is in order:
17. Iced Tea
Ordering Iced Tea in New Orleans has its challenges. First is deciding if you want a glass of refreshing regular Iced Tea without sugar or if you prefer Sweet Iced Tea with its double whammy of caffeine and sugar. If you prefer the latter, next is determining if the sugar was added while the tea was still hot or if you need to add sugar yourself.
Interestingly, although sweet tea is the norm around the American South, New Orleanians have preferred unsweetened tea for decades. However, as norms and traditions change, it’s always better to ask before you accidentally add sugar to Iced Tea that’s already been sweetened.
Great Spot to Drink Iced Tea
Any Restaurant in New Orleans
18. Chicory Coffee
Chicory doesn’t actually contain caffeine but don’t let this factoid dissuade you from ordering Chicory Coffee at Café du Monde. The famous French Quarter cafe blends chicory with coffee to create a nutty caffeinated beverage that people have enjoyed in New Orleans since the Civil War.
→ Click here to buy a can of Chicory Coffee from Amazon to enjoy at home.
We recommend pairing a Chicory Cafe Au Lait with a plate of Beignets at Café du Monde. The nutty coffee is an ideal accompaniment to the cafe’s sugary pastries. We always do this one time when we arrive in New Orleans before moving on to third wave coffee.
Iconic Spot to Drink Chicory Coffee
Café du Monde
19. Third Wave Coffee
Like much of the world, New Orleans has joined coffee’s third wave and now has a multitude of shops serving specialty coffee drinks like flat whites and pour overs. Some of these shops roast their own beans while others independently order beans from beyond the city’s borders.
We always seek out third wave coffee wherever we travel and we made an extra special effort to find it in New Orleans, often visiting two or three shops in a day. Let’s face it – caffeine is our friend when we burn the candle at both ends which is what we always seem to do in NOLA.
Great Spots to Drink Third Wave Coffee
New Orleans has more than a dozen cafes serving quality flat whites and pour overs. Check out our NOLA coffee shop guide to find them.
New Orleans Drink Experiences
With so many fun things to do in New Orleans, it only makes sense that some of them would focus on drinking. The most obsessed will want to take a three-hour Cocktail History Tour. Those with shorter attention spans can do the following activities instead.
20. Sazerac House Tour
The Sazerac House celebrates New Orleans’ official cocktail by conducting interactive tours in its grand Magazine Street building. Chock full of information, these fascinating tours are extra special for two reasons – they’re free and they include samples.
Yes, you can taste zesty bitters and sip on miniature Sazeracs while delving into the iconic cocktail’s history that mirrors its home city’s past. You’ll learn how the Sazerac House enticed patrons back in the day by offering free lunch for the price of one drink and that a ‘cocktail’ originally meant a mixture of bitters, a sweetener, a spirit and nothing else.
Beyond its free tours and requisite gift shop, the Sazerac House staff distills one barrel of rye whiskey each day or about 200 bottles each year. They then ship the liquid gold to Buffalo Trace in Kentucky where it ages in new American oak barrels.
The Sazerac House is located at 101 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70130, United States.
21. Old New Orleans Rum Tour
Those who prefer local products will want to drink Old New Orleans Rum in New Orleans. It’s distilled near the city’s St. Roch neighborhood where the distillery offers a 45-minute tour that includes a welcome cocktail and rum tasting.
This flavorful rum makes a great souvenir. You can buy bottles at liquor shops throughout the city. The best price we saw was at a CVS pharmacy on Canal Street but that might have just been a lucky find.
Celebration Distillation is located at 2815 Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, LA 70122, United States.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
Staying at a comfortable, convenient hotel is a must in New Orleans. During our most recent visit, we stayed in the following two hotels that met these criteria:
Check back soon to read the article about our stay at these hotels. Spoiler Alert: We enjoyed and recommend both of them.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
We thank Visit New Orleans and its partners for their assistance to facilitate this and other articles.
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