Whiskey, sugar, bitters: 3 places in New Orleans where you can get a proper Sazerac

Todd A. Price
Southern Kitchen

Find a New Orleans bartender with a flair for theater, and when you order a Sazerac cocktail they will dash absinthe into a glass, toss it spinning into the air and shout the name of the drink.

Most bartenders, however, handle with less drama the business of washing the glass with absinthe and avoid spraying walls and customers with high-proof booze.

More than a few drinks are associated with New Orleans. The fruity Hurricane, sold in a souvenir glass at Pat O'Brien’s bar, the one with the flaming fountains. The neon green Hand Grenade in tall plastic cups that tourists of the city’s French Quarter clutch like a safety blanket as each sip makes them sway a bit more.

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The Sazerac is the official cocktail of New Orleans. (Sazerac House / Courtesy photo)

But the Sazerac, designated by the Louisiana legislature in 2008 as the city's official cocktail, is what locals order at the end of the day or at the start of a big meal.

The drink is deceptively simple.

At its core, a Sazerac is a classic Old Fashioned: whiskey with a little sugar and bitters. But the whiskey should be spicy rye. And the bitters must be Peychaud's, the cherry red elixir crafted by a New Orleans apothecary in 1830.

Want to taste a proper Sazerac? Even in New Orleans, you might find a dud. Here are three spots, however, where the bartenders know their business.

With a name like The Sazerac Bar, you know this Roosevelt Hotel fixture can mix up a proper Sazerac.

The Sazerac Bar

This Art Deco enclave, inside the historic Roosevelt Hotel, can make you feel like a film star from the B&W era. Given its name, the staff is well-trained at mixing Sazeracs. The cocktails aren't cheap, but the atmosphere is complimentary. 130 Roosevelt Way, New Orleans, (504)648-1200. Visit the website

Jewel of the South

Under bartender Chris Hannah's lead, Arnaud's French 75 Bar won a James Beard Award for best bar in America. In 2019, Hannah stuck out on his own with this spot on the backside of the French Quarter. The dapper barman leads a crew well-versed in the flavors of cocktails from the era before Prohibition. 1026 Saint Louis St., New Orleans, (504)265-8816. Visit the website

Cure

On Uptown's hopping Freret Street, Cure is the very model of a modern cocktail bar. In 2018, it took home the James Beard Award for best American bar. In New Orleans, however, making an excellent Sazerac is a prerequisite for every mixologist, no matter how cutting edge. Here they precisely measure the Peychaud's bitters one drop at a time. 4905 Freret St., New Orleans, (504)302-2357. Visit the website

The new Sazerac House is located on the corner of Canal and Magazine streets. (Sazerac House / Courtesy photo)

Learn more

Want to learn more about the Sazerac and everything else boozy? The Sazerac House is a high-tech museum from the company behind Sazerac Rye, Peychaud's Bitters and whiskey brands like Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare and Pappy Van Winkle. The three-story, interactive space even has a working distillery. Tickets to the museum are free and include samples for anyone above 21. Reservations are recommended. 101 Magazine St., New Orleans, (504) 910-0100

Read more about the Sazerac cocktail and the Sazerac House in this story from The American South.

Learn how to make a Sazerac here