The Best Historic Bars in New Orleans

Eavesdrop on any of the walking tour guides in the French Quarter, and there’s a good chance you’ll learn this: The cocktail was invented in New Orleans. There’s actually no proof of this (New York and London fight for this title too), but New Orleans, it turns out, was the boarding school where the cocktail went after leaving the cradle. Enduring drinks like the Sazerac, Ramos Gin Fizz, and Vieux Carré came of age here. New Orleans never really went for the white wine spritzer or light beer, but it has been a cocktail destination for two centuries. If you’re interested in heritage drinks served in historic bars, this is your city. —Wayne Curtis

  • 1

    Bellocq

    Bellocq isn’t outwardly historic. Named after a famed photographer who secretly snapped shots of Storyville madams, it opened in 2011 and sits across a small courtyard from the lobby of a boutique hotel in a late-modern former YMCA building. But the cocktail menu is infused with history, and abounds with obscure 19th-century classics, like the crusta, julep, and, chiefly, the cobbler. The cobbler was born of ice—New Orleans was a major importer of New England ice starting in the early 19th century—and much of that chilly goodness got crushed and conscripted for these delicious drinks. When you arrive, stop to admire ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • sherry
  • 2

    Carousel Bar

    No, it’s not you. The bar is spinning. The Hotel Monteleone's circular bartop was built on the chassis of an antique merry-go-round in 1949, and patrons make a full circuit every 15 minutes. (Just be thankful the stools don’t go up and down.) Sitting just off the 1907 hotel's lobby, the Carousel Bar claims a long literary heritage: William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote all got into their cups here at one point or another.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • day drinking
    • hotel bar
    • historic
  • 3

    Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop

    With dusky ambience and candles flickering all day long, Lafitte's has long been one of the French Quarter's most picturesque and iconic buildings, and lore insists it’s housed a bar as far back as 1772. Local legend insists it was once the blacksmith shop for the pirates Lafitte, a pair of brothers who had a trading station in the marshes not far away. Documentation doesn’t quite support this, but gets us pretty close. Lafitte’s is among the most permeable and street-friendly of the Bourbon Street bars, its doors often open wide to invite passersby, while drinkers can observe the passing parade.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • cheap date
    • day drinking
    • outdoor / patio
    • historic
  • 4

    Napoleon House

    The Napoleon House is what people who’ve never been to New Orleans imagine the city might look like: vaguely continental, with peeling walls hung with faded portraits of Napoleon. This restaurant and bar is housed in a Creole-inflected building dating to 1814 that originally served as a grocery store prior to becoming a restaurant. Legend has it that its first owner, former Mayor Nicholas Girod, prepared an apartment for Napoleon during his exile from France, though the emperor never made it to America. The Impastato family bought the building in 1914, and have owned it ever since. Decades ago, the owner decreed that ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • full menu
    • day drinking
    • outdoor / patio
    • historic
  • 5

    Pascal's Manale

    An uptown institution, Pascale's Manale has been around since 1913, located on Napoleon Avenue near the St. Charles streetcar stop. To get to the restaurant, one must enter through the bar. Some patrons—quite a few, actually—never make it into the dining room. Instead they find themselves in the care of bartenders with an old-school sensibility, slurping down oysters at the standing-only, marble-topped oyster bar and chatting with Uptown bluebloods, adventurous tourists and the voluble shucker.  

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    KNOWN FOR

    • oysters / raw bar
    • historic
  • 6

    Sazerac Bar

    The Sazerac Bar on the ground floor of the Roosevelt Hotel has one of the grandest interior spaces in all of cocktaildom. With burnished wood, soft lighting and intricate tile work, the bar feels salvaged from a 1940s ocean liner (it opened in 1949). The lovely, evocative murals lining the walls depict well-accoutered socialites, and were painted by flamboyant mid-twentieth century New Orleans artist Paul Ninas. Eponymous, the bar's namesake drink is essentially a pimped-out version of the original cocktail (bitters, sugar and spirits), with the added complication of an absinthe rinse. It’s made with rye, sugar and ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • hotel bar
    • historic
    • craft cocktails
  • 7

    Tujague's

    Tujague’s was a workingman’s riverfront bar when it first opened in 1856, and remained so when it moved to its present location in 1914. The workingmen have since left—as has the riverfront, for that matter, which now lies on the other side of a floodwall and levee—but the long cypress bar remains. It was crafted for the original Tujague’s, which was the first stand-up bar in the city, where the workers came in, knocked back a shot and went back to work on the wharves. Bar stools are still absent. Today it's attached to an equally historic restaurant, and still maintains a pleasingly antiquated feel, dominated by an ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • historic
    • day drinking
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