The best cocktail bars in New Orleans offer a range of experiences, from the historic to modern, casual to sophisticated.
The city recently celebrated its 300th birthday and is home to some of the country's oldest bars. It's also the birthplace of the cocktail.
Masterful mixologists tend bars throughout the city; you just need to know where to look. This list is based on my personal experience.
Beyond drink quality, I picked places for their history, design, ambiance, and friendliness.
To keep it simple, I've grouped the bars according to whether or not they're in the French Quarter. Otherwise, they're in no specific order.
Best Cocktail Bars in the French Quarter
1. Jewel of the South
Jewel of the South opened in March 2019, while I happened to be visiting New Orleans for the second time.
Housed in an old Creole cottage at the northwest edge of the French Quarter, the bar and restaurant are run by two of the city's top bartenders — Chris Hannah and Nick Detrich.
Their inspiration dates back to the 1850s when an Italian immigrant, Joseph Santini, opened Jewel of the South in the Central Business District.
Santini also invented the brandy crusta, the drink credited with introducing fresh citrus to cocktails.
The brandy crusta is made with cognac, lemon juice, curacao, maraschino liqueur, and bitters. The rim of the glass is dipped in sugar, and it's garnished with lemon peel.
On my first visit, I tried the sherry cobbler and the roffignac, both beautifully presented.
When I returned to NOLA later that year, I sat on the patio with a new friend, savoring a marigold-infused Aperol spritz and the Barbadian gin punch (a 17th-century drink from Barbados).
Cocktails and dinner are available from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday. The kitchen closes at 10 p.m. Brunch is offered Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
1026 Saint Louis Street, French Quarter, jewelnola.com
See also: Best Bars in Nashville
2. The Carousel Bar & Lounge
On September 3, 1949, the Carousel Bar and Lounge opened at the Hotel Monteleone, becoming New Orleans' first rotating bar.
While it may seem like a gimmick today, the bar was previously visited by such literary luminaries as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Tennessee Williams.
The signature drink at Carousel Bar is the Vieux Carre, a whiskey-based cocktail created in 1938.
The bar makes a complete rotation every 15 minutes. It's open from 11 a.m. to midnight daily. Arrive a half-hour before it opens for your best shot at a seat.
Otherwise, sit at one of the tables along the walls and wait patiently for a seat at one of the best cocktail bars in New Orleans.
214 Royal St, French Quarter, hotelmonteleone.com
Founded in 1856, Tujague's features the oldest standing bar in the United States and the second-oldest Restaurant in New Orleans. Only Antoine's is older.
A dessert cocktail called the grasshopper was invented here in the early 20th century.
The grasshopper is made by shaking equal parts creme de menthe and creme de cacao, heavy cream, and ice. The chilled liquid is then strained into a glass.
Tujague's had been at the 823 Decatur Street location for one hundred years. However, to remain competitive, it moved to nearby 429 Decatur St in 2020.
429 Decatur Street, French Quarter, tujaguesrestaurant.com
Related: New Orleans Cocktail History Tour
4. Old Absinthe House
It's worth braving Bourbon Street to check out Jean Lafitte's Old Absinthe Bar. Dating back to 1807, it's one of the oldest cocktail bars in New Orleans.
Originally a corner shop, the ground floor was converted to a saloon in 1815. It was renamed "The Absinthe Room" in 1874 when Cayetano Ferrer developed the absinthe frappe.
The original bar in The Absinthe Room was moved to another location during Prohibition and is now located in Belle Epoque, an adjacent absinthe lounge with a speakeasy vibe.
In addition to absinthe cocktails, Belle Epoque serves a full dinner menu.
The Absinthe Room is open at 9 a.m. daily and closes between 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., depending on the night.
240 Bourbon St, French Quarter, ruebourbon.com
5. 21st Amendment
Speaking of Prohibition, the 21st Amendment Bar at La Louisiane Hotel was established in 1933 and dedicated to its repeal.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, the bar was owned by Diamond Jim Moran and Carlos Marcello, two local mobsters.
In recognition of such a history, black and white photos of well-known wise guys hang from the walls.
The cocktail menu features a mix of classic and seasonal drinks starting at $12.
The 21st Amendment Bar is open from 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, and until 12:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It's one of my favorite spots for live jazz in New Orleans.
725 Iberville St, French Quarter, 21stamendmentlalouisiane.com
6. Empire Bar / Broussard's
The Empire Bar at Broussard's is another Prohibition-era bar. Broussard's Restaurant was opened in 1920 by Joseph Broussard, a local chef trained in Paris, and his wife, Rosalie.
Chef Broussard's fine dining establishment occupied the ground floor and focused on Creole and French cuisine. The couple lived in an apartment above it.
I enjoyed a delicious Crimson and Clover cocktail with Hendrick's gin, Aperol, house-made strawberry shrub, and sparkling wine at Empire Bar.
Broussard's offers guests access to one of the best open-air courtyards in the French Quarter. So, after a few sips, I took my cocktail outside to enjoy the fresh air.
When a waiter dropped off the after-dinner menu, I noticed Broussard's serves Cafe Brulot Diabolique ("Devilishly Burned Coffee").
This coffee-based cocktail was invented at Antoine's, one of the best restaurants in New Orleans, and only a handful of restaurants in town offer it.
The show happens tableside, which was made all the better by being outdoors at night.
The waiter skillfully prepared and flambeed the drink, including coffee, brandy, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and orange.
Due to the time required to make it, this drink mandates a minimum of two people.
As I was alone, I asked nicely and offered to pay the total cost of $18. The waiter kindly agreed.
Once the flames were out, I was left to sip this fantastic coffee cocktail under the stars.
Pro tip: the second cup tastes better as the flavors have had more time to meld together.
Hours for Empire Bar
- Thursday, 3 p.m. - 10 p.m.
- Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. - 11 p.m.
819 Conti St, French Quarter, broussards.com
7. Bar Tonique
At the northern edge of the French Quarter, facing Louis Armstrong Park, is Bar Tonique.
This small, brick-walled craft cocktail bar is a casual, affordable spot with an excellent reputation.
All of the ingredients used in their great cocktails are made from scratch. I had my first Pimm's Cup here.
Bar Tonique is open daily from 12 p.m. to 2 a.m.
820 N Rampart St, French Quarter, bartonique.com
8. Pat O'Brien's
On my first trip to New Orleans, I made it a point to check out Pat O'Brien's in the heart of the French Quarter. It's the bar where the sweet, rum-based hurricane was invented.
Pat O'Brien initially operated a speakeasy during Prohibition. In 1942, he partnered with a friend and purchased the 230-year-old building that currently houses Pat O'Brien's.
The larger bar allowed him to install two baby grand pianos, introducing dueling pianos as entertainment for his patrons.
The hurricane was invented soon after due to the flow of rum coming up from the Caribbean.
Pat O'Brien's has opened additional locations in San Antonio, TX, and Orlando, FL.
Thanks to its famously strong drinks and dueling pianos, Pat O'Brien's is one of the most popular cocktail bars in New Orleans.
- Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday - Noon to Midnight
- Friday and Saturday - Noon to 2 a.m.
718 St Peter, French Quarter, patobriens.com
9. Napoleon House
The Napoleon House takes its name from an offer made by the first mayor of New Orleans, Nicholas Girod, to allow the former French Emperor to live there in exile.
On May 5, 1821, Bonaparte died of arsenic poisoning on the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena before the plan could be enacted.
More than 200 years later, the historic building is known for popularizing the Pimm's Cup, a cocktail that originated in 1840s London.
The original recipe is made using Pimm’s No. 1, a mild gin-based liquer, lemonade, lemon-lime soda, and a cucumber for garnish.
Napoleon House also offers a seasonal Pimm's Cup, and an Englishman's Pimm's with Bombay Dry Gin, housemade lemonade, lemon-lime soda, and cucumber.
When I stopped into this great place for their signature drink with Kel, we were seated at a table in a graffiti-filled nook at the back of the bar.
I found the original Pimm's Cup easy to drink and quite refreshing, which is why it's the drink of choice at Wimbeldon.
500 Chartres St, French Quarter, napoleonhouse.com
Best Cocktail Bars Outside the French Quarter
10. Sazerac Bar
In 1838, Antoine Peychaud created the Sazerac at his New Orleans apothecary, and with that, the cocktail concept was born.
The official cocktail of New Orleans is made with Sazerac Rye Whiskey, Peychaud's Bitters, sugar, and Herbsaint (an anise-flavored liqueur).
Today, there's no better place to try one of these classic New Orleans cocktails than at the Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
The experience begins when you enter the opulent lobby and take the elevator to one of the Big Easy's best cocktail bars.
An African walnut bar runs the length of the bar on the right side, tables fill the left side, and there's plenty of space in between.
I saddled up to the bar, ordered the signature Sazerac for $18, and promptly realized I was not fond of it. Not that there was anything wrong with the preparation, mind you.
The cordial bartender said my reaction wasn't uncommon and offered to mix me up something else instead.
Appreciating the courteous service, I ordered a Ramos Gin Fizz, a 19th-century cocktail I knew would be more to my liking.
Hayman's Old Time Gin was mixed with lime and lemon, sugar, egg whites, cream, orange flower water, and seltzer. The frothy mixed drink was like a liquid dessert.
- Friday to Sunday, 12 p.m. - 1 a.m.
- Monday to Thursday, 2 p.m. - 1 a.m.
130 Roosevelt Way, The Roosevelt New Orleans, therooseveltneworleans.com
11. Bar Marilou
The fashionable Bar Marilou is a French-style bar in Maison de la Luz, a new luxury hotel in the Warehouse District.
Original built-in bookcases are stocked with a selection of hand-picked books.
The menu at one of the best new cocktail bars in New Orleans is full of original drinks ranging from $9 to $14, with a few in larger sizes for sharing.
Bar Marilou is a terrific happy hour spot to start your night.
It's open from 4 p.m. - 11 p.m., Sunday to Wednesday, 4 p.m. to midnight Thursdays, and 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Hotel guests also have access to a small hidden lounge in the wall between the lobby and Bar Marilou.
544 Carondelet St, Central Business District, barmarilou.com
12. Revel Cafe & Bar
I knew there was something different about the bartender at Revel Cafe & Bar when he began telling me the history of my drink, a Corpse Reviver No 2.
I enjoyed his storytelling, so I also ordered an absinthe Suissesse, a typical New Orleans brunch cocktail with Herbsaint, Orzata (almond syrup), and cream.
And I would've stayed for more, but it wasn't even 1 p.m. yet; I still had a full day and night ahead of me.
I later learned the talkative bartender was Revel's owner, Louisiana-native Chris McMillian, a fourth-generation bartender, historian, and co-founder of The Museum of the American Cocktail.
- Tuesday - Thursday, 4 p.m. - 11 p.m.
- Friday - Saturday, 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
133 N Carrollton Ave, Mid-City, revelcafeandbar.com
13. Hot Tin
For an incredible view of downtown New Orleans, head to Hot Tin on the roof of the Pontchartrain Hotel.
This bright and airy rooftop bar looks like an artist's loft. Soak up the sun at one of the best bars in New Orleans with a view.
Signature drinks such as the Wolf in Lamb's Clothing (gin, lemon, basil, honey, Lambrusco) run $12, with most classic cocktails costing $10 apiece.
- Sunday - Thursday, 2 p.m. - Midnight
- Friday - Saturday, 2 p.m. - 2 a.m.
2031 St Charles Ave, Central City, hottinbar.com
14. The Columns
Constructed in 1883 on St Charles Avenue, just west of the Garden District, the Columns hotel offers visitors a taste of old-world elegance.
Initially the private residence of a tobacco merchant, this Italianate mansion later operated as a boarding house before being turned into a hotel in the 1950s.
In 2019, the hotel was acquired by a new owner and underwent a complete renovation, including an expansion of the gardens and the addition of a rooftop bar.
The bar and restaurant are now managed by Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette, a restaurant in the Garden District I've wanted to try.
Inside the first-floor bar, pictures of Brooke Shields hang on the wall to recognize her role in Pretty Baby, a controversial 1978 movie that filmed scenes at the hotel.
One's eye is also drawn to an ornate metal and wood fireplace, which I believe is original to the hotel.
- Monday to Thursday, 2 p.m. - 9 p.m.
- Friday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
- Sunday, 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.
3811 St Charles Avenue, Mid-City, thecolumns.com
In 2009, Cure opened in a former firehouse on Freret Street, a 20-minute drive west of the French Quarter bars.
Their innovative craft cocktails and skillful bartenders won them a prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program in 2018.
Cure's drink menu is split into seasonal cocktails, "cocktails we love," and higher-priced reserve ones.
The seasonal section includes tasting notes and the bartender who created the recipe.
On my latest visit to the Crescent City, I made my way to Cure but couldn't decide what to order.
The friendly bartender asked me what I liked and then proceeded to mix up precisely that in a drink with no name.
- Sunday to Thursday, 4 p.m. - 11 p.m.
- Friday to Saturday, 4 p.m. - 1 a.m.
4905 Freret St, curenola.com
Thirteen is my lucky number, and it feels like as good a number as any for my first crack at a list of the best cocktail bars in New Orleans.
There are many more I plan to visit on future trips. This story will be updated as I find new places to recommend.