The French Quarter of New Orleans conjures up visions of raucous partying, 24-hour fun and all-out craziness. While this can be a great way for the 20-something crowd to blow off some steam, those looking for a more sophisticated and tasteful drinking experience will have to veer a few blocks away from Bourbon Street.
Unlike Washington D.C., New Orleans wears its quirkiness like a badge of honor. A classy bar does not necessarily mean stuffy or uptight. One of my favorite Crescent City spots to grab a drink is the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone.
Tucked away on the corner of Royal and Iberville on the edge of the quarter, the Hotel Monteleone is steeped in history. It has been a preferred haunt of many distinguished southern writers including Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. Truman Capote used to brag that he was born at Hotel Monteleone, but the truth of the matter was that Capote’s mother had stayed at the hotel during her pregnancy and was transported to the hospital by hotel staff for the birth.
The Carousel Bar itself is an attraction. The circular 25-seat bar is actually a rotating carousel, which makes a complete revolution approximately every 15 minutes. While I will admit that I’ve felt the room spin after one too many cocktails, I assure you that one drink, alcoholic or not, will do the same for you here.
The carnival-like motif reminds visitors that despite the Monte Leone’s lofty setting and noteworthy past, they’re still in New Orleans, a destination that is able to combine history and fun with a shot of jazz and spice shaken up and served in a martini glass.
Literary beasts aside, this bar has it earned a spot in the cocktail hall of fame. According to the Hotel Monteleone 1938, during the height of the Great Depression, head bartender Walter Bergeron introduced the Vieux Carré Cocktail at the Swan Bar, which was the original bar on site before the Carousel bar was built. The name Vieux Carre translates to “Old Square” the official name of the neighborhood known as the French quarter.
The Vieux Carre is a mixture of rye whiskey, brandy, vermouth and Benedictine and bitters. Its formula closely resembles two other legendary New Orleans tipples, the Sazerac, (which was declared the official cocktail of New Orleans by the state senate in 2008) and the La Louisiana. All three feature homegrown Peychaud bitters as a staple ingredient.
According to the Hotel Monteleone, “It was created as a tribute to the different ethnic groups of the city: The Benedictine and cognac to the French influence, the Sazerac rye as a tribute to the American influence, the sweet vermouth to the Italian, and the bitters as a tribute to the Caribbean. Prohibition had been lifted only a few years earlier as a way of stimulating commerce.”
The rye whiskey combines splendidly with the sweeter ingredients, like the cognac, Benedictine and vermouth, while the addition of two types of bitters, give it a nice spice.
For me, a visit to the Big Easy is not complete without stop here. The bar serves as great meeting spot for locals as well as tourists. During my most recent visit in April, I was flanked on by a group of young professionals enjoying an after-office drink once one side and a professional native drinker on the other. For people watching, the bar has a magnificent big-window view of Royal Street. Because the bar rotates, you’re guaranteed a window seat every quarter hour. The Vieux Carre
Recipe courtesy of the
¼ oz. Benedictine
¼ oz. Cognac
½ oz. Sazerac Rye
¼ oz. Sweet Vermouth
3 Drops Angostura Bitters
3 Drops Peychaud Bitters
Place ingredients over ice in an eight-ounce rocks glass and garnish with a lemon twist.