How often can you walk into a bar with the complete confidence that you’ll receive a world-class drink in stunning surroundings? At the Sazerac Bar in New Orleans, it happens every visit.
Located off the lobby of the vintage Roosevelt Hotel on Bayonne Street, the Sazerac’s décor is as appealing as its cocktails. All of the wood paneling lining the walls came from a single African Walnut tree. Decorating those walls is a haunting series of murals painted by Paul Ninas in the 1930s for the WPA program, depicting waterfront scenes and local street life. The long bar contains several dozen stools, and there are comfortable groupings of leather sofas and armchairs in which groups can relax.
The white-jacketed bartenders are cheerful, precise and professional, capable of chatting indefinitely or leaving you alone if you so desire. The staff at the Sazerac has a long history of keeping customers happy. The bar was a favorite hangout of Governor Huey Long, who maintained a suite on the hotel’s 12th floor. During a visit to Manhattan, Long suddenly found himself without access to someone who could make a proper Ramos Gin Fizz. The Governor arranged for Sam Guarino, the head bartender at the time, to fly to New York and instruct his Northern colleagues on the proper technique.
In addition to classics such as the Ramos Gin Fizz [recipe], the specialty, of course, is the Sazerac Cocktail—named the official drink of New Orleans in 2008. An Old Fashioned glass is first misted with Herbsaint (some use absinthe, but the flavor is really too strong). At the bottom of the glass, a sugar cube or teaspoon of simple syrup is muddled with three dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, mixed with several ounces of Sazerac Rye, and garnished with a lemon twist.
In fact, you can get just about anything you want at the Sazerac, including a decent glass of California Chardonnay. That, however, might be a wasted opportunity. Imbibe your Sazerac Rye while you can, since it’s almost impossible to find in Florida—the folks in New Orleans hoard most of it for themselves.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); his second book, Moonshine Nation, is forthcoming from Lyons Press in June 2014. For more information, go to amazon.com