City in a Glass: New Orleans

Travel Features New Orleans
Share Tweet Submit Pin

Thirsty? You’re in luck. In Paste’s drinking-and-traveling series, City in a Glass, we mix up a city’s signature swills and slide them down the bar to readers. Grab a stool. This round is on us.


The cocktail

was born in New Orleans (Or so the myth goes.) Hundreds of years ago, apothecary owners here sold cure-all swills that included alcohol, bitters, water and sugar. The mixtures certainly cured sobriety, making the city a must-visit destination for luminaries such as Ernest Hemingway and non-luminaries such as bachelor-party attendees. The modern craft movement has boomed since Hurricane Katrina as demographics have shifted, but old-school classics and lowbrow frozen drinks are still New Orleans favorites for laisser le bon temps rouler. Want to try a sip of the city past and present? Here are three essential cocktails—from the newer and more casual to the older and more sophisticated creations—and where to find them.

1. Barbara’s Downfall

Where to order: Bourrée

Photo Courtesy of Bourrée

Start your New Orleans bar crawl with a classic frozen daiquiri served in a giant Styrofoam cup. You can spot this ubiquitous drink all over the city, keeping Bourbon Street cool as the Gulf Coast temperatures rise. But we’re not going to recommend that you slurp down just any generic juice-booze-ice combo. Bourrée, a new offshoot of the restaurant Boucherie, serves modern craft frozen daiquiris, made with fresh fruit and niche ingredients like blackcurrant liqueur and chamomile.

Bourrée’s daiquiri menu is seasonal and short; it only offers three flavors at a time. Barbara’s Downfall, one of Bourrée’s cult-favorite daiqs, is made with Old New Orleans Crystal Rum, pineapple juice, lime juice and caramel-thyme simple syrup. Co-owner James Denio says it was inspired by one of their long-time customers. “Major General Tom Sands created a daiquiri 50 years ago that he has been making in the same blender ever since,” Denio says. “His wife Barbara has always referred to it as ‘her downfall.’ On Tom’s 80th birthday, Barbara threw him a surprise party at Bourrée and had us recreate his version. That’s how Barbara’s Downfall was born.”

Denio didn’t just copy Tom’s recipe though. He changed it up a bit to incorporate local ingredients such as the white rum, which is distilled in an old cotton warehouse in the Ninth Ward. “In Tom’s version of the drink, he used canned pineapple and lemon juice concentrate,” Denio says. “We opted for fresh pineapple juice and fresh lime juice. We also added a caramel syrup with fresh thyme to add a nutty, herbal complexity to the tropical drink.”


2. Velvet Telescope

Where to order: Cane & Table

Next trek to Cane & Table, a gem of a bar on the northeast edge of the French Quarter. This Caribbean-inspired hideaway serves proto-tiki drinks like swizzles and punches spiked with aged rum and fresh pineapple juice. One of the bar’s most impressive cocktails is the Velvet Telescope (pictured at top), a harmonious mixture of rum, coffee, grapefruit and pineapple. Co-owner Nick Detrich says the drink is a cosmopolitan representation of the port city’s history. “New Orleans has always been a place where many of the ingredients in this cocktail would pass through: rum, coffee, citrus, pineapple and sugar,” he says. The Velvet Telescope also incorporates two types of bitters—Bittermens and Peychaud’s—which are both made in New Orleans.

Detrich came up with the drink as a challenge: How could he work multiple acidic components (coffee, grapefruit and pineapple) together in a way that was complimentary? He turned to molecular gastronomy. “The acid on the grapefruit juice was increased with the addition of malic and citric acid,” he says. “The acid in the pineapple was reduced through making it a syrup; cooking it triggers the enzyme Bromelain to begin to break down, which also affects the pH of the pineapple. And the aromatics of the coffee were suspended in the rum using a flash infusion. That allows for its use as a part of the base spirit in a build that closely resembles a basic sour recipe.”

His extreme manipulation worked: The Velvet Telescope is one of those perfectly balanced drinks that you’d have difficulty pinpointing what exactly was in it if you didn’t have the ingredients list in front of you. “The drink is designed to be light and on the refreshing side, but host a great depth of flavor,” Detrich says. “The rich caramel aspects of the rum help to accentuate the bright floral notes of the coffee, and the cooked/candied pineapple notes are balanced with the increased acidity of the grapefruit juice.”  

Velvet Telescope

1 ½ oz. Sightglass Coffee Finca Alcatraz -infused El Dorado 12 Year Rum (infusion instructions below)
¾ oz. acid-corrected grapefruit juice (instructions below)
½ oz. pineapple syrup
7 drops Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
7 drops Peychaud’s Bitters

Make coffee-infused rum: Combine 60 grams of whole coffee beans with 500 mL of rum in an iSi Cream Whipper. Seal the iSi and pressurize it with an N2O capsule for 75 seconds. Replace with a second N2O capsule and pressurize for another 75 seconds. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for depressurizing the iSi. Strain out coffee beans.

Make acid-corrected grapefruit juice: Add five percent of a malic/citric acid solution to fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.

Make Velvet Telescope: Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Shake 20 times. Fine strain over cubed ice into a chilled, double Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a generous bouquet of mint.


3. Sazerac

Where to order: Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans

Photo Alyson Sheppard

End your evening drinking one of the only trademarked cocktails in the world: the Sazerac. The Sazerac was created in New Orleans in the mid-1850s, and the recipe only changed slightly over the next 100 years. Bartenders at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans keep to the legally protected recipe, which includes Sazerac whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters and Herbsaint, a wormwood liqueur. Other bars may alter the recipe, swapping in different brands of whiskey or even cognac and replacing the Herbsaint with absinthe, but technically those drinks are no longer considered Sazeracs. Sipping the original at the swanky Sazerac Bar is one of the only drinking experiences that you can say you shared with your grandparents.


1 ½ oz. Sazerac Rye Whiskey
1 sugar cube
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
¼ oz. Herbsaint liqueur
1 lemon peel

Combine whiskey, sugar, bitters and ice in a rocks glass. Stir, muddling the sugar cube. Coat the inside of a second, chilled rocks glass with Herbsaint. Dump excess. Strain whiskey mixture into the glass rinsed with Herbsaint. Squeeze lemon peel over glass and set on rim as garnish.

City in a Glass columnist Alyson Sheppard writes about travel and hangovers for She currently resides in the great state of Texas.