The New Orleans Original Cocktail Tour: One Drunk’s Review

My second tour of New Orleans was actually my first–in chronological order, anyway.  On my first day in town, I landed at Louis Armstrong International Airport at 11:30 in the morning central time–12:30 in the afternoon according to my body and brain.  I’d been out until two in the morning the previous night (yes, at a bar), and got a whopping three hours of sleep, from around 2:30 a.m. until around 5:30 a.m.  So of course I planned a bar tour for that same day.  Why wouldn’t I?

After wandering the quarter for the better part of the afternoon, I made my way towards the river to meet with the tour group.  I was concerned that I’d be the only one on the tour on a Wednesday afternoon, but that was not the case.  I’d say there were maybe a dozen of us signed up for the day.  I was surprised to see–much like the photo tour I’d take the next day–many people on the tour were locals.  I took that as a good sign.

Courtyard at The Napoleon House

The first thing you learn on this tour–after being handed your official tour beads–is that the New Orleans Original Cocktail Tour is not a pub crawl.  I was a bit disappointed to hear this at first, but felt much better when I realized what it actually was–a history-filled walking tour of the French Quarter featuring the very best part of New Orleans: its restaurants and bars.

Our guide took us to four locations around the city, the first and last being bars and the second and third being restaurants with bars.  The cost of drinks was not included, and after learning a good deal about the history of each establishment and taking a brief tour of each facility, we were given the option of ordering a drink at the bar.  Right.  Because I’d ever not order a drink.

The first stop was The Napoleon House, which was a bar I’d planned to visit on my own anyway.  We learned the history of the place–how it got its name (Napoleon was invited but never actually showed up, which I found very amusing) and then the bar tender took our orders.  It was suggested that we try a Pims Cup, which was a lovely drink involving caramelized gin, lemonade, and cucumber.  It is quite possibly my new favorite drink, and I ordered it again later on in my trip despite the fact that it is supposed to be a summer drink, not a January drink.

Rex room at Antoine's

As we wandered towards our second destination, our lovely tour guide gave us the history and stories behind several buildings and establishments along our way.  He was a very personable man, though I forget his name (I was holding a drink at this point, and thus not taking notes–sorry!)  I know we learned about some sort of gun shop and a little bit about the courthouse–but to be honest, a lot of the history gets muddled after a while.  That’s probably the only downside to this tour!

The second stop was Antoine’s, a New Orleans landmark.  We arrived before service began for the evening, and thus were given a chance to tour all of the dining rooms, including the ‘special’ ones in the back.  The tour guide made it seem like this was something not a lot of people got to do, but I did notice little plaques stating that ‘during non restaurant hours the rooms were open to be toured’.  Either way, this was not something I would have done on my own, so I was very glad that I chose to take this tour.  We were showed the crazy huge wine cellar in the far back, as well as the ‘super secret snail room’ where women are not allowed, and the Rex dining room which is reserved for New Orleans’ elite.  I didn’t even know there was such a thing as New Orleans’ elite, so that was educational in and of itself.  We then retired to Hermes, the bar on site, and were directed to order a Sazerac, which was a very strong drink involving rye and bitters served in a glass first coated with absinthe.  I did not order one myself, but instead had a taste of someone else’s drink (you get rather friendly rather quickly on a tour like this!)  It was…strong.

The entrance to Two Sisters

Stop number three was The Court of Two sisters, which was a beautiful building from entrance to courtyard.  I think the tour guide told us all about this restaurant, but I wasn’t paying attention because I was snapping photos (this happens a lot).  We spent the most amount of time at the bar here, as the group apparently was tired by this point, so we all actually sat down and enjoyed our drinks.  I don’t recall the name of the drink I ordered, but it was served by what has to be the nicest bartender in all of New Orleans (pictured in the photo at the top of this post) and the drink itself was amazing.  It was a layered drink consisting of Cabernet, a fresh squeezed fruit juice blend (that is top secret) and Southern Comfort.  Do you know what makes red wine better?  Whiskey.  While it was virtually a fancy version of Sangria, it was also really good.  And really strong.  I may have had two.

At this point my photos begin to become blurry and crooked.

We stumbled our way over to our last stop–The Pirate Bar, a place to which I’d return later in the week. Our reason for this visit–absinthe.  And since I was less than a block from my hotel at this point, I thought ‘why not’–and ordered a second.  And then finished several other people’s.  And had a lovely time chatting with a couple on a road trip from…somewhere.  I don’t remember.  Imagine that.  And then someone produced a King Cake from out of thin air.  I guess it was someone’s birthday, so pieces of cake–my first king cake–were passed around.  Do you know what’s really good after several strong drinks?  Yeah–cake.  Filled with pudding.

Absinthe at The Pirate Bar

It was a great way to end the tour.

Like everything else I did in New Orleans, I truly enjoyed this experience.  And, for those of you wondering the things I wondered–no, it is not a lot of walking.  Which was good given how exhausted I was at the time.  And yes, you will have time to visit the restrooms in each place you stop.  Which was good, given the fact that, well, you’ll be drinking a lot.  And yes, you should do this tour.  Ideally on your first day in town.  Even if you are really tired.  Because after this tour, you’ll sleep like a baby.  I promise.

My plan was to return to the bars that I liked from this tour, but there’s a bit of a flaw with this plan.  You see, there are so many bars and restaurants to visit in Nola, it’s almost impossible to become a repeat visitor–unless you move there.  Which many people do, I imagine for that very reason.  During the course of my four days in town, I also checked out May Bailey’s (a very nice hotel bar that’s perfectly dim and just fancy enough to be comfortable but not stuffy), some place on Bourbon Street that I don’t remember (gee I wonder why), Pat O’Brien’s (because there was music and the line for Preservation Hall was insane), Molly’s at the Market (post on this place to come–loved it and its creepy bathroom and ominous pickle bucket), Lafitte’s (an old blacksmith shop entirely lit by candlelight and featuring a piano player–totally awesome), the Carousel Bar (fun, but difficult to find your drinking companion after returning from the restroom, as the entire bar spins) and the bar at Chartres House Cafe (which I’d not return to, but it was a great place to watch Krewe de Vieux, which I will be posting about soon).

See?  Almost impossible to return to the same bar twice.  And clearly, I’m qualified to review a cocktail tour.



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