Holidaze on the Rocks

December 15, 2022
Oh, it’s beginning to look a lot like cocktails! I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, but if the white runs out, I’ll drink the red, because it’s the most wonderful time of the year! May all your joys be true joys, and all your pain champagne! Admittedly, 2022 has been a bit rough, but New Orleans is always a place for celebration as we are always among the first to toast with a drink crafted for the season. Let’s eat, drink, and be merry! The “holidaze” and cocktails go together like gumbo and ile. At this most festive time of year, cheers and toasts abound! Pop that cork at one of our classic bars for holiday memories to cherish. There’s always a reason to gather with friends and family to toast each other and celebrate life. It’s a joyous time to connect, celebrate the season, and indulge in a uniquely New Orleans experience.

Christmas is a good time to gift shop on Royal Street and take a ride in the famous Carousel Bar & Lounge at 214 Royal St. in Hotel Monteleone. This elegant hotel dressed in holiday finery was founded by Antonio Monteleone in 1886; it’s a long-time favorite New Orleans hotspot. Opened in 1949, this bar has been spinning for over seventy years and is the only revolving bar in town. For decades, it has lured guests to take a spin on the 25-seat, bright, circus-clad Merry-Go-Round. It is a staple on the New Orleans cocktail trail and full of literary history; wordsmiths like Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote were regulars who wove stories based in the bar into their works. Vogue Living named the bar one of the Top 20 Bars in the World, due in equal parts to their whimsical revolving carousel and their comprehensive list of cocktails. For the holidays, try their seasonal “Holiday Sidecar” with shaken Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, fresh lemon juice, and agave nectar, topped with sparkling wine and served in a sugar-rimmed glass garnished with a twist of fresh orange. Or sample a “Royale 214,” which shakes together raspberry syrup, agave nectar, fresh orange juice, then topped with sparkling wine and garnished with a fresh orange twist. Surely, one or two of these will get you in a festive mood! Watch the Royal Street shoppers hustle by as you enjoy sipping on the carousel and inspecting your gift list. It’s open daily, 11 a.m. until midnight, with live entertainment every Friday and Saturday.

Nested within the elegant Windsor Court at 300 Gravier St., the “Polo Club Lounge” is reminiscent of a private English club with dark woods and overstuffed leather furnishings. It’s a haven for locals and visiting celebrities. The ideal atmosphere for a pre-dinner cocktail to a nightcap, offerings include classic cocktails, live jazz, and one of the largest Cognac collections in the city, all complemented by elevated pub fare. On Friday and Saturday nights, Robin Barnes, a charismatic local songstress captivates audiences with her soulful voice and melodic grace. Inspired by Etta James, Bruno Mars and Adele, she has been officially proclaimed “The Songbird of New Orleans.”

Try a seasonal Réveillon on the Rocks cocktail such as “The Royal Chocolate Eggnog,” which skillfully mixes dark rum, bourbon, brandy, amaretto, chocolate liqueur, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, Valrhona Cocoa Powder, heavy cream, whole milk, and a dash of nutmeg, clove, and allspice. This is a treat Santa loves and it doubles as a delicious dessert with a kick! If you would prefer a tarter cocktail, try the “Claus-mopolitan!” Bolden Vodka, Spiced Cranberry Lime Cordial, topped with dashes of El Guapo Holiday Pie Bitters will awaken your senses.

Toast as you dance into the New Year at the grand dame of Canal Street, The Ritz Carlton in the elegant Davenport Lounge, named for the GRAMMY® Award-winning jazz trumpeter who headlines Wednesday through Saturday. The Davenport Lounge combines classic cocktails and Ritz-Carlton hospitality in an upscale, sultry setting with live music and a full dance floor. Sip on refined cocktails as you sway all night to live jazz and standards in an upscale and lively setting.

The expertly mixed New Orleans-themed drinks should make you feel jolly. Try a “Gingerbread Old Fashioned,” which is Elijah Craig Bourbon, cinnamon-clove syrup, Ginger Bitters, and Angostura Bitters stirred with an ice ball and topped with a ginger snap garnish. Or for a different taste of Christmas, order “Vieux Carre on Holiday” with Knob Creek Rye Whiskey, Remy Martin VS Cognac, 10 Year Tawny Port, Cherry Bitters, Angostura Bitters, stirred with an ice ball then garnished with an Amarena cherry. Sit back and savor Jeremy Davenport wailing on the trumpet and singing ditties such as “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Blue Skies,” “It Had to Be You” and “The Girl from Ipanema.”

With inspiring river views and floor-to-ceiling windows, Observatory Eleven located inside The Westin is the premier circular bar with a breathtaking view of the Mississippi River and the French Quarter. This would be a superb choice for comfortably admiring New Year’s Eve fireworks. The curated cocktail menu includes original craft cocktails and the classics. Their Lead Bartender, Oliver Sovol, loves a good ode to a classic drink. He recommends “The Classic Sidecar,” which incorporates Remy Martin Tercet, Triple Sec, fresh lemon juice, a sugared rim and a lemon wheel for garnish. The iconic “Bourbon Old Fashioned” combines Widow Jane 10-year-old Bourbon, cane syrup, Angostura Bitters, all garnished with a dehydrated orange. For shareables, The Westin will be serving many New Orleans classics on New Year’s Eve; two featured bites will be Crawfish Deviled Eggs and crispy Boudin Balls filled with savory rice and beef.

Not far off the Canal Street parade route, Antoine’s Hermes Bar is an excellent choice to cool your heels during Carnival. In 1840, 18-year-old Antoine Alciatore arrived to establish a restaurant that would endure under his family’s direction for more than 180 years and set the standard that has made New Orleans one of the great dining centers of the world. Antoine opened a pension, a boarding house and restaurant. Together with his fiancée, they worked to build up their pension with culinary emphasis. New Orleans’ gentility was so taken with the restaurant that it soon outgrew its small quarters and in 1868 Antoine’s moved down to 713 St. Louis St., where it stands today as the country’s oldest family-run restaurant.

“Hermes Bar” offers a casual way to experience Antoine’s Restaurant. It opened in 2009, but the space dates back to the late 19th century. The checkered tiled floor, glass cabinets encasing Mardi Gras memorabilia and an old-school team of wait staff and bartenders make Hermes Bar just about as classic New Orleans as it gets. The entire menu from Antoine’s is available at the bar, and locals pack the bar for the lunch specials and for the excellent happy hour steals from 4 to 7 p.m. Iconic Oysters Rockefeller, created by the restaurant in 1889, come baked on the half-shell. Hungrier guests can order the Oyster Foch po-boy stuffed with fried oysters, lettuce, Colbert sauce and pate de foie gras, a special created just for bar patrons. Or indulge in a Hermes Bar Burger that is mouthwatering! Wagyu beef, caramelized onions, smoked gouda, arugula, and creole aioli is served on a brioche bun.

How about a “Cognac Sazerac”? It is the original way Sazeracs were made. Or the seasonal “Purple Sparkler,” a concoction that mingles Empress Gin which is purple in color, simple syrup, lemon juice, dry sparkling wine, garnished with a lemon peel and served in a champagne flute. Throw me something, mister! My favorite is the “Mardi Gras Martini” that blends Tito’s Vodka, Grand Marnier, pomegranate juice, and lime juice, served in a Martini glass topped with a slice of lime.

Also near the parade route rests the formerly lauded craft cocktail destination “Victory Bar” at 339 Baronne St., now called Baroness on Baronne. Their dedication in preserving the artistry and sophistication of classic cocktail creation, as well as the ambiance and high standard of service set forth by many generations of bartenders sets them apart as a great eclectic lounge in the heart of downtown New Orleans. Don’t miss Happy Hour from 4:30 to 7 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, with gourmet small plates and drink specials indoors and on the patio.

With local WDSU news anchor Camille Whitworth at the helm, there’s new romantic decor, moody lighting, and fresh, creative house cocktails such as “Harry Nilsson,” made with lime, Ciroc Coconut vodka, simple syrup and a lime garnish with a toasted coconut rim. This cocktail is better than catching a coconut! Of course, there’s nothing like an impeccably crafted classic like the “Pimm’s Cup,” made with seasonal fruit, Pimms’s No. 1, and fresh lemon juice topped with ginger ale. Delicious bites include Cajun Pizza with andouille sausage, chicken, onions, and peppers atop a house-made pizza sauce and Korean BBQ Bowl. Simply scrumptious!

Raise a glass to the holidays! Cheers and wonderful wishes for the New Year … May all your troubles during 2023 be as short as your New Year’s resolutions!