Drinking isn't just sport in the city of New Orleans, it's a means of survival. In summer, it's about wading through the muggy noontides. In winter, it's a countdown to Mardi Gras. And while the masses may descend on this Crescent City for a few notable occasions each year, it's the locals who make New Orleans truly a city like no other.
A cocktail crawl through the French Quarter, to the ambitious but uninitiated, is a game of chance. Beating the odds and finding great drinks requires talking up the bar staff, asking lots of questions, and being open to some of the chattiest, most genuinely friendly people on earth. You'll hear the ghost stories and you'll hear stories of local legends appearing in barrooms like so many apparitions in a fever dream.
The best way to start is early. Something fresh just after lunch that will carry you around the Quarter into Jackson Square. People-watch a while, maybe catch a glimpse of the Calypso Tumblers, and then ramble up Chartres stopping street side and listening to a fair damsel singing in French, or a few blocks later, a young busker slapping his upright bass, cigarette dangling from his lip.
Then slip into one of the many hidden gems of this historic part of the city. Try Bar Tonique for an outstanding Vieux Carré, or duck into the Hollywood Regency-styled French 75, where the drinks—and the clientele —are startlingly beautiful. Strike up a conversation with whomever's sitting next to you. Where it will lead you can never predict, but it will always be a story in the end.
Along the way, make sure to find yourself bellied up to at least one of these five local favorites—or better yet, all five. Here's where to go and what to drink at each spot »
About the Author: W.S. Lyon wanders high and low places with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. He writes, works and lives in Nashville, TN.