“Hmm … too bad we can’t really go try a Sazerac at every single bar in town.”
Thus began The Great Sazerac Crawl of 2001, in which Wesly and I, during one of our annual trips back home to New Orleans, decided that we needed to do some comparing and contrasting. We had just finished a gorgeous Sazerac at Bayona, and although it was untraditionally served in a cocktail glass rather than a rocks glass it was really top-notch.
Sadly, my notes from that next few days are long gone, but we had a LOT of Sazeracs — I’d say we probably hit at least 15 different bars and restaurants. Most were just fine, some were spectacular, a few were truly rotten, but of all the spaces where we quaffed them, our favorite space was this one:
Alas, the photograph is dim and blurry, a side-effect of eschewing flash in an attempt to preserve some atmosphere. In case you’re wondering, yes indeed, it’s the Sazerac Bar at the former Fairmont and former-and-soon-to-be-once-again Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel. I have to confess that we did want to smack a few of their bartenders at the time — simple syrup premix with bitters added to it does not make for a potable drink — but there was no better space for us to have one of what is undoubtedly my favorite cocktail. (I have no idea why some of their bartenders took that shortcut back then — adding the bitters in properly measured amounts separately from the simple syrup takes all of five seconds extra — but I have no doubt that the reincarnated bar’s standards will be nothing but top-notch, with beautiful Sazeracs made from scratch.)
The bar itself, the gorgeous murals, the banquettes (sadly removed a while back, but due to be restored) and all that history … this promises to rise to becoming one of the finest bars in the country. One really great way to achieve that, in addition to hiring creative, cocktailian bartenders who’d bring their own original concoctions to the bar, would be to look back into their own history.
Sazerac Bar Menu
Here’s an old Sazerac Bar menu from my collection, which I’m guessing dates to the early 1940s – please correct me if anyone remembers the exact years when you could get a Sazerac for 60 cents!
Click on the photos for enlarged versions, and let’s start reading that menu:
The Sazerac, of course tops the list, with the Grasshopper listed second, interestingly — supposedly invented on the other side of Canal at Tujague’s. Martinis, natch (with a proper amount of vermouth, please; i.e., some rather than none!). The New Orleans staple anisette, Ojen (which is in dwindling supply — it’s actually not made anymore, and New Orleans has all that’s left. Find it at Martin Wine Cellar and Vieux Carré Wine and Spirits, and on the menu at Lüke and Commander’s). Look at those classics … Aviation, Jack Rose … yum. Let’s not forget the classics; everything old is new again.
More classics, and more locals: The Ramos Gin Fizz, of course, which here should be better than those served at any other bar on the planet. The Bayou Swizzle — anyone still have the recipe for that? Rickeys and Sours and Punch, oh my! Perhaps we’ll see punch bowls appearing in this bar again, as the preferred tipple of the 18th and 19th Centuries makes its way back to 21st Century bars.
The Sazerac Company no longer makes the pre-bottled Sazerac Cocktail, but I suspect we’ll see the signature glasses for sale, perhaps a 21st Century version?
There’s the Bayou Swizzle again, rather prominently featured. I’d really love to know what was in this (besides the warmth of a Southern sun and the subtle tang of a bayou breeze, of course).
I imagine the Ramos Gin Fizzes will be more expensive (but worth every penny), and I’ll bet the sandwich menu, if they offer one, will be a bit more exciting. Actually, the reopening of this bar and hotel is tremendously exciting. See you in June for a Sazerac!
Chuck Taggart is the author of the long-running web site The Gumbo Pages and its subsidiary blog Looka!, featuring New Orleans cuisine and culture, with a big serving of cocktails. Though not a professional bartender he’s a dedicated and enthusiastic mixologist whose recipes have been published in the Times-Picayune, Imbibe magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle and Robert Hess’ recent book The Essential Bartender’s Guide and served in bars from Seattle to Boston to the French Quarter.