The Sazerac Bar

Sazerac Bar

The Sazerac Bar

The Sazerac Bar

By Lars Theriot

 

Of all the historic bars in New Orleans, the Sazerac Bar’s most interesting history is its most recent… and so also it is the most verifiably silly.

The best Sazerac stories, much like his notoriously large entourage, all seem to trail the bar’s most famous patron, former Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long. The “Kingfish” was one part Circus Ringleader, one part Frat Boy, and one part Don Corleone… he was loved by the city as much as he was despised by it.

And he spent so much time in the Sazerac Bar that it eventually began to be referred to as, simply, “Huey’s office.”  There is even a hole in a wall where one of his bodyguards accidentally fired a bullet into it… presumably after drinking more than a few Sazeracs.

My kind of place!

Huey’s drink was the Gin Fizz, and no doubt Dave will be getting to those directly… but if you’re going to the Sazerac Bar, you’re probably going for a Sazerac.  I doubt Huey would mind… he was a populist after all.

The Sazerac Bar has actually changed locations a few times.  It started out in a roughhouse back alley behind Royal Street in 1853 and stayed in more-or-less the same location for about 100 years before some enterprising businessman recognized the value of an emerging brand, purchased Peychaud’s original recipe, and moved the Bar to the Roosevelt Hotel.  Two more hotel name changes and one location change within the hotel would place the Sazerac bar in its current spot… right off the grand main lobby of what is once again, and finally, called the Roosevelt Hotel.

Tourists are just now starting to re-discover the glories of Post-Katrina New Orleans beyond the French Quarter, so the Sazerac’s location, which is technically across Canal Street and therefore outside the Quarter, means there’s a good chance you won’t face the crowds you might struggle with in the French Quarter bars.  Canal Street is admittedly lacking in the Old World charm and spooky ambiance of the Vieux Carre, but inside the Sazerac it’s like stepping into a time machine.

The Golden walnut bar, giant mirrors, and glowing chandeliers remind me of the bar in The Shining where Jack Torrance is served drinks by Lloyd, the Overlook Hotel’s creepy know-it-all bartender.  The murals on the wall were done by a New Orleans artist named Paul Ninas and have hung in the bar since the 1930s.  And if you squint, you can almost imagine the patrons in zoot suits, flapper dresses, and fedoras.

It’s really a beautiful spot.  And after a couple Sazeracs, also known as the “Royal Libation of Rex, the King of Mardi Gras”, you might start to imagine that you ARE in a movie… don’t be alarmed if you see the ghost of Huey P. sitting in the corner.  And if he tips his hat, it’s probably best just to tip yours back, order another drink, and just enjoy yourself.

ESOTERICA: On the Roosevelt Hotel’s website you’ll find a fantastic story about an incident where Huey Long had a Sazerac Bartender flown to the New Yorker Hotel to show the Hotel’s bartenders how to pour a real Gin Fizz.  No doubt it was done on the State’s dime as well, which makes it the perfect combination of bravado and graft, a tale truly befitting Kingfish, the master Politician.

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8 responses to “The Sazerac Bar

  1. Terrific writing Lars–makes you want to be there in NOLA. Suppose you’ll have numerour future venues to explore–Hurricanes at Pat’s perhaps though not sure the 12 bottle bar has passion fruit juice. Keep up the excellent reporting !

  2. Russ Bergeron

    Hey Lars. Great writing.

    As a member of the Legacy Committee and a bartender at the Sazerac Bar, let me give you a few more facts.

    Following prohibitions end in 1933, the Sazerac Bar actually reopened at 300 Carondelet Street. The bar remained there until 1949 when Seymour Weiss, the owner of the Roosevelt, moved the bar to where the gift shop now stands.

    The current Sazerac Bar was built and opened in 1938. Back then it was just The Roosevelt Bar or The Main Bar. Seymour Weiss shut the Sazerac Bar on Baronne Street down in 1958 and renamed the “Main Bar” the “Sazerac Bar”.

    I hate to spoil a good story, but the bullet hole/Huey Long story is an urban legend. It is indeed a bullet hole and it was indeed because of a careless intoxicated gentleman packing heat, but the incident didn’t occur until 30 years later. The bar itself wasn’t completed until three years following Huey’s death.

    The bartender who huey had flown to New York was named Sam Guarino. This occured in 1935 shortly before Long was shot.

    Please stop by soon and we’ll get you the grand tour.

    Cheers.

    • Russ – Great to have you find us. Welcome!

      I’m sure Lars will jump on here shortly to pick your brain some more, but rest assured that we’ll be sending everyone we can influence your way.

      Also, if you’d ever like to enlighten us on a cocktail or two, please feel free. I can be reached via email at drinks@12bottlebar.com.

      Best, David

  3. Hey Russ, thanks for the clarifications! Like I mentioned in another post, my folks are Cajuns and prone to exaggeration. 🙂

    My wife and I are New Orleans ex-pats. We have a condo in the quarter on St. Peter but we live in Los Angeles. We get to town about 6 times a year (we were in The Dome when Garrett Hartleyt kicked his 42-yarder to beat the Vikings). We might be coming down again in the summer… will definitely look you up. would LOVE the grand tour.

    Lars

  4. By the way Russ, while it’s kind of a bummer that it wasn’t a Huey associate who fired the shot, it’s still about ten kinds of awesome that a drunk patron once put a bullet in the wall.

  5. Great writing Lars and fabulous history! I look forward to going back to the Sazerac Bar again this summer.

  6. Pingback: Sazerac Bar Makes Playboy's Best Bars List | 12 Bottle Bar

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