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.