The Carousel Bar
By Lars Theriot
It’s not often you can find a way to travel a couple hundred feet over the course of a cocktail or two without moving a muscle… unless of course you’re doing your drinking in the Carousel Bar at the gorgeous Hotel Monteleone.
The Monteleone, with its unbelievably grand lobby and ballrooms, and its stunning view overlooking the French Quarter and river beyond, was opened by an Italian immigrant in 1884 at the corner of Royal and Iberville. But it took almost 70 years for the lightning strike of genius that would lead to the installation of an actual working carousel in the lounge set right at the front of the building.
Every time I sit down at the bar, which is every single time I come to town, I plan to do two things…. time the revolution of the carousel and figure out how the heck the bartenders get behind the dang thing in the first place. Ah, well… as with every other mysterious happening in the French Quarter, perhaps it’s easiest to just chalk it up to voodoo and be done with it. But, then the drinks start to flow faster than the conversation, and I forget all about my well-laid plans and just enjoy the moments as they pass… in a long, slow circle. In my defense, there are a lot of distractions. The Carousel itself, with its circus theme, is beautiful. The piano player who anchors the lounge nightly, is outstanding. And the starlit sky overhead, powered by fiber optics since 1992, is mesmerizing. Oh look! There goes a shooting star!
Much like just about every other well-known bar in the French Quarter, the Carousel bar too, has invented a famous drink… but as it contains Benedictine, the Vieux Carre cocktail (French for “French Quarter”), which is a bit outside the purview of this site. And, just like every other bar in the Quarter, it has the ability to transport you to another place and time. Although, in the case of the Carousel, this is true both literally as well as figuratively.
As far as introducing new fans to the bar, I’m proud to say I’m sporting an almost perfect record, with the lone holdout being an Uncle who swears he can perceive the motion of the bar and that it makes him nauseous. Oh he still loves the lounge, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that he prefers to sit at one of the stationary tables set in a tight circle around the moving bar.
Here’s a tip, though: if it starts to feel like the Carousel is speeding up, the bartenders are NOT playing a trick on you. It’s almost certainly the cocktails.