Mardi Gras is a weeks-long annual celebration culminating in a night of raucous parades, parties, and, most importantly, plentiful booze. Literally translating from French to “Fat Tuesday,” New Orleans’ iconic Mardi Gras celebrations — and similar festivals held around the globe — are meant to represent a time of excess and celebration before Christian Lent, a time for reflection and repenting.
Every year, over 1 million visitors flock to the streets of NOLA to celebrate the holiday, most of them taking advantage of the city’s lax open-container laws and iconic cocktail scene. From boozy Sazeracs to mouthwateringly sweet Hurricanes, the Big Easy has a flavor for everyone, no matter their persuasion.
With this year’s festivities just around the corner, there’s no better time to let the good times roll. If you can’t make it to New Orleans for Carnival season but still want to celebrate Fat Tuesday, here are six iconic New Orleans cocktails to get you started.
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The Ramos Gin Fizz
Invented by New Orleans bartender Henry Charles Ramos in the 1800s, the Ramos Gin Fizz is famous — or rather infamous — among bartenders for the bicep-straining, time-consuming shaking process to achieve its iconic foam head. The classic cocktail elevates a standard Gin Fizz with the addition of lime juice, orange flower water, heavy cream, and an egg white. The end result is a creamy, delicious sip reminiscent of Key lime pie and orange Creamsicles.
The history of the Sazerac is inseparable from that of New Orleans itself, with some historians even claiming that the drink was America’s first cocktail. While there may be some debate regarding the beverage’s preferred spirit base, the majority of bartenders opt for whiskey, most commonly Sazerac, as the cocktail’s name suggests. Made with rye — or Cognac! — Demerara syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, and a lemon twist, the Sazerac is a boozy delight certain to spice up your Mardi Gras.
Another New Orleans classic, the Hurricane was invented during Prohibition at Pat O’Brien’s while the bar was a speakeasy. It’s name, you ask? That comes from the two words patrons were required to whisper before they were granted entry to the establishment: “storm’s brewin’.” Today, the cocktail — which contains both light and dark rums, orange and lime juices, passion fruit puree, and grenadine — is a staple New Orleans sipper, with Pat O’Brien’s serving up over half a million per year.
The French 75
Though invented in Paris at Harry’s New York Bar, New Orleans — with its rich French history and cultural influence — has adopted the cocktail as its own at establishments like the French 75 Bar. A refreshing combination of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and Champagne, this vivacious glass of boozed-up bubbles will have you coming back, glass after glass. If you choose to imbibe on a French 75 while in the Big Easy, don’t be shocked if you see one made with Cognac instead of gin — that’s preferred down in NOLA!
The Grasshopper was invented by bartender Philip Guichet Sr., owner of Tujague’s, America’s oldest stand-up bar located in the heart of the French Quarter. Consisting of crème de menthe, white crème de cacao, and half and half, the refreshing after-dinner tipple is a deliciously minty treat with a bright green color that coordinates perfectly with Mardi Gras’ traditional green, yellow, and purple hues.
The Vieux Carré
A boozy blend of rye, Cognac, vermouth, Benedictine, and both Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters, the Vieux Carré is a New Orleans staple. Invented at the Carousel Bar in 1938, the cocktail’s very name nods to the historic city it calls home. It literally translates to “old square” and is a reference to NOLA’s French Quarter, where the Carousel Bar still stands today.