Located off the lobby of the vintage Roosevelt Hotel on Bayonne Street, the Sazerac easily the best bar in New Orleans and one of the finest in the country. As soon as you walk in, you get the comforting feeling that you’ll be in good hands. The décor is as appealing as the cocktails. All the wood paneling lining the walls came from a single African Walnut tree. Decorating those walls is a haunting series of murals painted by Paul Ninas in the 1930s for the WPA program, depicting waterfront scenes and local street life. The long bar contains several dozen stools, and there are comfortable groupings of leather sofas and armchairs in which groups can relax.
The white-jacketed bartenders are cheerful, precise and professional, capable of chatting indefinitely or leaving you alone if you so desire. The staff at the Sazerac has a long history of keeping customers happy. The bar was a favorite hangout of Governor Huey Long, who maintained a suite on the hotel’s 12th floor. During a visit to Manhattan, Long suddenly found himself without access to someone who could make a proper Ramos Gin Fizz. The Governor arranged for Sam Guarino, the head bartender at the time, to fly to New York and instruct his Northern colleagues on the proper technique.
In addition to classics such as the Ramos Gin Fizz, the specialty, of course, is the Sazerac Cocktail---named the official drink of New Orleans in 2008. An Old Fashioned glass is first misted with Herbsaint (some use absinthe, but the flavor is really too strong). At the bottom of the glass, a sugar cube or teaspoon of simple syrup is muddled with three dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, mixed with several ounces of Sazerac Rye, and garnished with a lemon twist. No wonder Sazerac Rye is so scarce in other parts of the country: these guys are hogging it all for themselves. Russ Bergeron, the head bartender at the Roosevelt, estimates that the place turns out close to 40,000 Sazerac Cocktails each year.
In fact, you can get just about anything you want at the Sazerac, including a decent glass of California Chardonnay. That, however, might be a wasted opportunity. Whatever you’re drinking, this is the perfect place to begin or end an evening. It evokes memories of an earlier and more gracious age, and the overall experience is luxurious and comforting as a favorite pair of fleece-lined slippers (in the Roosevelt Hotel, 123 Baronne St.; therooseveltneworleans.com).
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