The Big Easy will forever be intrinsically linked to cocktails, from potent bright red Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s to elegantly effervescent French 75s at their namesake bar at Arnaud’s.
But none encapsulates the city like the Sazerac, a combination of rye, Peychaud’s Bitters and a sugar cube stirred and served in an absinthe-coated glass. It was created in this city and has the distinction of being the world’s first cocktail. Now a brand new museum named for the libation gives visitors the chance to learn about NOLA’s history through the context of its drinks. And best of all? It’s absolutely free.
Located at the interaction of Canal and Magazine Street - just a few hundred yards from the 1850 Sazerac House Café where the Sazerac was first introduced and the company behind the spirits was born - the Sazerac House is an immersive experience that gives guests the chance to sit at the original café tables, learn about and sample spirits and cocktails and even pick up the skills to shake and stir their own.
“The culture of New Orleans is intertwined with the stories of our spirits, and the Sazerac House explores how that happened, what that means for famous historic New Orleans as well as current New Orleanians through interactive exhibits and tasting opportunities,” says general manager Miguel Solorzano. “Guests have the opportunity to sign up for classes with local cocktail experts on how to make the cocktails they learn about at the Sazerac House, and also to see Sazerac Rye Whiskey and Peychaud's Bitters being made on-site.”
Exhibits include one where four virtual bartenders representing the city’s cocktail culture share their craft, personal stories and recipes; animated films projected on mirrors showing historic advertisements, photographs and iconic Sazerac products; a lesson about what bitters are and what they add to drinks; and an interactive chance to virtually mix up a tipple. But the highlight is the Distillery Exhibit, which includes a new custom-built 60-inch diameter, 500-gallon still that will be used to produce Sazerac Rye Whiskey, viewable from two stories through a glass front facing Canal Street.
The Sazerac House is located in a historic building which gave architects and engineers the chance to preserve some of its traditional elements and make updates that still remain true to the trends of the era, Solorzano says. They preserved historic columns, removed, re-milled and re-installed a staircase and the flooring and commissioned new, authentic-looking beadboard, a staircase with the Sazerac “S” and star anise flowers and a three-story-tall bottle wall with 1010 bottles of spirits. “Throughout the renovation there was a focus on restoring and reusing historic elements of the building, which reduced landfill load by 5300 tons and saved 2.557 metric tons of CO2.”
At the end of the self-guided tour visitors can purchase apparel, bar tools, gift sets, books and Sazerac spirits at the gift shop. “[Guests will leave being] fully able to understand the context of the drinks they can order at locations around the city,” Solorzano says.
The Sazerac House is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1 pm to 6 pm through the end of November 2019, and will then be expanding its hours. Complimentary tickets, available on their website, are required for entry.