Bar Talk: Creative cocktails and stunning views in the Big Easy
Sunday – Thursday • 2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Friday – Saturday • 2 p.m. – 2 a.m.
2031 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA (on the roof of the Pontchartrain Hotel.) Note: You must take the elevator that has Hot Tin engraved on it up to the top floor, the other elevator won’t go that high.
I recently found myself on a last-minute, whirlwind trip to New Orleans. And being the dedicated Bar Talk columnist that I am, I figured it was only right to do a little drinking while in town.
The backstory of the trip is that I’m a University of North Carolina Tar Heel basketball fanatic. On April 2, the UNC men’s basketball team beat Duke in the Final Four to end Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching career and was on its way to the championship game against the University of Kansas Jayhawks.
My close friend and Aspen Times co-worker Amy Laha is a rabid Jayhawks fan. So we took the plunge with encouragement from friends, co-workers and family and booked last-minute tickets to the Big Easy for the championship game, the first one either one of us has attended in person.
As luck would have it, we ended up booking a room at the Pontchartrain Hotel in the Lower Garden District, which unknown to us at the time, also plays host to two famous New Orleans bars, one of them being the rooftop bar Hot Tin.
Upon arrival to the hotel, and a word from our Uber driver that he makes constant drop-offs at the Pontchartrain for people wanting to go to the Hot Tin, we dropped our bags in the room – which was more like an apartment – and decided to start the trip off with a cheers from the rooftop.
To get to the 11th floor, you need to take the elevator engraved with a lady holding a cocktail and the words Hot Tin on her fringe shawl. The eclectic and retro lounge vibes are apparent from the bar’s branding and are reinforced upon arrival.
While there are plenty of cozy corners and some comfortable couches to nestle into, the standout feature of the space is the balcony and its panoramic view of Downtown New Orleans and the Mississippi River.
The view is stunning, and I can’t imagine you’ll find a better one in all of NOLA. It’s a far cry from the rowdiness of the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, but if you’re looking for a less straight-to-the-face drinking scene, this is the perfect place to relax, take in the city and enjoy a well-crafted drink or two.
The Hot Tin drink menu features some of the classics you expect to find in New Orleans – Sazerac, French 75, Daiquiri – along with some seasonal specialties and house favorites.
The cocktail list was a vacation from what I know and love at the Aspen bars. There were multiple unique flavor combinations – Bergamot oranges, cold brew and bubbles all in one cocktail – that I had never seen before, making my drink decision difficult.
I eventually chose the Rita Hayworth, who is said to have been a frequent guest at the Pontchartrain Hotel.
From the Hot Tin menu, the description for the Rita Hayworth is “a sultry blend of smoky chipotle chiles, sweet apricots, tart lime, and blanco tequila.”
The drink was as advertised: wildly drinkable with a slight smoky bite from the chiles and a tart savory sweetness from the lime, apricots and agave all held together by the tequila.
Another stand-out drink we enjoyed was the Royal Pearl: Old Tom Gin, lime, pineapple, orgeat. It was not too sweet, more acidic-based but creamy thanks to the orgeat and tart, and every sip left you wanting another.
If you’re wondering about how their classics hold up, the French 75 was made to perfection.
The time (and money) spent at Hot Tin was well worth it, and even if I hadn’t been staying at the Pontchartrain, I would’ve gladly made the trip to the Lower Garden District for the drinks and the view, both a 10/10.
I look forward to going back one day, hopefully for longer than 38 hours and with a better championship outcome for my Tar Heels. But until then, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!”
Carousel Bar & Lounge
Located in the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal Street), the Carousel Bar, as the name implies, features a 25-seat slow revolving bar in the center. We got lucky and got a seat on the merry-go-round and enjoyed a stellar Bloody Mary, featuring a well-portioned salad of pickled accouterments, and a classic Daiquiri, plus some tasty small bites. The prices were similar to Aspen, but understandable considering the bar’s history. Worth noting, the bartenders were some of kindest we encountered all trip and seemed truly happy to be be at the helm of the ride.
Like the Carousel Bar, Pat O’Brien’s was recommended to us by a co-worker who knows a thing or two about NOLA (hint: he’s the editor of the ATW) and all of his recs were standouts. Pat O’s is famous for its signature drink, the Hurricane. So, of course, to imbibe in some New Orleans history, that’s what we ordered.
Abita Brewing Company
While not in NOLA, Abita is a craft brewery 30 miles north of New Orleans and you can find their brews all over the city. They make some of my favorites and are worth ordering if you’re not in the mood for liquor.
“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.