Time Again to Storm the Sazerac
Updated: Sep 6
Take a trip back in time and enjoy New Orleans's official cocktail!
James Brown sang about it being a man’s world but you know women don’t sit down for that nonsense. Case in point The Roosevelt Hotel in downtown New Orleans. Only men were served in the hotel’s classy Sazerac Bar—except for Mardi Gras day (gee thanks for throwing us that bone)—but in 1949, a group of local women were thirsty and looking for sustenance. They stormed the Sazerac Bar demanding equality and a stiff drink.
To celebrate that spirited revolution, the hotel honors the anniversary of the “Stormin’ of the Sazerac” on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. The 74th event includes an annual luncheon and a costumed recreation of the courageous women’s fury. This year's event invites all women to join the unique celebration featuring libations, cuisine and entertainment.
The celebration kicks off in the hotel's Blue Room at 1 p.m. with a three-course lunch, fashion show, live entertainment and recognition of the 2023 Reigning Spirit of the Sazerac. Following the luncheon, attendees will gather at 3 p.m. in The Roosevelt’s lobby to once again “storm” the Sazerac Bar with a spirited second line. Guests are encouraged to wear late 1940s and 1950s attire including hats, veils, peep-toe shoes and gloves.
The 2023 fashion show will pay tribute to the starlets and fashion mavens of yesteryear. Models will showcase looks inspired by some of The Roosevelt’s most glamorous guests and performers in dresses provided by French Quarter retailer Italy Direct.
The Sazerac Bar is a trip back in time as well, sporting several outstanding Paul Ninas murals from the 1930s. The large curvy one on the end contains several famous people, including the late Louisiana governor and U.S. Sen. Huey P. Long. See if you can find him.
This year, Lauren LeBlanc Haydel, owner of New Orleans retailer Fleurty Girl, will reign as the Spirit of the Sazerac, an honor recognizing a deserving New Orleans woman who challenges the status quo and works to influence positive change in her community.
In 2009 with just $2,000, Haydel launched Fleurty Girl as an online store, and six months later, opened a shop on historic Oak Street. Today, Fleurty Girl has eight locations. Having previously served as the face of GoNOLA's newscast, Haydel is an ambassador of New Orleans culture.
Past winners have included education activist Kira Orange-Jones, Drew’s Tunes founder Georgia Boswell and local meteorologist and animal activist Margaret Orr.
Tickets to the event are $109, excluding tax and gratuity. Reservations can be made by clicking here or by calling (504) 335-3129.
Want to know more about the Sazerac Bar?
This year, the Sazerac Bar was named the Best Hotel Bar in America for a sixth time by USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice rankings. Selected by voters across the country, the 10 best hotel bars in the United States are recognized for both their drinks and their atmosphere. This is the sixth year in a row The Sazerac Bar has topped the list.
The Sazerac’s menu features signature cocktails — like the namesake Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz — along with carefully crafted seasonal specialty cocktails, whiskey selections from the bar’s barrel program, wines and beers, and an extensive list of Cognacs and other liquors. For more information, and a full menu, visit https://therooseveltneworleans.com/dining/.
Want to know more about Sazerac, the drink?
Here’s a history I wrote that was previously published in DeSoto magazine of Mississippi:
This may come as a surprise to many but back in the 19th century alcohol was available throughout New Orleans—in saloons and taverns, naturally, but also coffee houses, pharmacies, and other establishments. Sarcasm aside, this lax attitude towards imbibing spirits in the always eclectic Crescent City produced a rich environment for the development of cocktails.
Antoine Amédée Peychaud, for instance, operated an apothecary on Royal Street in the French Quarter. He created a recipe for bitters around 1830 that combined spirits infused with botanicals, an elixir to help the medicine go down. This delicious assemblage of flavors was seized upon in the city’s coffeehouses, many of which operated as much like a saloon. Peychaud’s Bitters and spirits—mainly Laurent Sazerac de Forge’s French cognac with a dash of absinthe, an anise-flavored spirit popular in New Orleans in the 19th century — made for interesting combinations. The drink became known as the “Sazerac,” named for the cognac maker.
By the 1870s, however, a devastating wine year in France decreased the availability of cognac so rye whiskey was substituted in the drink. The trace amounts of wormwood in absinthe, thought to create addictions among their followers as well as hallucinations and other mental issues, prompted American officials to outlaw the spirit. Another ingenious New Orleanian, J.M. Legendre, created Herbsaint to take its place, a spirit similar in nature to absinthe but minus the wormwood.
Today, the Sazerac cocktail contains Peychaud’s Bitters (sold in stores using the same recipe as Antoine’s), sugar, Herbsaint, rye whiskey, and lemon, and it’s as popular today as it was a century ago. Which is why the Sazerac was named the official cocktail of New Orleans in 2008.
The Sazerac is also one of the many arguments historians use to declare New Orleans and its many creative spirit-makers for the origin of the cocktail.
Visitors to New Orleans may sample this potent drink throughout the city’s bars and other establishments (the city hasn’t changed in that regard) but also tour the Sazerac House on Canal Street, a lovingly restored building located 350 yards from the coffeehouse that first served the combination. The Sazerac House — run by the Sazerac company which produces numerous spirits and Peychoud’s Bitters — offers free admission to exhibits that explain the Sazerac cocktail, as well as other local and national libations, plus the history of the company’s products. Special tours and programs that include mixology lessons and drink samples are offered as well, but with a fee. All on-site tours require reservations through the company’s website.
1 cube sugar
1 1/2 ounces Sazerac Rye Whiskey (or your own brand)
1/4 ounce Herbsaint
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Directions: Pack on Old Fashioned glass with ice. In a second Old Fashioned glass place the sugar cube and add the Peychaud’s Bitters, then crush the sugar cube. Add the Sazerac Rye Whiskey to the second glass containing the Peychaud’s Bitters and sugar. Empty the ice from the first glass and coat the glass with the Herbsaint, then discard the remaining Herbsaint. Empty the whisky/bitters/sugar mixture from the second glass into the first glass and garnish with a lemon peel.
A favorite memory of Weird, Wacky & Wild South blogger Cheré Coen was bringing her mother to The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans in the last years of her life to enjoy her favorite drink, a Sazerac. She believes the Sazerac is most definitely the official cocktail of her hometown.