It's Time Again to Storm the Sazerac
Take a trip back in time and enjoy the city'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 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. 22, 2022. The 73rd event includes an annual luncheon and a costumed recreation of the courageous women’s fury. Festivities will be emceed by WDSU-TV morning anchor Randi Rousseau and will take place in the hotel’s famous Blue Room, the elegant Fountain Lounge and, of course, the world-renowned Sazerac Bar.
The fun begins at 1 p.m. with a three-course lunch in the Blue Room along with a fashion show featuring New Orleans’ own Yvonne Lafleur, who has owned an Uptown dress shop for more than half a century. The era-specific fashion show will feature six models channeling vintage glamour in ensembles evoking 40s and 50s nostalgia.
Following the luncheon, attendees may gather at 3 p.m. in The Roosevelt’s lobby to once again “storm” the Sazerac Bar in a second line. Participants are encouraged to wear late 1940s and 1950s attire including hats, veils, peep-toe shoes and gloves.
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.
Luncheon also includes live entertainment and recognition of the 2022 Reigning Spirit of the Sazerac, who this year will be Ti Martin, co-proprietor of Commander’s Palace restaurant. The Spirit of the Sazerac honor recognizes a New Orleans woman who “challenges the status quo and works to influence positive change in her community,” according to a press release. “The Reigning Spirit of the Sazerac is an exemplary woman whose bravery and determination reflect what we (The Roosevelt) celebrate about those great New Orleans ladies who stormed the Sazerac Bar decades ago.”
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 $99, excluding tax and gratuity. Reservations can be made by clicking here or by calling (504) 335-3129.
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 DeSoto Co-editor 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.