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Everybody has a state flower and a state bird. For Louisiana those are the magnolia and the brown pelican. Their official musical instrument, I’m pleased to report, is the “Cajun” accordion. (I admit a fondness for accordions of all sorts since I appointed one an important character in a hopefully-soon-to-be-completed novel.) If you know any Louisianans, you won’t be surprised to learn that they have actually declared an official cuisine—gumbo. And crawfish has been designated the state crustacean. I caution any crawfish reading this not to rejoice quite yet. Louisianans prefer their state crustacean boiled in a highly seasoned broth and served in a bright orange heap on newspaper. There’s even a Louisiana State Doughnut. It’s true—the beignet has held that distinction since 1986. Naturally, all of this makes perfect sense to me. I’m technically a New Orleans native—and a regular visitor.

Official Cocktail of the City of New Orleans

So when I learned that, in 2008, the Sazerac was being named the Official Cocktail of the City of New Orleans, I was overjoyed. You see, I sampled my first Sazerac thirty-something years ago (back when the legal drinking age in New Orleans was 12) and have been a devotee ever since. Its history is nearly as mesmerizing as the cocktail itself.

The Sazerac is said to have been invented by Antoine Peychaud, a creole apothecary, who opened his Pharmacie Peychaud in the French Quarter in the 1830s. The original site at 437 Rue Royal is now home to a rare coin and gun shop. But the legacy of his famous cocktail remains.

The story goes that Antoine Peychaud prescribed his secret concoction of aromatic bitters for any one of a number of ailments. Alas, the bitters were bitter, and Peychaud’s patrons didn’t mind the apothecary’s addition of a nice French brandy and a splash of absinthe to disguise their bite. It’s said he likely ran a little gambling salon in the back room and that the cocktail would certainly have helped to loosen up the gamblers’ wallets.

Some say Peychaud’s mixture was the birth of the first ever “cocktail.” It’s a nice story—that the cocktail was invented right there on Royal Street—but probably not true.

By the 1850s, the pharmacist was supplying his brilliant red Peychaud’s Aromatic Cocktail Bitters to the Sazerac Coffee House down the street, where the brandy was ultimately replaced with rye whiskey, and the cocktail officially became known as a Sazerac. Around 1912 Absinthe was banned in the United States, and Pernod was substituted. These days the anise flavor most often comes from a liqueur called Herbsaint, although some bars continue to use Pernod. It should be noted that absinthe has been legalized and is again available at bars that serve a good Sazerac—for an additional cost.

The Sazerac Coffee House went through a few name and location changes until it became The Sazerac Bar, exquisitely situated in The Roosevelt Hotel—back in 1949. The Roosevelt Hotel has been through some changes of its own. For a period it was known as the Fairmont Hotel, until Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc. There was no water damage, but the hotel was horribly vandalized and closed. Waldorf Astoria purchased the property, completely refurbished it to its original splendor, properly renamed it, and staged a Grand Re-Opening in July, 2009.

Although my favorite place to enjoy a Sazerac will always be The Napoleon House—mostly because it’s my favorite place, period—one must give in to tradition and experience a Sazerac at the bar famous for them, and well known for bartender showmanship. The performance is worth the $12 price tag—once.

This recipe comes from The Roosevelt New Orleans Blog (the photos are a result of my personal research):


1 cube sugar
1  1/2 oz rye whiskey
Herbsaint, to coat the glass
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
lemon peel, for garnish

Pack an Old-Fashioned glass with ice. In a second glass place the sugar cube and add the Peychaud’s Bitters to it, then crush the sugar cube. Add the rye whiskey to the glass containing the bitters and sugar. Empty the ice from the first glass and coat the glass with the Herbsaint (the bartender actually spins the glass as he tosses it from hand to hand), then discard the remaining Herbsaint. Pour the whiskey/bitters/sugar mixture into the glass and garnish with twisted lemon peel.

New Orleans is full of history, and there are museums for every interest. If you’re anything like me, you might enjoy these:

The Museum of the American Cocktail

Absinthe Museum of America

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum



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