Just a few footsteps off Bourbon Street—New Orleans’s 24-hour billboard for tank-top hedonism—is Arnaud’s French 75 bar. To step inside is to enter another dimension. You’re greeted by a muffled stillness, with bartenders in white tuxedo jackets. Fringed lamps held by dapper monkey figures with fezzes provide soft lighting. The soundtrack is Edith Piaf.
Urban sanctuaries such as these are essential if you want to appreciate the rest of the city outside. Which is why I find myself slipping into Arnaud’s when I’m in the French Quarter. It’s not just the literal calm here; it also feels like an anchor to another era.
The historic bar is part of Arnaud’s restaurant, which celebrates its centennial next year. One drink I often get here is the Bywater cocktail—probably the most classic cocktail you’ve never heard of. It was named after the city’s colorful downriver neighborhood long before it became a trendy destination. The beverage follows on the tradition of simple, sturdy drinks made with a mix of venerable Old World ingredients, here including Averna and Chartreuse, with New World treasures like rum and falernum.
Arnaud’s is always on my walking tours of grand New Orleans bars, but I’ve learned to stop here last. Once people enter, I’ve found it’s nearly impossible to get them to leave. Which is the sign of a successful sanctuary—and a superior bar.
Wayne Curtis is a writer who has covered craft cocktails and spirits for more than a decade. Follow his journey on Twitter.