Port cities bring a unique, multicultural richness to their region’s culture, food and drink. New Orleans is no exception. Indeed the city’s cultural and culinary abundance can be traced in part to the merchant ships that still make port calls here along the Mississippi River just as they have for centuries. Case in point: the Big Easy’s riverfront is rumored to be the birthplace of the modern “coffee break” thanks to the international coffee merchants that were drawn to the city. Another first is thought to be the cocktail, which is also said to have originated in the Crescent City. While coffee is a rich, warming pick me up, alcohol relaxes the senses. Technically a stimulant and a depressant, respectively, these two opposites attract in imaginative ways in New Orleans when combined in “spirited” coffee drinks — one of the winter season’s happiest of marriages.
Any time Pat O’Brien’s is open the French Quarter bar is serving its popular Cafe Royal, a delicious blend of hot coffee, Patron XO Cafe and whipped cream. For those who like their java on ice there is the RumChata, a mixture of iced coffee plus a creamy and cinnamon-flavored, rum-based liquor. Insider tip: All of this caffeinated deliciousness can be served inside the bar’s hourglass-shaped signature Hurricane glasses. When you’re ready to hit the pavement the staff will pour your booze-infused joltin’ joe into free take-out cups perfect (and legal!) for walking the streets.
Elsewhere at the raucous Spirits on Bourbon the theme is “resurrection,” which is apropos considering coffee is known to bring people back to life, figuratively speaking. If a coffee liqueur-laced White Russian is just what the witch doctor ordered, count on bartenders to make the vodka and coffee-liqueur concoction using fresh milk and crushed ice to produce the perfect eye-opener. Don’t worry – they’ll know to hold the milk if you order Spirits’ signature (and slightly more potent) Black Russian. Upon request staff serve either drink in one of the bar’s signature flashing skull mugs, a perfect prop when you decide to take a selfie while sitting in this festive joint’s barber chair, which is said to be haunted by the bar’s “resurrected” first owner who was a barber by profession.
Big Easy’s riverfront is the rumored birthplace of the 'coffee break'.
Coffee hit the New Orleans scene during the early 1800s when a woman who had earned her freedom from slavery opened her own coffee stand, which over time morphed into what is now the city’s famous Cafe du Monde coffee stand (which, for the record, does not serve alcoholic coffee drinks). Ernst Café meantime opened almost 100 years later. Ernst Café specializes in homegrown hospitality and the owners have retained the integrity of the building’s original structure despite updating everything inside except the tin ceiling and unique tiled floors. Do yourself a favor and ask for a frosty Snowball Fight, which features coffee liqueur, milk, peppermint vodka and chocolate. For a fruity twist, ask the bartender to add a dash of raspberry liqueur. You’ll also want to check out the new specialty drinks menu that debuts this winter.
One of coffee and alcohol’s most exciting pairings, café brulot (traditionally coffee mixed with brandy or bourbon plus cinnamon, cloves, and zest of lemon and orange) is difficult to find due to the steps needed to prepare the flaming beverage. During prohibition the spice in this drink was used to disguise the alcohol, and it still does the trick. Fortunately visitors can step back in time at Hermes Bar at Antoine’s Restaurant, where black-vested staff still prepares this flaming concoction to the delight of tipplers. Ask for the Café Brulot Diabolique, which is a spiced coffee and brandy extravaganza flamed tableside — a minimum of two must be ordered. “They dim the lights” during the preparation, says a distinguished bartender at Hermes. If two seems too many, you can opt instead for the rummy Jamaican Coffee or the chocolate-flavored Mexican Mocha.
To experience true Old World decadence, head to the Bombay Club, an atmospheric mix of gentleman’s club meets scholar’s study, where the coffee is black and rich, the chairs are leather and the music is smooth and bluesy. Here even the simplest Irish coffee is top of the line and includes fine Irish whiskey topped with hand-made whipped cream. Moody shadows will give you the bravado to ask the barkeep for an Irish Kiss. Quite the steamy delivery, an Irish Kiss is made with Irish cream liqueur, coffee liqueur, and hot coffee, topped with fresh whipped cream. Best bet for enjoying your steaming glass mug of boozy coffee is in the Bombay Club’s beautiful courtyard, framed by a pair of fountains that send the romance quotient over the top.
By Kandise Leigh Woods