The Crescent City is awash with great bars, saloons and dives to visit, but we've compiled a list of what we think are the oldest. There are a couple of "maybe's" here but it depends on how you define bars. For example, Antoine's is not here though Arnaud's and Tujague's are. But Antoine's is almost completely known as a restaurant, in fact that's what they want to be known as.
Arnaud's, however, has some great history in it's bars and has had the Richelieu bar since the beginning.
Tujague's, as you'll read later, has real history at its bar. In any case we present what we think are the five oldest bars in New Orleans. Cheers!
Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop 1761 (?)
The building that houses what’s now called Jean Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop is the oldest in the city, built approximately in 1761. Much of its history is legend and much more is rumor, but most of it is accepted without question—though little evidence can be found for really any of it.
Jean Laffite, the notorious New Orleans pirate, was said to have owned this building and to have used it as a blacksmith shop as a front for his nefarious deeds. There has also reportedly been a bar in the building since it opened, which would make it the oldest bar in the city.
It’s obvious this place is old. The fireplace, especially suited for a blacksmith, stands solidly at the front entrance of the place. The old bar is the only thing lit by anything other than candle light, which is how they illuminate the rest of the rooms.
Drink offerings here range from beer on tap to the New Orleans staple, the Sazerac.
It’s also reportedly haunted by Jean Laffite himself as well as a sobbing woman upstairs.
It’s a fun place to visit on Bourbon Street and while thoroughly a tourist destination it’s still fun and more preferable to the dozens of neon-lit clubs you’ll pass to get here.
Tujague’s was founded as a restaurant by Guillaume and Marie Abadie Tujague who arrived not long before 1856 from France. They served a set seven course meal and were apparently pretty darned good at it, garnering a reputation for great cuisine.
In 1912 the family who owned Tujague’s bought another local restaurant and moved to its present location a few blocks off of Bourbon Street where it’s remained ever since.
One thing to notice here is the bar. It was the first stand-up bar in the city. Previously bars were more like cafes in diners—sit down affairs. But the bar at Tujague’s allows someone to stand up and stretch out after spending time on their horse in travel.
Here you need to try a Ramos Gin Fizz (they’re one of the few places left that use egg-whites but don’t be scared), a Sazerac or a Grasshopper (the minty drink was invented here).
Old Absinthe House 1890 (you could argue 1846)
The building housing Old Absinthe House was constructed in 1806 at the dawn of the United States. Before drugs like opium and cocaine were used widely in the 1800’s Absinthe was wildly popular for its hallucinogenic effects. The drink was originally given to Napoleon’s troops as a field treatment for malaria. They brought back a taste for this “medicine” and it quickly became associated with the bohemian culture.
In 1846 the Alexis Coffee House opened where the modern day Old Absinthe House now stands. At the time a coffee house was the phrase used for a bar—if you wanted coffee you actually went to a café. Interestingly “coffee houses” are where pot is sold in Amsterdam and if you want coffee you go to the café.
In any case the Coffee House employed a skilled, Spanish mixologist named Cayetano Ferrer who took over the place in 1874 and changed the name to the Absinthe Room—thereby associating the bar with the spirit of 19th century hipster set.
The bar lasted for years until Ferrer passed away in 1890 at which time his heirs took over and began calling the place the Old Absinthe House.
Henry’s Uptown Bar 1900
When most people visit New Orleans they don't have the chance to escape the French Quarter, the section of the city most frequented by tourists and most saturated with bars and clubs. While Bourbon Street and the rest of the Quarter have a lot to offer bar lovers, there're great watering holes all over the city.
Henry's Uptown Bar, located in (you guessed it) the Uptown section of the city, has been quenching thirsts since 1900. This place is a local's bar, with a welcoming atmosphere, colorful bartenders and entertaining patrons.
Sure, it doesn't have the fame of maybe the Old Absinthe House, but we think it has something more important: authenticity. You see, while those other places might be older, and may tell a better story, THIS place is the place we'd actually want to go drink in.
The next time you make it to NOLA, take a drive up Magazine Street and stop and find the soul of the city at a place like Henry's!
It was 1918 when Count Arnaud, a local wine merchant, made a wager with his customers that he could open and successfully operate his own restaurant. Almost 100 years later Arnaud's is not only still operating, but also has one of New Orleans’ most colorful pasts.
With a history of serving "coffee" during prohibition--which led to multiple fines that Count Arnaud is rumored to have been proud of--extravagant dining, hauntings, an in-house museum and a cocktail menu to die for, this place is a must-visit during your wobble down Bourbon Street.
Here you need to try The Rebennack - Created by Arnaud's own Chris Hannah, it is a modern twist on classic drinks like the Old Fashioned and Manhattan. They also do an outstanding Sazerac; one of the best in the city.