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Jul 14, 2009 09:17 AM

Report from Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt

I searched for posts about the Roosevelt in the past two weeks and noticed a few people had asked if anyone had been there yet.

Yesterday I went for an afternoon cocktail at the Sazerac Bar with a visiting friend. I knew the Roosevelt had opened back up but had not yet been. I was extremely impressed by the way the hotel looks. It's gorgeous. It's obviously not all the way open yet, they are still working on one of the storefront sites -- I think it's the space where Besh's Domenica will open up in a couple of months. But the inside of the lobby is lovely; I think they did a nice job there.

The Sazerac Bar itself is also gorgeous. I never went there before the storm, so I can't compare it to its former glory, but to me it's a gorgeous space. Tile floor, wall paintings, beautiful Art Deco etched glass above the bar, the wooden bar itself, all look wonderful to me. I overheard someone ask the bartender if the bar itself was the original and had been in good condition and the bartender said yes, so it appears perhaps the bones of the place were in decent shape.

The drinks. I've had Sazeracs all over this town, my favorite is usually at Mandina's. This was a lovely Sazerac and of course I saw the bottles of Peychaud's and Sazerac Rye so I know they are, of course, using all the right ingredients (can't imagine that they wouldn't or they'd be lined up and stoned to death in this town). It was on the sweeter side of the Sazeracs I've had here, which I like. Not too much ice (I like it on the rocks), and a nice lemon twist. My friend, who does not like whiskey or rye, had two different drinks from the drink menu, both of which were very good, one Rum based (called a Dark and Stormy, I believe) and the other was touted in the menu as being Huey Long's favorite drink and was also very tasty. The drink menu is nice and simple and consists of about eight special cocktails listed and the second page was, I think, wines by the glass. This particular bartender seemed pretty knowledgeable and the bar seemed stocked with good quality liquor. I get the impression they are still putting finishing touches on the decor (and the bartender indicated as much) but it really looks nice. I asked the bartender how crowded it's been on weekends and he said, quite crowded. We were there on, well, a Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. and so of course it wasn't crowded but we were not the only people there. There are a few nice tables plus the very lovely long wooden bar with comfortable stools. A good place for a drink or four.

There is also the very nice looking Sazerac Restaurant next door to the bar. We looked at the menu which is small but well chosen. The things I remember best were a Foie Gras appetizer and a lamb entree. Not inexpensive. I will try it at my next opportunity.

I would be interested to hear if anyone else has gone, has eaten at the restaurant, or has gone to the bar when it was more crowded and how that was, too.

I am very happy the hotel, bar, and restaurant are open. It feels like a god thing for the city, for us locals, and certainly for tourists. I am sure you'll see me there sipping a Sazerac one of these Friday early evenings.

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  1. I spoke to a restauranteur friend who went there last weekend (I think) with his girlfriend and he said it was packed. He also said that teh drinks were not good. I would take such acomment with a grain of salt from just about anyone else. He said that he is going to give them time to shake things down and then go back. I did not ask him about the mural but I assume it is still there. It makes sense they'd be using teh Sazerac Rye now but for years they used Wild Turkey 101 (Rye, not bourbon)

    26 Replies
    1. re: hazelhurst

      I will qualify this next comment by saying that I moved here because I fell in love with a many-generations-local, all of my friends have been born and raised here for generations, i teach at a local college where almost everyone has been born and raised, so I spend all my time around longtime locals. With that said, if there is one thing I have learned here it's that my natural first inclination in life is to be excited and pleased. But in New Orleans it appears that I am in the minority because I don't complain about every restaurant I eat at. I tease my girlfriend and friends about this all the time. Most people, I think, assume that if I don't complain I must be pedestrian in my tastes. But I think I've figured out that people here actually enjoy complaining about restaurants, it's part of the process of eating out here. I say that with love because I love this town the food, and the people. It's just full of the pickiest eaters I've ever seen, and I grew up someplace I thought people were picky: NYC!

      Thanks for the piece of info that it is acceptable to make a Sazerac with something other than Sazerac rye. I guess the Peychaud's is really the thing you can't do without? At least that is according to my friend whose family tomb is in St. Louis #1 and makes a mean Sazerac herself.

      1. re: puma

        It occures to me..belatedly..that being from NYC, y'otta know "kvetch." The hell? what's the difference? It's al between friends..

        No harm meant...

      2. re: hazelhurst

        "It makes sense they'd be using teh Sazerac Rye now but for years they used Wild Turkey 101 (Rye, not bourbon)"

        I wonder if Sazerac rye even existed before the storm? Interest in rye is pretty recent. Not sure when Sazerac rye was first released, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were in the last few years.

        1. re: Frolic

          Frolic - I think Sazerac rye may have existed many years ago, but I did not see it reappear on the market until Post-K. We always used Old Overholt and cannot recall ever seeing Sazerac Rye. That being said, I have a bottle of each at home. Both are good, but Old Overholt is readily available and quite a bit cheaper.


          1. re: UptownKevin

            I checked with the Sazerac Company. The Sazerac Rye was introduced in December 2005.

        2. re: hazelhurst

          Most places in New Orleans used Old Overholt for years, there is a recent increase in the number of ryes produced so I'm sure there will be different brands used all over the place.

          1. re: roro1831

            I make mine at home with Old Overholt. To me, it is the best. I am almost certain that Sazerac Rye Whiskey was around prior to the storm-but it is considerably cheaper than Old Overholt. Perhaps that is why it is so widely used now.

            1. re: ScarlettNola

              I cannot tell you exactly when it came it but it is recent....we usually used the Jim beam if we did not want the high proof of Wild Turkey.

              1. re: ScarlettNola

                I've always seen Old Overholt at $10-$11, while Sazerac rye is more than twice that price.

                1. re: Frolic

                  I have not bought any in awhile but I recall the Beam being more expensive that Overholt...for a long time Overholt was allyou could find most places but teh Jim Beam seems to me to make a fine Sazerac. Of course, a LOT of places in town made Sazaracs with bourbon and just did not tell anyone but the revival of interest in rye makes such specialty items as the Sazerac Rye more viable.

                  1. re: Frolic

                    I thought it was the opposite, but my husband is the whiskey drinker of the family and purchases the liquor, while I purchase the wine. I prefer the Old Overholt, but I don't drink it straight, only in Sazeracs. He likes Black Maple Hill Kentucky Rye best for Sazeracs but I have not seen that out, it is simply something we have at home.

                    1. re: ScarlettNola

                      You could be right---it is something bought out of habit along with other things and I just don't pay attention. I think I buy---maybe--one bottle a year b/c I make Sazeracs so seldom at home. I don't know why that is so--it is like a whiskey sour--the mood must be right. I'm not familiar with Black Maple but will have a look out for it.

                      I can remember "fights" between adherents of Kentucky rye and Maryland rye. Then, rye "went away" except for the few diehards in KY and perhaps MD and certainly in New Orleans..but it was very hard to get a true rye Sazerac in 1975 or 1976 in New Orleans.

                      BTW,, puma was correct in the earlier assertion that Peychaud's are essential...some people add Angostura, too---Commander's made a great one with this mix-ation---the trick, as puma noted, is to try to prevent the thing from being too sweet. It is a tricky thing. I have been pleased to see it return to Public Radar in recent years.

                    2. re: Frolic

                      Old Overholt rye seems to be the standard in most local bars and restaurants (at least it was a few years ago when I spent more time in bars); the more high-class places serve Wild Turkey. I can't recall any that serve Sazerac.

                      While I wish the Sazerac Bar were still using Wild Turkey because that's what I remember from before the storm, I don't know if it's any more traditional in the long-term sense than any other brand. I've always thought of Sazerac as a kind of "touristy" brand that's about capitalizing on the name, but it got a pretty nice review from Eric Asimov in the NY Times back in 2006, so I'm willing to give it a shot.

                      Most of all, I'm glad they removed the plasma TV from the Sazerac Bar. That was an abomination.

                      1. re: pastis

                        The very fact that there is no television in the bar is proper. People who require television to be about them should seek sports bars...I prefer places where we can converse. I am not hopeful that the Sazaerac Bar can conitnue...LSU fans..or Super Bowl Fans or Tulane fans..will bleat for a TV....leave us enjoy the venue wile we may.....

                        1. re: pastis

                          The place I've had most of my Sazeracs is Mandina's (where I am addicted to the daube) and they use Sazerac Rye. That's why I was under the impression it was more common than people here have indicated. I feel well schooled in the history of types of rye used in Sazeracs here, now. My born-and-raised girlfriend, whom I moved here to be with, is not a whiskey or rye drinker so did not educate me properly in this matter.

                          FYI I wrote an email to the Sazerac company asking them when their rye first appeared on shelves and exactly what their relationship is to the Buffalo Trace bourbon company, where Sazerac seems to actually be distilled. Will report back.

                          1. re: puma

                            The Sazerac Rye is good's a gimmick, but it is good. It is made under license in KY and if you look at the label you will see all kinds of copyright and trademark crap..I don;t think Sazerac Cocktail can be trademarked becuase it has been in common use for so long but let the trade infringement lawyers fight over that. For years and years and years, Old Overholt was the only rye you saw in the deep South--and in New York it was the most common even thought there were still a few Maryland and Empire State manufacturers shipping to Manhattan. Once upon a time a "highball" was rye and water. Rye died out in the 1960's. We had a friend, born in 1909, who loved Manhattan cocktails and he had to give up expecting rye by 1970 and just accepted bourbon. Then, becuase is wasn't trendy, it became trendy again and someone on Food TV or somewhere heard about teh Sazerac and off we went to the races. The Sazerac is a terrific drink and it is the last link to 19th Century cocktails. I am glad it has had a resurgence becuase, foir years, I was among about five people left alive making them. Now, at least, I can get a good one at places other than the home bar.

                            1. re: puma

                              The local Sazerac Company bought the Buffalo Trace distillery a few years back. As far as I know, all their products, including Herbsaint and Peychaud's bitters, are produced at the Kentucky distillery.

                              1. re: Frolic

                                I'm sure you guys already know about it, but there's a great site about the history of Herbsaint, which has been owned and manufactured by the Sazerac Co. since the late 40s I believe.


                                Apparently, the Sazerac Co. is planning to unveil a new version of Herbsaint that is made according to creator J. Marion Legendre's original formula. Another exciting development for us cocktail geeks. I wonder what effect on the flavor of a Sazerac cocktail it will have. I tried making a Sazerac using real absinthe instead of Herbsaint and it just didn't taste right (to me at least).

                                1. re: pastis

                                  Now you have me thinking fondly of Mr. Marion..sometimes he drank Old Fashioneds, just to keep 'em guessin, but he was a good pitchman for his products. Had a wonderful gold-headed walking stick.

                                  1. re: hazelhurst

                                    Marion Legendre bottled his own pre-mixed Old Fashioned, back when he owned Legendre & Co.

                                    BTW....The New Herbsaint does indeed taste like the Herbsaint of old, I sampled some at Tales, and it compares very well next to the vintage Herbsaint I have in my collection.

                          2. re: Frolic

                            Old Overholt still seems to be the front-runner for Sazeracs. This NY Times article was written after "Tales Of The Cocktail":


                      2. re: hazelhurst

                        i went the other weekend and was unfortunately disappointed in the cocktails. the barman didn't make a Ramos Gin Fizz properly (way too much orange water and not shaken long enough - causing it to separate). It was an expensive experiment...$12-14.

                        worse, was the two barmen complaining about having to make specialty drinks, they feared they take too long to prepare and will turn off the customers.

                        i wrote the Roosevelt to let them know *properly made* cocktails will not disappoint your customers, even if they take more time. Quality is quality, and specialty cocktails are definitely one thing people will go to the Sazerac for. Not rum & cokes.

                        1. re: kibbles

                          It's been a long time since that beautiful bar was up to snuff. It was a great bar once, and I had high hopes the renovation would usher in a renaissance. Clearly, we're not there yet! My worry is that the Sazerac will go back to being what it's been for the last twenty years — a conventional hotel bar catering to conventional hotel guests, many of whom wouldn't know a proper Ramos Gin Fizz if it walked up and kissed them hard on the lips.

                          Thanks for taking the time to write management. The more feedback they get from knowledgeable drinkers, the better.

                          1. re: BrooksNYC

                            I have to agree with kibbles, although I am sad to say it. It is an absolutely lovely space and as charming as I have heard from my mother and grandmother. The sense of history is absolutely palpatable. Unfortunately, neither the service or the cocktails were quite up to par. We were in last week at around 6:30 on a Friday night. (obviously it was going to be crowded as everyone had recently gotten off of work) There were only 3 bartender and one bar back. The place was packed to the gills with a very very young crowd (college age to mid-twenties) some wearing shorts and t-shirts. My husband returned to our suite to get his jacket for our dinner reservation, and was settling the kids in with the sitter. I waited for over 20 minutes for a drink while standing at the bar and when he returned he was shocked that I was still waiting. I was excited about my first Sazerac in the bar since the reopening, so I was not too terribly irritated until I tasted my drink. It was a bit syrupy, and like kibbles stated, they acted as though it were an inconvenience to take the time to make the drink properly and seemed stressed beyond belief. I also spoke with management, as were were staying at the hotel, and shared my concerns with them. I had my drink and we did not return to the Sazerac Bar again for the duration of our visit home. I must say that the hotel was wonderful, although the housekeeping was not up to snuff. The Waldorf suite is beautiful and spacious and highly recommended to those staying for an extended visit. Teddy's Cafe in the lobby had fabulous pastries, tarts, and cupcakes at a fraction of the price of room service (We paid 72.00 for 4 apple tarts) As far as the SAzerac Bar, I do hope that they hire additional servers and bartenders and that they are able to bring the place back to the good ol days. My parents were attending the Pete Fountain concert in the Blue Room that night, and reported no problems with the service or the cocktails post concert, so perhaps during the rush slip ups were made. I so hope that this beautiful space becomes what it once was for the future generations of New Orleanians to enjoy and treasure.

                            1. re: ScarlettNola

                              The whole country's gotten flabby and complacent, Miz Scarlett. We're too willing to settle for "good enough". Time to buck up, refocus, and get our groove back! :-)

                              What's this about four apple tarts for $72.00?! For that price, I hope they were big as manhole covers.

                              1. re: BrooksNYC

                                They were ordered by my husband for the children's dessert. They were quite large, and at 12.00 bucks a pop plus gratuity it was brutal. I later looked at the room service menu and saw that they offered children's sundae's for 5.00. Not sure how he missed that one....they also went entirely to waste as they had bacon (according to the sitter and to the kids) crumbles throughout the dish.

                                I agree that is is time to step up to the plate and get things right. I hope that the Roosevelt and The Sazerac Bar will put out there what you pay for. Unfortunately, someone on staff, although kind, catered to us simply because there was nothing to do and he/she was "bored" . These words came straight out of his mouth.

                      3. We went last Friday for happy hour. Got there early, about 4:30, but the place filled up by 5:15. And I mean filled up. We sat at a table in order to get the best people-watching in. There were a few technical problems at first: our cocktail waitress was on her shift but unprepared, one of the registers was on the fritz, last minute training behind the bar, some drinks on the menu were not available (Vieux Carre) and table snacks did not appear for over 30 minutes. However, the place looks great; just like it did before! The Sazeracs were good, as were the Old Fashioneds and the Gin Martinis.

                        The people watching was equally impressive. Tourists in Aeropostale t-shirts and sandals, locals in white linen suits (dressing for the occasion?) and business folks like us looking to check out the 'new' Sazerac Bar. Our happy hour turned into three happy hours without any regrets. On a last note, I feel certain that some of the women we saw on our way out were 'working'. Maybe the Sazerac Bar has quickly made its way back!

                        1. This thread is more about the Sazeracs but the Dark n Stormy you mentioned is dark rum (Goslings is the best) and ginger beer. Unbelievably refreshing

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: serich

                            and the best dark n stormy in town is at Cure, hands down.