Austin has been a craft cocktail-making destination for, oh, only about the past decade or so. The storied Louisiana port town of New Orleans, on the other hand, can call itself the birthplace of many of the classic cocktails we love today.
And no wonder: New Orleans is famous for its celebration of Mardi Gras, the no-holds-barred festivity leading up to Lent, as well as year-round revelry on Bourbon Street. Sure, you can get drinks there like the famously boozy, bright green Hand Grenade and the ridiculously sweet Hurricane, but New Orleans and its historic French Quarter are home to more well-regarded tipples like the whiskey-laden Sazerac, too.
Traditionally, Mardi Gras (which you might know means "Fat Tuesday" in French) is the time to get our biggest indulgences out of our systems. We can make sure that happens. To bring some of the French Quarter fun to Austin, head to these local bars and restaurants that either already have some of New Orleans' well-known drinks on their menus or are whipping them up just for their Mardi Gras celebrations on Tuesday.
Craftsman, 2000 E. Cesar Chavez St. Your best bet for Mardi Gras festivities this year is this powder-blue bungalow bar, which has been transformed into the sort of lively Bourbon Street hangout that you'd expect this time of year — complete with Mardi Gras beads, Cajun dishes like alligator on a stick and, of course, lots of booze.
The Mardi Gras-themed pop-up bar at Craftsman also has a menu of New Orleans-inspired drinks. Order the bar's frozen version of the Hand Grenade. Modeled after a spirit-heavy staple exclusively found at a handful of nightclubs in the French Quarter, it'll transport you to the Big Easy. Though the authentic recipe is said to be a secret, the Hand Grenade is traditionally made with several different types of booze, including gin and rum, and gets its characteristic neon green color from melon liqueur. Craftsman's version is served with a miniature baby figurine, like the kind you'd find in a king cake.
Odd Duck, 1201 S. Lamar Blvd. The recipe for the Hurricane — a veritable storm of sweetness on the taste buds — is far less mysterious. Nonetheless, one of Austin's top restaurants has made it their own, swapping out the passion fruit for strawberry shrub and offering a triple serving of rum, to boot. The frozen Hurricane Odd Duck is a more balanced, though still faithful, rendition of the 1940s-era classic.
The Roosevelt Room, 307 W. Fifth St. This darkened downtown den is the place to go if you like a little bit of history with your booze. The Roosevelt Room's 80-drink menu is divided by era and features the ultimate New Orleans cocktail in its first section: the Sazerac. Created during the early years of the mixed drink in the mid-1800s, the Sazerac is tweaked here to add cognac to the traditional mixture of rye whiskey, Peychaud's bitters, absinthe and Demerara sugar.
Mattie's at Green Pastures, 811 W. Live Oak St. Of course the restaurant spread across a two-story Victorian home in South Austin is all about Southern hospitality. Many of the cocktails have Southern roots, too, such as La Louisiane. Based on a drink that originated in New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century, Mattie's elegant offering has Sazerac rye, vermouth de Torino, Benedictine, Peychaud's bitters and absinthe.
Le Politique, 110 San Antonio St. The French Quarter is the oldest section of New Orleans — so old that many of its buildings were erected before 1803, the year of the Louisiana Purchase. In the mid-1930s, a bartender at the historic French Quarter hotel Monteleone created the Vieux Carré in tribute to the vibrant nightlife district. And now, a French restaurant in downtown Austin has this warming whiskey cocktail (yes, the Big Easy loves that rye) on the menu, as well.
Half Step, 75 1/2 Rainey St. Although the cocktail menu at this laid-back lounge typically has about a half-dozen drinks on it at a time, Half Step's bartenders are fully trained to deliver whatever will please your palate. And if the fun, frothy, difficult-to-prepare Ramos Gin Fizz does the trick, they'll roll up their sleeves and get to shaking. With gin, heavy cream, egg white, citrus juice and other ingredients, the 1880s-era Ramos Gin Fizz is notorious for its tricky preparation. Half Step can pull it off.
Whisler's, 1816 E. Sixth St. To celebrate Fat Tuesday, the East Austin cocktail bar will host its first crawfish boil of the season, bring in the Boss Street Brass Band for New Orleans sounds and serve up king cakes from Haydel's Bakery. There will also be French Quarter-born drinks like the little-known, beautifully hued Roffignac, typically made with raspberry shrub, cognac, simple syrup and soda water. Whisler's Fat Tuesday party starts at 4 p.m.