Winter is tricky in New Orleans. Visitors wrongly assume that it never gets cold in the Big Easy. How many of us have had to endure “you don’t know cold” lectures?
And while it’s true that we may see T-shirt weather one day, it can drop to a temperature that has you grabbing the parka from the storage box under the bed the next.
What visitors never take into account is the damp or the fact that many of our houses pre-date electricity, not to mention insulation. Don’t we all know someone who is making do with a Snuggie and a couple of space heaters from the Reagan era?
Winter confuses us; we’re not a housebound people. We just don’t know what to do with it.
Except to start drinking.
And given how much we spend on heating bills, why not give the thermostat a rest?
Why not turn away from Netflix for a few hours and head out of the house to enjoy a round or two in a beautiful, cozy space?
Here are some of my favorite drinking spots for warming up and beating the stuck-in-the-shotgun blues.
Uptown, The Columns Hotel may be best known for genteel juleps and spring drinks on the front porch, but my favorite time to visit is winter. With its infinitely tall ceilings, paneled wood, jewel-toned paints and cushy seats, these Gothic Victorian rooms make me feel like I’ve stepped into the parlor of the grand estate my ancestors should have had the decency to bequeath me. On cold nights, the bartenders light fires; pull up a stool by the massive, one-of-a-kind bar or generate some body heat with friends in the inglenook in the middle room.
Consider ordering a toddy or an Irish Coffee. For a bolder move, ask for their decidedly stiffer cousin, the Columns Flaming Coffee, newly created by bartender Michael Schenck. Indeed, the drink does involve flames; it also involves two rums, Kahlua, Bailey’s Irish Cream, cinnamon, nutmeg and whipped cream, and after two rounds, a cab home.
Good to know: Happy Hour, seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Discounted house wines, beer, well drinks, $5 martinis.
From the outside, Bouligny Tavern appears to be a quaint, well-preserved sidehall cottage, but step inside and you’ll find wood-paneled and upholstered walls, box beam ceilings and banquette seating. Thank chef and owner John Harris, of next-door Lilette fame.
While concrete countertops and lighting add contemporary touches, the overall aesthetic feels distinctly “Mad Men.” Bartenders play jazz and Brat Pack vinyl while the front sofa and coffee table arrangement appear to have been transplanted out of the Sputnik era. Plenty of candles create a warm, low lighting. Pricewise, the Tavern runs upscale, with most cocktail and wine by the glass prices ranging from $9 to $12.
Good to know: On a budget? Consider the happy hour menu with $5 glasses of wine, $2.50 Kronenbourg 1664 and, best of all, refined comfort foods: $5 “fried items” (think gouda beignets and scotch eggs) and $5 crostini and brushettes.
On chilly French Quarter nights, the often accoladed and short-listed Bar Tonique offers fires in its two hearths as well as exposed brick walls, cushy seats and quality mixed cocktails, many at $9 and under. Tonique may be the only bar in town to have its own “Temperance Drinks,” or nonalcoholic menu, for those who don’t partake. But for those looking to warm up quick, bartender Mark Schettler recommends either an Apple Hot Toddy or the Whiskey Skin, Tonique’s take on the classic toddy and made with Knappague, a 12-year-old single malt Irish whiskey. Also worth considering: the Rampart Cocktail with Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, the Italian liquers Aperol and Averna Amaro, and served at room temperature.
Good to know: Bar Tonique offers $5 cocktail specials, one for each day of the week, including some hot punches on Fridays. Happy Hour favors the leisure class from noon to 5 p.m. with select $5 cocktails; however, local industry and nonprofit employees also enjoy discounts. See website for details.
3811 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans
3641 Magazine St., New Orleans
820 N. Rampart St., New Orleans