Review: Sazarac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel

Even though I don’t drink, I’m always on the lookout for historic bars when I travel as there’s just something fun about visiting these spots.

So when I recently stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel (a Waldorf Astoria), I knew I’d have to venture down to the bar at some point.

Here’s what my recent experience was like at the historic Sazarac Bar located inside the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.

What is the Sazarac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel?

The Sazerac Bar, located within The Roosevelt Hotel, is an iconic establishment renowned for its rich history, classic cocktails, and timeless ambiance. Established in 1949, it holds a special place in the heart of New Orleans as a symbol of tradition and sophistication.

The bar is particularly famous for its namesake cocktail, the Sazerac, which is crafted with rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters, and absinthe, creating a flavorful and aromatic drink that has become a staple of the city’s cocktail culture.

It’s also thought by some beverage historians to be the oldest cocktail. So if you like sipping historical drinks and enjoy spending time in historical bars, the Sazerac Bar should certainly be on your list.

Related: Denver’s Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel: The Longest Running Bar in Town

Sazarac bar background

The Roosevelt Hotel is home to a beautiful lobby and it’s within these opulent corridors that you will find a timeless gem, the Sazerac Bar, steeped in both elegance and intrigue.

Since its inception on September 26th, 1949, this establishment has not only served as a haven for fine libations but also as a symbol of progressive change.

Back in 1949, the Sazerac Bar flung open its doors to women, breaking the tradition that had confined their presence to Mardi Gras Day alone. In fact, even today there’s an annual event inspired by the “the storming of the Sazerac” where women arrive dressed in 1940s attire to enjoy a three-course lunch, fashion show, and live entertainment.

I believe it takes place in September, so be on the lookout and get your peep-toe shoes ready (tickets to the event are about $110).

Sazarac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel

As you step into this venerable space, your eyes may need a moment to adjust since it can be very dim. On our first visit, the bar area was appropriately dimmed to create a nice ambience but on the second visit it was so dark we first thought it was closed!

You’ll notice a seating area right at the entrance and then the bar opens up to a long room with rich wood paneling adorning the walls. It’s quite a beautiful setting.

Sazarac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel

The timeless murals, painted by artist Paul Minas in the 1930s, offer a glimpse into the vibrant life of New Orleans during that bygone era. If you know anything about New Orleans history, you might be able to recognize some figures….

Sazarac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel

And the bar itself, all hewn from a single African Walnut Tree and fashioned by the skilled hands of the hotel’s House Carpenter in 1938.

Amidst the intricate grains of this noble wood, a famed bullet hole stands as a testament to the bar’s storied past. Contrary to popular lore, it wasn’t aimed at the esteemed governor Huey Long but rather was apparently the the result of a tipsy oilman’s clumsy revolver in the late 1950s.

You’ll find it on the wall in the back of the bar. Just look for the picture frame.

Sazarac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel bullet hole

For those that drink, you almost have to order a Sazarac when visiting the Sazarac Bar, at least on your first visit. Sazaracs are thought to be the oldest cocktail by many, dating back to the 1830s! Pretty cool.

Today, the bar serves them as their house cocktail in a traditional recipe of rye, Peychaud’s, absinthe. The price is a steep $21.

They also have the Coffee House Sazerac at the Sazerac Bar, which pays homage to the original Sazerac House of 1850. This blend features coffee-infused Sazerac Rye, cognac, coffee liqueur, and a hint of absinthe, offering a nice twist on the classic cocktail.

Sazarac cocktail.
Sazarac cocktail.

Since I don’t drink alcohol (beyond “curiosity sips”) but still appreciate historic bars I went with the two mocktails.

First I tried out the Sweet Sunrise, crafted with Lyre’s Agave Blanco, passionfruit, and Eime, and then I went with the Nada Spritz, featuring Lyre’s Aperitivo, Lyre’s Aperitif Rosso, and soda water.

Something that was very surprising to me is that Lyre’s Agave Blanco was actually make non-alcoholic tequila, which I definitely did not know existed.

To be honest, I could not really taste a strong tequila flavor because of the other ingredients but I really enjoyed the Sweet Sunrise. Maybe next time I’ll just ask for a shot!

I have to be honest the overall experience at the bar was a little bit underwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong the bartenders served us up our drinks just fine and were generally pleasant.

However, they didn’t show much interest in carrying on conversations with us patrons. In an almost completely empty, early afternoon bar setting, it seemed like something a bar tender would naturally do, especially in such a historic bar where there’s lots to talk about.

Perhaps I expect too much but this is a five-star hotel — on paper, anyway.

The bar does get hopping later on in the afternoon and when I strolled by in the evening it was extremely crowded. For me, I just like to experience these bars in the off hours to quietly enjoy the historic ambience but certainly if you’re looking for a more festive bar experience it seems to get pretty busy.

Final word

With its blend of history, craftsmanship, and a touch of whimsy, a visit to the Sazerac Bar promises an unforgettable experience, where each sip of your chosen libation is imbued with the spirit of old NOLA. I’d recommend a visit when in town although I’m not sure how high your expectations should be set for the overall experience.