My friend and his wife recently arrived in New Orleans for a much-needed vacation. He was fresh off the plane from an overseas deployment and joked that he was coming to town because “the drinks were cold, strong, and plentiful.” They booked a room at a romantic chateau near Jackson Square and called me their first night in, asking for one of the better places to get a drink downtown.
He was mildly surprised when I suggested they go to the bar at Tujague’s.
“Isn’t that a tourist trap by Jackson Square?” he said with a hint of “Are-you-sure-you-know-how-to-find-the-French-Quarter?” in his voice.
“Hold on. I’ll be at your hotel in 15 minutes.” I said, quickly grabbing my keys and wallet.
Lets dispel the myth first. No, Tujague’s is not a tourist trap; it is potentially the best-kept secret of historic restaurants in a town that loudly brags of its culinary superiority. Overshadowed by the multiple restaurants owned by the Brennans, the locational strength of Galatoire’s, and the opulence of Antoine’s, Tujague’s does not receive the attention it deserves for an adherence to tradition and quality. Perhaps potential customers are scared off by the six-course table d’hote menu, which provides not just a choice of entrée, but a standard course from appetizer through dessert. But that’s a pitiful excuse; Tujague’s is the second-oldest restaurant in New Orleans and they stand by the Creole menu as a testament to the history of the city of New Orleans itself. Regardless, the food is fresh, local, and delicious. It’s a call back to when “selection” and “variety” were determined by what arrived at the French Market that morning.
But I didn’t recommend Tujague’s to my thirsty friends for the great food. Their desire was for a proper drink, one that would erase the strains and stresses caused by a military combat tour.
The bar at Tujague’s must be seen to be believed. A decadent french mirror covers the wall, overlooking the bartender, who is clad in what some would consider “speakeasy attire.” A long stand-up cypress bar creates an ambiance so foreign to the 21stcentury that my friend thought we “were in Prohibition times.”
And then there are the drinks. Grasshoppers, Cuba Libres, Sazeracs, Brandy Milk Punch; Tujague’s has a four-page specialty cocktail menu alone. Many of those drinks are from a different era, one where bourbon didn’t only mix with Coke or gin with tonic. You may be unfamiliar with some of the names or ingredients in the concoctions, but I don’t think there is a better cocktail menu or bartender in New Orleans. Those beverages are special.
You may have noticed the large neon Tujague’s sign while walking around Jackson Square or Decatur Street. Maybe you’ve wondered what the place is like inside. You deserve to find out. After all, it has been around since 1856. They’re clearly doing many things right.
For a deeper look into the Tujague’s Bar, take a look at this video from GoNOLA TV.