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Food & Drink

Drinking the Hurricane: New Orleans’ Iconic Cocktail

During hurricane season, one kind of hurricane is welcomed in New Orleans in cocktail form, found at the famous Pat O’Brien’s bar among others.

With hurricane season officially starting on June 1, why not focus our attention on the kinds of hurricanes we want — the fruity, alcoholic ones served in tall curved glasses. While the Hurricane is not New Orleans’ official drink, this sweet concoction is probably New Orleans’ most famous cocktail, and is synonymous with the French Quarter’s best known bar, Pat O’Brien’s.

The hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Now 64 years old, the Hurricane was born out of necessity when bar owner Pat O’Brien needed to find a way to sell fifty cases of rum. At the time, liquor distributors required that bar owners buy large quantities of rum before they could get their hands on the rare stuff like whiskey and bourbon. O’Brien added fruit juice and grenadine and served his cocktail in curved, “hurricane”-shaped glasses. Those glasses remain one of the most common souvenirs visitors pack in their suitcases as they head home.

To O’Brien’s or not to O’Brien’s? The serious visitor may be inclined to dismiss a stop at Pat O’s as too touristy. But even as a long-time resident, I’d have to disagree. Any institution and drink that’s remained so popular is worth a gander. About a week ago, I had a chance conversation with a Pat O’Brien’s bartender who confided that despite the trying holiday weekend crowds, there was something very wonderful about his job: the stories customers tell him, sometimes going back decades and spanning multiple generations. Even after many years, people have strong memories associated with their first Hurricane and a glass they’ve carefully guarded ever since.

I can testify to the power of that iconic glass with its green script. My mother kept her own wrapped in tissue paper in the hall closet of our home in Oakland, Ca. She’d gone to New Orleans for a weekend when she was in college. Every once in a while when the glass would be unwrapped she smiled in a sly way. Even as a young child living 2,000 miles away, that glass single-handedly generated my first association with New Orleans: fun. The adventurous kind of fun that will keep you telling stories for years to come. And when 13 years ago, my husband and I debated leaving California to move to New Orleans, we went to Pat O’Brien’s to mull it over. For the first round, we remained undecided. By the end of the second, we were sold.

So buyer beware: like a lot of rum-based, fruit drinks, the Hurricane seems more innocuous than it is. Even without its famous (or infamous, depending on how many you’ve had) drink, Pat O’Brien’s piano bar, brick courtyard and 200 year old building merit a visit on their own. You’ll like what you see, even before you’ve had your first round.

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