REVIEW: The Confederacy of Cruisers History of Drinking Tour
On each of our trips to New Orleans, I try to make it a rule to plan at least one new activity and one new restaurant to try. Naturally, this becomes more and more difficult as time goes on because I am always wanting to revisit old favorites (which are constantly multiplying…imagine that!). For our trip this January, we settled in on the “History of Drinking Tour” conducted by the Confederacy of Cruisers.
This tour is one that I would call an “only in New Orleans” experience. My co-workers were appalled when I explained my itinerary to them. I mean, biking to several different bars at 10:00 A.M. on a Monday morning? Before NOON? On a bike? Is this even legal? These were some of the reactions I received when I told of my intentions to go on this particular tour in the early part of my trip. Someone even went as far as to question whether we could be arrested for DUI why biking (and drinking) through the streets of New Orleans. I assured each of my friends and colleagues that I had no inclination at all to go on some sort of drunken reckless biking escapade. We had utilized the Confederacy of Cruisers for a previous biking tour before, and they were nothing but professional. I trusted that they would not leave me incoherent in a pile of mystery liquid or spending the night in the drunk tank courtesy of the NOPD. Still, the concerns of those around me started to cause me to doubt my own judgment. I mean, when you really think about it, drinking five alcoholic beverages while navigating the narrow, crowded streets of New Orleans in the span of a few hours sounds like an episode straight out of Man Vs. Food. I was a little nervous as the big day approached, and even considered cancelling the tour. I was glad that I didn’t because it turned out to be one of the highlights of this particular trip.
We arrived on Sunday afternoon. I told my husband that I didn’t want to drink or stay out too late that first night of our stay because our drinking tour was in the morning and we needed a good night’s sleep. We also wanted to get up early enough to get a good breakfast before the tour to help soak up some of the liquid festivities. This, my friends, did not happen. We got, as my husband likes to say, “New Orleans-ed.” We decided we could have a drink or two, listen to a few bands, and before we knew what happened, it was after midnight. Of course, this translated to us oversleeping the next morning and waking up with barely an hour to get ready, grab some breakfast, and head over to where the tour begins. Our dreams of a lavish New Orleans breakfast seemed dashed due to time constraints, but we wound up finding a quick reprieve at Café Beignet (more on that in another post). Anyway, when it was all said and done, not only did we make it, but we were a few minutes early. In fact, we were so early, that we were the first ones on the scene at the park. We were starting to wonder if they had forgotten about us or if the tour had been cancelled because the weather was not exactly a pleasant Spring day. It was overcast with periods of rain and pretty cold. Still, the good people at Confederacy of Cruisers had confirmed our attendance via text message the night before (while we were out drinking before our drinking tour, no less), and sure enough, the tour guide came around the corner, wheeling bicycles and other equipment. Another appeared with the final bike. They were warm and friendly and explained that they needed just a couple of minutes to set up our bikes and the bar (um, hello!) and explained that we could grab a cup of coffee or have a walk around the park while we waited. We chose the park since we had just downed some coffee for breakfast. We returned a few minutes later to start our journey.
Our tour guide informed us that we were the only couple on the tour. The other party decided to cancel out because of the weather. Like I said before, it was a fairly cold January morning (as New Orleans goes, anyway) with a substantial threat of rain. Still, I can’t help but say they really missed out in the end. The tour guide started her presentation by answering many of the questions my co-workers (and okay, maybe me a little bit too) were so worried about. She started out with a charming explanation of the history of drinking in New Orleans and what it means to their culture. New Orleanians don’t just get trashed all the time, as the stereotype may suggest. She explained that the notion of drinking during the night was truly an American idea. New Orleanians have a different outlook, being from a mainly French and Caribbean heritage. It is very common for New Orleans natives to go for a drink in the morning. Nobody considers this taboo or even the least bit unusual. Drinking is about social interaction and not simply about getting drunk. She did go over the fact that technically, riding drunk on a bicycle could earn you a DUI, but this law is rarely enforced and you would have to be doing something completely ridiculous to garner the attention. In New Orleans, it is legal to drink on the streets, and this includes when you are riding a bicycle. While she explained all of this, she used her makeshift bar to fix us a lime and rum cooler to wet our appetites.
The cooler was tasty, and while we sipped, she explained the functions of our bikes and the options to wear helmets. Each bike has a cup holder attached to the handlebars, but she explained that the best way to avoid spilling your drink in the pothole-ridden streets of New Orleans was to hold the drink in your hand. Easier to drink it too. After the quick rundown, we were off. The tour is very well-planned and includes stops for history and other informational stories in between drink stops. This is great because you never feel like you have to wolf down one of these concoctions too fast and you have a little time for it to digest. The tour also includes a variety of drinks, and stories about the bars and how the signature drinks came to be what they are today. First stop was a local bar called Flannagan’s. Here, we stopped in to sample some local beers. There were a few choices. We both chose the NOLA Blonde, a light ale. It was delicious. We would actually revisit Flannagan’s several more times on our trips, especially as a stopping point on our walks to Frenchmen Street. Next came the Napoleon House where we had the famous Pimm’s Cup. My husband didn’t like this the first time he had it on a previous trip, but he was pleasantly surprised. Now it is one of his favorite drinks and he can’t wait to go back and have another. We visited the Sazerac Lounge in the Roosevelt Hotel. This place is simply oozing with turn-of-the-century elegance. From the ornate plasterwork on the ceiling in the lobby to the plush booths in the bar, we felt like we were transported to yet another time where Old World meets art deco and flappers and gangsters bumped elbows with high society. Here, we were given the choice between two iconic New Orleans drinks: the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz. My husband took the Sazerac and I the Fizz. Both were good, the Sazerac being predominantly whiskey and the Ramos Gin Fizz being refreshing, light, and decadent all at once. If you are wanting to try either of these drinks, you are going to want to choose a higher-class bar, like the Sazerac Lounge or the Hermes Bar. The last bar we visited was the Erin Rose. This is a dive bar off of Bourbon. Our drink here was an Irish Coffee. Typically, our guide recommends the frozen variety, but since it was cold out, you could also get it hot. I chose hot, and my extremely weird husband chose frozen. We then biked back to the original location to conclude the tour.
All in all, this tour was one of my favorite News Orleans experiences. Did I get completely trashed? The answer is no. I did have a pleasant buzz toward the end of the trip, but nothing to impede my driving or comprehension of the history we learned about during the course of the ride. I myself am not an experienced bike rider at all, and I found myself reluctant to hold my drink in one hand while steering the bike with the other. By the end, I was on my way to perfecting the New Orleans-style ride, but not before I was covered in lime juice, rum, beer, lemonade, gin, and sorts of sugary, sticky sweetness. My husband’s favorite moment is when he caught me trying to “Fred Flintstone” it (a.k.a. stop the bike with my feet instead of the pedal brakes) and crash, ever so slightly, into the curb, causing a mushroom cloud of alcohol to erupt from my half-empty cup and end up all over my pants and shoes. If our sweet and professional tour guide saw, she pretended not to. This tour is great to familiarize yourself with the drinking culture in New Orleans. Do this tour towards the beginning of your trip so you can be sure to revisit favorites later on. And always, the moral of the story is that anytime in New Orleans is a good time for a drink.