In New Orleans, frozen daiquiris practically are a birthright. When temperatures soar into the 90s, locals want icy cold drinks. If they are available to-go, even better. But now, thanks to a crop of bartenders who are using quality ingredients in place of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring, frozen drinks don't have to be sugar bombs that leave you with a killer crash and pounding headache 30 minutes later.
The taste for highbrow frozen drinks has been building slowly, and places including the now-shuttered Booty's Street Food and gastropub St. Lawrence were among the first local restaurants to take craft cocktail approaches to daiquiris.
Abigail Gullo, bar director at Compere Lapin (535 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-599-2119; www.comperelapin.com), says the shift is emblematic of trends seen across the country, where bartenders are moving toward a revival of "cheesy drinks from the '80s and '90s" that a few years ago would have gotten little more than a sneer.
"Cocktail bartending as a craft got really serious for a while ... but bartending and drinking is supposed to be fun," Gullo says. "It's not like we're backsliding. We're still making great drinks; we're just not being so precious with them anymore."
Plus, Gullo adds, the frozen versions of classic cocktails are "a great way to serve really good drinks really fast."
The drink selection rotates at Compere Lapin, but for early summer there's a fresh strawberry daiquiri made with rum, St. Germain, lime juice and black pepper simple syrup. The bar's take on a pina colada features coconut milk, coconut cream, rum, pineapple juice, lime, basil syrup and allspice liqueur and is topped with grated nutmeg.
At Willa Jean (611 O'Keefe Ave., 504-509-7334; www.willajean.com), the pale pink icy Frose is exactly what it sounds like: frozen rose in a go-cup. The house daiquiri machine also turns out a potent frozen lemonade made with Cathead Honeysuckle vodka.
The recently opened Ace Hotel's rooftop bar Alto (600 Carondelet St., 504-900-1180; www.acehotel.com/neworleans) is equipped with a whirring daiquiri machine, and revelers can enjoy views of the New Orleans skyline as a backdrop. Beverage director Lucinda Weed created the Mississippi Blues Lagoon — a riff on the 1970s cocktail, made with Cathead vodkas (regular and honeysuckle), Blue Curacao, lemon juice and lychee puree. Like the original, the drink is garnished with a tiny flag, orange and a cherry. There's also the Purple Rain — named in tribute to the late musician Prince — which is a take on the classic Bramble using gin, blackberries and lemon juice.
In the Riverbend, Bourree (1510 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-510-4040; www.bourreenola.com) was opened as a daiquiri and wing shop, where Nathanial Zimet and James Denio, the owners behind Boucherie, have been slinging fresh fruit and gin and tonic daiquiris for more than a year. The Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter is a refreshing take on the Bourbon Street standby and less headache-inducing, made with rum, Earl Grey simple syrup, Peychaud's bitters and lemon juice. Seasonal flavors change frequently, but lately specials have included a strawberry colada made with lemon grass and star anise, a bourbon- based frozen mint julep and a tart carrot and cilantro frozen margarita made with tequila.
Bacobar (70437 Highway 21, Covington, 985-893-2450; www.bacobarnola.com) is the Northshore's newest Latin and Asian street food concept. When its owners took over the former Jerk's Island Grill spot, they inherited eight daiquiri machines. Bartender Lu Brow designed the drinks menu, and cocktails take a sharp detour from the norm, including frozen cocktails that turn tradition on its head. The Chi Chi, a reworked pina colada, swaps rum for Pinnacle vodka and features fresh pineapple juice, ginger liqueur and cream of coconut. Frozen margaritas are infused with fresh lemon grass and there's even a frozen spin on the classic French 75, made with brandy, orange liqueur, lemon juice and sparkling wine.