[Historic Bars] Carousel Bar & Lounge in New Orleans

Posted on: August 7th, 2014 by David Weible 3 Comments

Preservation Nation continues its tour of historic bars as we sashay our way into America’s historic cocktail lounges, the upscale gin joints where high society has sipped sophistication for decades. First round (literally): The Carousel Bar & Lounge in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Carousel Bar in all its glory. Credit: Dan Silvers, Flickr
The Carousel Bar in all its glory

The history of the Carousel is inextricably linked to the hotel in which it sits: the Hotel Monteleone, a Historic Hotels of America member in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Founded in 1886 by a Sicilian-nobleman-and-shoe-factory-operator-turned-immigrant-hotelier (you can’t make this stuff up) named Antonio Monteleone, the spot on the corner of Iberville and Royal streets has seen five generations of family ownership. It began with 64 rooms in 1886, then expanded to 94 in 1903, 394 rooms in 1908, and finally 594 rooms in 1928 before they tore the original building down and started over on new guest facilities, swimming pools, and dining areas.

The Carousel after a few rotations ... and a few drinks. Credit: Katherine Kenny, Flickr
The Carousel after a few rotations ... and a few drinks.

The Carousel Bar & Lounge got its start in the 1940s, but found its true identity when they installed the rotating carousel bar in 1949. (You knew the name came from somewhere.) That’s right, it’s actually a 25-seat rotating bar that makes one rotation every 15 minutes -- just about the right amount of time to polish off a strong cocktail.

How does it work? There’s a one-quarter horsepower engine that powers a chain around 2,000 steel rollers beneath the bar. If you’re thinking that it sounds slightly bootleg, just remember they built it in ’49.

But that’s not the Carousel’s only claim to fame: The Goody and the Vieux Carre cocktails were Carousel originals. Beyond that, the bar has starred in films from the 1992 drama “Double Jeopardy” with Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd, to a 2008 PBS documentary about NOLA music legend Fats Domino.

Nothing like a court jester to get your buzz going. Credit: dutchbaby, Flickr
Nothing like a court jester to get your buzz going

More recently, the Carousel Bar & Lounge has seen a bit of updating. Starting in 2011, the lounge was expanded and received a new color scheme, lighting, coffered ceilings, and custom crown molding, along with a new stationary bar to increase seating and serving capacity. Fear not, though. The carousel itself has kept its historic character.

Location: 214 Royal St., New Orleans, LA 70130-2201

Hours: 11 a.m. until ?, 7 days a week.

You’re Having: A Vieux Carre = Hennessey cognac, Benedictine, rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters.

Best Yelp Review: "I [am] not trying to be SAPPY but this bar really makes me feel like a kid again!! Weeeeee!"

Best Unexpected Feature: Being able to people-watch the entire bar without ever turning your head.

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David Weible

David Weible

David Weible is a content specialist for the National Trust, previously with Preservation magazine. He came to D.C. from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.


3 Responses

  1. Karen Snyder

    August 19, 2014

    Another great thing about the Carousel Bar–locals drink there too!

  2. Lynne Ziobro

    August 21, 2014

    My first visit to the Carousel was almost 20 years ago, when the decor was more “circus-y” and the bartenders wore yellow and orange striped vests that looked like something a ringleader would wear. They have since toned everything down so it appears more sophisticated. It’s always fun to bring along an unsuspecting friend and watch their faces as they get the feeling that something seems to be moving. While it’s certainly not the least expensive place to grab a cocktail in the Quarter, it’s definitely worth the visit. This is always one of the first places I go whenever in New Orleans. The clientele runs the full gamut, from dressed down twenty-something’s to elderly high society wearing tuxedos and evening gowns and everything in between. So glad you wrote about it!

  3. Robert Harper

    August 25, 2014

    I have always loved this place. In my college years I had my first “legal” drink at the Carousel. During Mardi Gras my then friend-girls dad and native New Orleanian bought our rag tag little group a round of drinks. (the drinking age was 18 then) It seemed like magic. I have returned many times and it still does. The fact that the Carousel still exists warms the depth of my preservationist soul.