Paul Gustings at Broussard's Empire Bar

Drink & Learn pours over three centuries of Crescent City lore. (©Shawn Fink)

Tours With a Twist

By Douglas Brantley on 06/03/14

“You are going to be making your way through New Orleans history,” says Elizabeth Pearce, pointing to a row of coral-hued drinks master mixologist Paul Gustings is pouring along the marble-topped bar. “Three centuries in five drinks in two hours.” It’s a heady undertaking, but the group gathered in Broussard’s Empire Bar is thirsty for knowledge and New Orleans’ legendary libations.

A former curator of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and co-author of “The French Quarter Drinking Companion,” Pearce is well versed in the city’s liquid lore and loves passing on her passion through her popular Drink & Learn experience. “I taught high school for a number of years and learned very quickly that no one pays attention to anything unless they have that thing in front of them,” she says, placing cocktails before guests. “So you get the drink first, then you hear the story. There is an overlap between grumpy 9th graders and drunk adults.”

Drink & Learn creator Elizabeth Pearce

So begins a rollicking ride through Crescent City history, with side trips to France, Spain and Haiti along the way. “This is the story of New Orleans, told through its iconic drinks,” Pearce explains. “Whatever happens in New Orleans is best viewed through the bottom of a glass.”

The class starts in the early 1700s with a Master Lemonadier, symbolic of the “flavored waters” offered in early drinking establishments, before moving on to a traditional cognac Sazerac, then another Sazerac, this one rye whiskey-based and indicative of the 1870s. There’s a rum punch and a gin fizz, but what really makes heads swim is Pearce’s wealth of local knowledge and eagerness to share it, righting inaccuracies in the process. “People say the cocktail was invented in New Orleans,” she notes. “This is not true. I wish it was, it should have been, but here’s the thing….”

Bartender Paul Gustings

It’s a lot to soak in, but Pearce proves the perfect teacher; there are even handouts recapping recipes (“The name of my business is not Drink, Learn & Remember”). As she says, “It’s the American history class you wish you had taken.”   

Additional tours that drink deep from New Orleans’ fluid history:

The Cocktail Tour
When she’s not holding court at Broussard’s Empire Bar, Elizabeth Pearce roves the French Quarter, with a cocktail in hand, leading groups on her equally popular walking tour.

New Orleans Cocktail Tour
Tales of the Cocktail grew out of this intoxicating tour, which kicks off daily at 4 pm during the event (July 16-20). Guided by cocktail guru Joe Gendusa, attendees set off from the Hotel Monteleone for a taste of one of America’s most spirited cities.

New Orleans’ Original Cocktail Tour
Gendusa also conducts Gray Line’s boozy walking tour, which visits five notable watering holes and offers history lessons en route. Drinks not included.

Scandalous Cocktail Hour Tour
A shot of sensationalism with your Sazerac? From absinthe to organized crime, Pimm’s Cups to prostitution, this walking tour covers it all and then some. 

Booze and Bikes Tour
“Let the good times roll” is taken literally with these two-wheeling tours of neighborhood bars. Drinks, cup holders—and helmets—provided.