Remembering the 1949 night that women ‘stormed’ the Sazerac Bar
Sept. 26, 1949, was the opening day of the Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Bar, which had been created with the renovation of a wine and liquor store facing Baronne Street and renamed after the watering hole that had operated at various locations for nearly 100 years. It may have seemed to be a day like so many others in the intertwined history of New Orleans and alcoholic beverages, but there was a difference: Seymour Weiss, the hotel’s general manager, put out the word that the bar would be open to women, who previously had been allowed inside only on Mardi Gras. They showed up — in what has romantically become known as “the storming of the Sazerac” — and the rest is history.
Storming the Sazerac has become an annual ritual at the Roosevelt, complete with vintage costumes to commemorate the day women were first allowed inside. The bar was spiffed up as part of the hotel’s post-Katrina renovation, with special attention to the mahogany bar, walnut-paneled walls and the Paul Ninas mural of New Orleans scenes, and it remains a popular drinking destination — for men and women alike.
- Weiss bought the rights to use the name “Sazerac Bar” from the Sazerac Co. Before landing in the hotel, the bar had been on Exchange Place before Prohibition and at 300 Carondelet St. after its repeal in 1933.
- Ever the showman, Weiss reportedly recruited camera-friendly “makeup girls” from nearby Godchaux’s department store to make sure the bar was packed with women on the big day.
- New Orleans isn’t the only city to commemorate the Storming of the Sazerac. The occasion is observed with several days of events at The Parish, a Southern-fusion gastropub in Tucson, Arizona, that is partly owned by New Orleans native Steve Dunn; and Bryce Zeagler, who grew up in Baton Rouge.
- The state Legislature in 2008 designated the Sazerac New Orleans’ official cocktail. Sen. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans, wrote the bill.
- According to the Sazerac company’s website , a proper Sazerac is made by packing an old-fashioned glass with ice then, leaving it to chill, muddling a sugar cube with three drops of Peychaud’s bitters in another old-fashioned glass and adding 1 1/2 ounces Sazerac rye whiskey. Discard the ice from the first glass, then pour 1/4 ounce Herbsaint in the now-chilled glass, rolling it around to coat the inside of the glass. Discard any remaining Herbsaint, then add the sugar/bitters/whiskey mixture to the chilled, coated glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.
- The first iteration of what became the Sazerac cocktail was created in 1838 by Antoine Peychaud, who owned a New Orleans apothecary. He used brandy, which was later replaced by rye.
Although it was a publicity stunt — and not a display of civil disobedience by local women, as the name suggests — the so-called storming of the Sazerac still marked a key moment for women in New Orleans. By letting them imbibe at the Sazerac Bar, the management was acknowledging that times were changing. This was four years after World War II, a conflict in which women had done their bit for the war effort by serving in the military, working in field hospitals and toiling in factories. By that time, society had outgrown the need to insulate women — heretofore regarded as the gentle sex — from an ugly world. Although the Sazerac admitted women, other establishments held on to at least part of that tenet. For instance, the St. Charles Hotel (since demolished) had a “ladies’ entrance,” and those words are still spelled out in tiles at what used to be an entrance to Angelo Brocato Ice Cream Parlor at 615-17 Ursulines St. in the French Quarter.