The Unique Rotating Bar In New Orleans You Should Add To Your Bucket List ASAP

In New Orleans, you might see some drunken carousing on Bourbon Street, but if you want to drink while riding an actual carousel, head to Royal Street. It's the next block over, and it's where you'll find the Hotel Monteleone, just a two-minute walk from where all the bead-throwing from balconies occurs (even when it's not Mardi Gras). Designated a Literary Landmark by United for Libraries, this luxury hotel is also a member of the Historic Hotels of America. It first opened in 1886 and has been in the same family for five generations.

Since 1949, the hotel's one-of-a-kind Carousel Bar and Lounge, which bills itself as the city's "first and only rotating bar," has been a magnet for guests and non-guests alike. As its name implies, the Carousel Bar is designed to look like a merry-go-round — complete with gold lights and grinning jesters — but it will put you on a bar stool instead of a horse. Here, you can sip cocktails in a more relaxed atmosphere, away from all the Bourbon Street madness. The bar makes one full rotation every 15 minutes, so you can pace your drink intake based on that.

Over the years, the Carousel Bar has attracted famous athletes like Michael Jordan, music stars like Paul Simon and Rod Stewart, and actors and directors like Nicolas Cage, Dennis Quaid, and Quentin Tarantino. However, it and the hotel are arguably best known for their link to many prominent writers, some of whom immortalized the place in literature.

Drinks and literary history at the Carousel Bar

When you walk in off Royal Street and enter the Hotel Monteleone, you'll see a glass case on the wall inside the door with old books, black-and-white photos, and a list of "acclaimed authors and guests." Some of the names listed are Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, and Tennessee Williams, all of whom have their own dedicated literary suites you can book at the hotel. These authors were also patrons of the bar, with Capote reportedly telling other drinkers he was "born at the Monteleone," since his mother stayed at the hotel right up until she gave birth to him.

Hemingway mentioned "the Monteleone bar" in his short story "Night Before Battle." Among the many other literary works to reference it or the hotel are "Band of Brothers" by Stephen E. Ambrose and "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" by Rebecca Wells. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the late Anne Rice, and "Forrest Gump" author Winston Groom were also guests, per Biz New Orleans.

The Carousel Bar only seats 25 people, but the lounge has other tables, so if you can't nab a stool right away, you can always wait it out and swoop in later when there's an opening. The bar touts the Vieux Carré cocktail, invented by hotel bartender Walter Bergeron in the 1930s, as its specialty. However, it also serves the official New Orleans cocktail, Sazerac, along with other crafted cocktails, heritage bourbons, and bar bites like beignets, oysters Rockefeller, and caviar.

A beacon for artists and tourists

The Carousel Bar and Lounge is open every day from 11 a.m. to midnight. Live music fills the bar from Wednesday to Saturday; performance times vary, but there's usually a multi-hour set in the late afternoon or evening, and another one at the end of the night.

One frequent performer is Lena Prima, the daughter of jazz and swing music legend Louis Prima, who voiced King Louie in the Disney animated film "The Jungle Book." The elder Prima performed in the Swan Room, a nightclub that once stood adjacent to the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone. Singer and pianist Liberace also performed there, and given his reputation as the Glitter Man and Mr. Showmanship, it's only appropriate that he'd come to the Carousel to knock back drinks afterward.

With such a long list of renowned names attached to it, it's as if the Carousel Bar is the only fixed point in a 75-year-old traveling carnival of artists and tourists. At night, the hotel's recognizable rooftop sign acts as a red beacon in the French Quarter, and it also has a rooftop pool. Its halls, meanwhile, are home to some haunted history, including one story about a feuding restaurant chef and waiter's ghosts. Criollo Restaurant now occupies the room next to the Carousel Bar, and it's likewise open to non-hotel guests. Whether you stay at the hotel or just visit, you'll definitely want to add the Carousel Bar to your New Orleans bucket list.