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The drink was unlike anything I had ever seen or tasted before.  At 718 St. Peter Street in New Orleans, Louisiana, exists a bar reminiscent of the French Quarter.  With two levels and a balcony, shuttered doors and a burnt orange and green color scheme, Pat O’Brien’s blends in from the outside, yet offers a signature experience on the inside.  A fabled Flaming Fountain consisting of a goblet with fire being doused in water graces the courtyard and locally famous dueling pianos bring sing-a-long music to the inside.  Coupled with the legendary Hurricane, Pat O’Brien’s is an experience one could not easily forget.

When I first visited New Orleans, I made the necessary touristy trip to Pat O’Brien’s to bask in the ambiance of the Hurricane.  After the warranted I.D. check, my friends and I ventured into the courtyard bar that was evocative of the lush and beautiful Garden District that exists nearby.  Greeted by a very polite and well-spoken bartender dressed in a vibrant green sport coat with black tie and slacks, we were asked if we wanted to try a Hurricane.  Our response, “definitely!”

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Unlike the typical 16-ounce highball glasses most bar drinks are served in, the Hurricane was presented to us in an excitingly large 26 oz. clear container that held the shape of a glass hurricane lamp.  A reddish concoction of 4 oz. of Amber/Gold Rum, 4 oz. of their famous Hurricane Mix (which happened to be not much more than pure sugar and artificial flavoring), excessive amounts of ice and garnished with an orange and cherry, this was clearly a drink for the adventurous.

The Hurricane traces its roots back nearly three hundred years to the introduction of punch to the Americas.  Originating in India, then traveling to England, and ultimately to the colonies by the sailors of the East India Trading Company, punch exists in letters, menus, and even government documents as early as 1682.[1]  It was deemed an essential beverage at any sophisticated social affair and usually turned the most pompous events into one of drunken antics.  Its popularity among the upper class was primarily due to the oftentimes-costly ingredients.  Immortalized in rhyme, punch is composed “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak.”[2]  Referring to the concoction of limejuice, sugar or syrup, dark rum, and water or ice.

Figure 3

Evocative of the iconic Hurricane shaped glass of today, punch of the 17th century was served in ceramic Chinese porcelain bowls which were part of elite households.  The early 18th century was a time of proliferating trade routes and as more diverse resources became available to craftsmen, bowls were more diverse.  Wealthy families of the South commissioned silversmiths to create bowls decorated with intricate designs and handles made from whalebone or exotic wood.  The size of the bowl was a powerful status symbol and correlated to a family’s status in society.  A move in the early 19th century to increased accessibility of mechanically harvested ice initiated a wave of alcoholic drinks to now be served in single glasses, just as the Hurricane is today.[3]

As the chilled drink reacted to the warm, humid air of the Deep South, condensation formed on the outside of the tall glass making it hard to hold.  The taste was sweet and refreshing, yet warming by the copious amounts of alcohol of which it contained.  Pat O’Brien’s slogan, “Have Fun,” is what this drink is all about.

After an extended stay in the courtyard, we opted for a change of pace and resolved to give the recommended dueling piano bar a go.  A loud and dark environment with oversized copper-covered pianos and the same old-fashioned servers awaited us.  Imagine Boardwalk Empire in New Orleans, minus the mobsters and machine guns.  Before its legitimized conception in 1933, entry to the speakeasy bar required the password, “Storm’s brewin’.”  With the exception of the password, walking into the bar today is nearly the same as walking into it nearly a century ago.

The humble beginnings of the Hurricane date to World War II.  At this time, there was a short supply of popular liquor such as whiskey, bourbon, and scotch.  However, New Orleans’s status as a large shipping hub and its relatively short distance to liquor distillers of the Caribbean made the supply of rum skyrocket.  In order to purchase other popular liquors, bar owners were indirectly forced to buy large quantities of rum, sometimes 50 cases or more.[4]  Out of necessity for success and through much trial and error, Pat O’Brien invented the fruity drink known as the Hurricane.  It was initially served to sailors who frequented the Big Easy from the nearby naval base, but became so well known and popular that before long, had everybody looking for that famous Category-5 punch.

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The history of the Hurricane goes back, nearly 200 years before the famous bar we know today even existed.  From the early days of Spanish and French exploration, Louisiana was founded as a center of trade and commerce.  The arrival of African-American slaves in the early 1800’s sparked a new agricultural boom with sugar cane as its backbone.  During the antebellum period, most U.S. grown sugar came from Louisiana.  Just as it did back then, sugar cane production continues to flourish and remain a staple of the vast areas of the countryside.[5]  With this abundance of cheap and locally grown sugar, it is apparent why a Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane is so deliciously sweet.  By compiling a recipe composed of cheap ingredients and excessive product supply, O’Brien successfully created a distilled greatness infused with sugar grown in New Orleans’s own backyard.

Made famous by flavor, the Hurricane would be nothing if not for the unique glass in which it is served.  While the history of why Pat O’Brien decided to serve his concoction in such as glass in unknown, one can speculate on its origins.  New Orleans’s tight relationship with hurricane storms meant that power outages were an unwelcomed, yet persistent occurrence.  To light the restaurant and bar in times of darkness required kerosene lamps, also known as hurricane lanterns, which were made for portable and outdoor use.  The glasses used today mimic the shape and curvature of those found on these kerosene lanterns.  Another theory of the name comes from the impact the drink has on one’s head after a long night of drinking.  Just as hurricanes have ravaged the Gulf Coast of Louisiana for hundreds of years, the Hurricane has dutifully had the same impact on those who drink one too many.

Pat O’Brien’s has evolved from its early days as a speakeasy to a wild and rowdy maritime bar and eventually to what we see it as today, a landmark tourist attraction in the heart of the city.  Storms such as Katrina have altered the landscape, but the bar is a refuge holding the most powerful Hurricane that has ever ravaged the city.  It is the epicenter of a storm which brews in the heads of its patrons who eventually leave the establishment in a whirlwind of chaos and noise.  Just as the hurricane lamp preserves light in extreme weather events, the Hurricane maintains fun and excitement for the patrons of New Orleans.

The Hurricane is truly an icon mixed in the South, distilled from the South, and sweet to the South.  The Hurricane epitomizes the need for rest and relaxation after a long day of hard work.  As Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet famously sang in their 2003 hit song “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere,” “pour me something tall and strong, make it a hurricane before I go insane.”  Once you consume one, the Hurricane and the experience which surrounds it is a part of who you are.  Whether you are a New Orleans local or a world traveler, when you leave Pat O’Brien’s, the Hurricane is with you.  It is a storm that brews within your memory, constantly taking you back to the time when you controlled the Southern force of a Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane.

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Burke Edwards

[1] Anon. n.d. “A Brief History of Punch.”

[2] Anon. 2010. “An Excuse to Drink – Happy ‘Rum Punch’ Day.”

[3] Collins, Alexandra. n.d. “Punch Love: A History of the Punch Bowl.”

[4] Pat O’Brien’s. n.d. “The Hurricane.”

[5] McNulty, Ian. n.d. “Louisiana Has Sweet Spot for Sugar.”

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