Mardi Gras 2019 is Tuesday, March 5th
Pat O'Brien's: A Family Tradition That's Here To Stay
Inside the Home Of "The Hurricane" - New Orleans’ Most Popular Souvenir Drink
Pat O'Brien's Bar on St. Peter Street in the French Quarter
Despite it’s legendary reputation as ground zero for Mardi Gras madness, Pat O’Brien’s, home of The Hurricane, centrally located in the French Quarter, is at heart, a well-tended family business.
Third generation owner, Shelly Waguespack takes the time to greet the teeming throngs even on the Friday before Mardi Gras, when customers pack the courtyard to overflowing, and stand five deep at the bars (the piano lounge, the main bar with its curious collection of ceiling-mounted beer steins, and the drink station out in the courtyard).
Waguespack is proud of the place that her father and grandfather built after buying it from Pat O’Brien in the 1970s. Before buying the bar, her grandfather had been the general manager; so it’s safe to say that the current owner has ties that go all the way back to the beginning. She also worked the bar when she was 18, and before that filled catalogue orders in the company warehouse.
Originally a speakeasy, in 1933 (at the end of Prohibition) Pat O’Brien turned his popular establishment into a legal bar. Today’s Pat O’Brien’s is a curious mix of Irish bar (from the namesake first owner), German beer hall with biergarten (a contribution from Waguespack's grandfather), and a dark, smoky New Orleans music club.
The original Pat O’Brien’s opened down the street on the 600 block of St. Peter, but moved to its current location (718 St. Peter) in 1942. Around that same time, Pat O’Brien’s invented The Hurricane (drink), a bright red concoction of rum, ice, fruit, and a proprietary drink mix, named for the glass it was served in which resembled a hurricane lantern. The inspiration for developing The Hurricane came from a wartime surplus of rum, and a shortage of whiskey.
In addition to serving Hurricanes by the truckload to a crowd estimated to be somewhere around five million annually, Pat O’Brien’s also has a restaurant that fronts onto Bourbon Street and serves Irish classics with a Louisiana twist (think Cajun shepherd’s pie).
Pat O'Brien's Roots
Waguespack would like to bring back more of the traditional Pat O'Brien's "Irish feel". While she’s bound somewhat to the legacy of her father and grandfather, she and her team realize that Pat O’Brien’s must move forward and serve the customers they have today. She doesn’t let thoughts of, “Oh, my grandfather would not have done it that way” prevent her from moving with the times.
That said, her father and grandfather’s way of doing business works well and is still wildly successful, so why change something that works? This hands on owner tells us that she wants the building to stay physically the way people remember it (the exposed brick, the rambling old New Orleans feel, the open courtyard, etc.) from the last time they were there. She’s holding on to that “tradition”.
Between greeting locals and arriving customers Waguespack confides that not everyone who comes through the door buys a Hurricane. Some get a bottle of water, stop in the piano lounge for a beer, or just walk through to see what all the fuss is about. For Waguespack, “It’s all good”, meaning it’s all part of the Pat O’Brien’s (Pat O’s) experience. Many people stop by saying, they bought a packet of Hurricane mix at home, made it for a party, and are here to try the “real thing”. Having sold the mix for 25 years, millions of Pat O’Brien’s fans and Hurricane drinkers have never been to St. Peter Street in the French Quarter, but are dying to go, particularly for Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras At Pat O'Brien's
And while this “Irish bar” is busy all year-round, it’s at its peak during Mardi Gras. The busiest day of the year is the Saturday before Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras Day), with the Friday before running a close second. Things slack off a bit on Sunday, and quiet to a dull roar on Lundi Gras (Mardi Gras Monday). Surprisingly, Mardi Gras Day can be fairly quiet at Pat O’Brien’s, with many locals who worked the weekend staying out of the French Quarter, and opting to celebrate with family and friends at private parties. But, as The French Quarter heats up later on Mardi Gras Day, so does Pat O’Brien’s.
Though the crowds can be a bit overwhelming, as a Mardi Gras stop, Pat O's remains a "must do" experience, because the "real" Hurricane is so much better than any we ever made at home.
WARNING: For your safety and the safety of others, All About Mardi Gras pleads with you not to drink and drive, ever, under any circumstances. It’s illegal, unnecessary, unsafe, foolish, and is guaranteed to ruin your vacation.
Sources (and External Links)
The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research, which led us to the following sources of information:
1. Pat O’Brien’s (website):
2. Interview with Shelly Waguespack (Owner, Pat O'Brien's): conducted 28 February, 2014 at Pat O’Brien’s
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