The Origin Story Of New Orleans' Hurricane Drink

If you've ever been to New Orleans, you probably know all about the Hurricane cocktail. This high-octane, rum-and-fruit juice libation is one of the most famous drinks in a city that is famous for its cocktail culture and spirited past. But how did it come to be? The story is one that mirrors those of a great many cocktails, intertwining supply, demand, self-promotion, and competing claims.

Traditionally, the Hurricane is attributed to New Orleans bar Pat O'Brien's, a French Quarter watering hole formerly operated during Prohibition as a speakeasy called Mr. O'Brien's Club Tipperary. After liquor was once again allowed to legally flow, the marketplace for alcohol wasn't what it was before. With distilleries in the U.S. shut down for over a decade, domestic whiskies and spirits were in short supply. But imports, such as rum, were available in excess and comparatively cheap. Enterprising publicans dipped into the back lot of sugarcane liquor to offer customers cheap, strong drinks.

The Hurricane — which is served in an elongated tulip glass that resembles a wind-proof hurricane lamp — is part of the grand tradition of tropical and tiki drinks, pulling in rum, grenadine, passion fruit juice, and lemon juice for a deceptively sweet cocktail that packs a punch. Pat O'Brien, his business partner, and a rum salesman reportedly invented the beverage in the 1940s to make use of the affordable spirit, but origin stories are never really that simple.

Competing claims

No one is arguing that Pat O'Brien's Bar doesn't have the strongest claim on the invention of the Hurricane, but it does bear mentioning that other theories about its genesis have arisen. As with most foods and beverages, the cocktail wasn't created in a vacuum. It's altogether likely that even O'Brien and his fellow creators drew inspiration from elsewhere.

The 1939 World's Fair was a coming-out of sorts for tropical drinks even though it was held in the decidedly non-tropical New York City. There, a bartender named Monte Proser served the throngs of people sweet, fruity drinks that were all the rage. Proser's venue was decked out in an island paradise theme and was called, you may have guessed, the Hurricane Bar. Alongside the Zombie, a drink that would go on to attain legendary status itself, guests could enjoy another signature cocktail Proser called the Hurricane.

Of course, that Hurricane's popularity and notoriety might have made its way to New Orleans and inspired O'Brien. Or, he might have just been monkeying around with a much older drink, Planter's Punch. This combination of rum and fruit juice is another member of the tiki pantheon that predates the fad itself and certainly one that customers in New Orleans would have been familiar with.

For those that crave a taste, Pat O'Brien's Bar still exists, slinging Hurricanes in the signature glass; though some argue that the powdered mix they use makes for a mediocre tipple.