The Drive-Thru Daiquiri: A Weird Yet Wonderful New Orleans Tradition
Visiting New Orleans as a Midwesterner, everything is new: the swampy heat, the “For Sale” signs that also specify “Haunted” or “Not Haunted,” the casual spookiness that is embedded in everything from the omnipresent graveyards to the ready-made voodoo dolls.
Oh, and the drinking laws.
On my first trip to New Orleans three years ago, I was skeptical — sure, my boyfriend said it was okay to take a Hurricane to go and drink it as we walked down the street, but that just didn’t seem right. It felt illicit, as though one of the drunken frat boys stumbling down Bourbon Street might turn out to be an undercover cop who would bust me on the spot. But it’s true — the open container laws in Louisiana are such that if you don’t finish your cocktail at the bar, you’re free to take it with you on foot.
And then, just as I was getting comfortable with the whole “laissez les bons temps rouler” attitude, New Orleans threw me for another loop.
Driving back into the city after visiting the swamp (where we learned that wild boars’ favorite snack is marshmallows), we passed one. And then another. And another. And finally, we had to stop, because it seemed too weird to be true: drive-thru daiquiri stands.
Inside (we had to go inside and see it — just driving through was not sufficient), we found a wall of slushee machines churning roughly a dozen neon-colored flavors, including Strawberry Colada, Jungle Juice, and the ominous-sounding Suicide. Moments later, we were handed our to-go cups with straws — still in their paper wrappers — on the side, and as we took them out to the parking lot, all I could think was, “How is this real?”
A Short History of Drive-Thru Daiquiris
It’s generally accepted that the first drive-thru daiquiri stand opened in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1981; the state had no laws against drinking and driving at the time, and although the new business experienced some pushback from the community, it wasn’t enough to shut it down, or to dampen its popularity. Soon, competitors started springing up all over the area.
New Orleans has always had a strong drinking culture, from the drinks peddled throughout the French Quarter, served in plastic vessels shaped like grenades and consumed mainly by tourists and bachelor- and bachelorette-party participants, to the craft cocktails at establishments like Arnaud’s French 75, Cane & Table, or Bar Tonique (to name just a few).
But make no mistake — these daiquiris are not of the mixology variety. And, rather than a tourist attraction, they are a part of everyday life for many Louisianans. Located mainly in strip malls and suburbs, most daiquiri stands make their living not from drunken out-of-towners, but from locals stopping by on their way to or from another part of their lives. More than one person has told me about bringing a bucket of daiquiris to loosen up a family or work party.
So, How Are Drive-Thru Daiquiris Real?
Luckily, Louisiana has since caught up to other states on the whole “no drinking and driving” thing, and you’re no longer allowed to have open containers of alcohol in a moving vehicle.
So how do those daiquiris work, then? Well the law doesn’t apply to “any bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains any amount of frozen alcoholic beverage unless the lid is removed or a straw protrudes through the lid.”
In other words: The drinks have to be frozen, and the straws must be provided on the side, meaning that the containers are technically “closed” as long as they have lids. If that seems like a fine line, well, it is. But given the enduring popularity of the drive-thru daiquiri, it’s a line that probably won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
And, having dutifully waited until we’d reached our hotel before breaking the seals on our daiquiri lids with our straws, I can report there is a certain pleasure in the drive-thru daiquiri. They’d melted a bit, but each sip was made all the better by knowing where we’d bought them. Daiquiris! From a drive-thru! Well, we were in New Orleans now. Might as well just roll with it.