Things to do in NOLA: the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

Located on Chartres Street in New Orleans is the Pharmacy Museum, constructed in 1823.  A placard states Louis J Dufilheo as one of the first profession to be licensed in the USA in 1816, symbolising the beginning of a system of certifying the competence of pharmacists.  The apothecary shop is still intact, showcasing an extensive collection and preserving the history of pharmacy.

Having spent two days at the Apple store desperately trying to restore my photos from my broken phone, we were time limited and did not stay for the guided tour held at 1pm, which is included in the $5 entrance fee (children under six years are free and students and seniors can enter for $4).  We left as it was starting, if we had of had time it would have be interesting to find out more.


Everyone has heard of New Orlean’s voodoo culture, but in the pharmacy on you can find historic voodoo potions, along with an impressive soda fountain.  Although the practice of voodoo was not acceptable in all social circles, believers and the curious from the upper class could purchase voodoo potions at their local pharmacy with relative anonymity.  Voodoo healers had a vast knowledge of herbs, and even recommended mouldy bread inn the treatment of syphilis year before the discovery of penicillin.

Whilst I love voodoo themed bars, if I could have a themed bar, I would love an apothecathy themed bar! The soda fountain could be the star of the show!  I loved looking at all the old bottles, these would have looked fabulous at one of my Halloween parties!  Oh, the tinctures and tonics, I was in my element.  Perusing through the prescriptions and compounding, exclaiming out loud at the questionable medicine practises!  Did you know that wealthy people would take tablets covered in silver or gold as a status symbol?!  Thus not realising it could be toxic and had no medicinal benefits.  Opium was one of the commonly prescribed drugs in the 19th century and at the museum you can find out all about it, along with the practice of leeches and poisons.

Past the courtyard, where herbs were grown, and up through the stairs on the second floor, you will find the haunting sick room.  This felt so ghostly to me, like I could imagine a spirit hovering above the sick bed.  There were various exhibits that were on display, which would transport you back to that century.

The exhibts housed various artefacts, including bitters, herbal tonics that are now used in cocktails.  In fact there’s even Angostura Bitters advertisements detailing it’s cure and a bottle you’d recognise today, which is regularly used in modern day cocktails!  Information details common bitter ingredients such as dandelion, milk thistle, bitter orange and cherry and what they were used for.











Information in the exhibition details the first definition of cocktail appeared in The Balance and Columbian Repository on 13 May 1806.  The editor answered the question, “What is a cocktail? as “cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters – it is vulgarly called bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion in as much as it renders the heart, stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head.  It is said, also to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else.”

Exhibits detail the use of alcohol in the pharmacy, as medicine, painkiller, sedative, antiseptic and as a vehicle for extracting the active principles from plant and mineral sources.  Pharmacists prepared tinctures, tonics and elixirs using alcohol, in addition to supplying perfumes, distilling scents from fragrant blooms with alcohol in a copper perfume still.  At the museum you can also learn about absinthe, use of horsemint, passionflower and other remedies as hangover cures.  Throughout Prohibition, alcohol was still available in the pharmacy for medicinal use by prescription, and pharmacists continued to compound medicines using alcohol, many cartoons depicting the pharmacies as the new saloons and the pharmacist as the bartender.  The pharmacy soda fountain became a replacement for the barroom as a venue for ‘social camaraderie’.

If you are looking for things to do in New Orleans, then I highly recommend a trip to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. It is a short trip and you can still have time to explore the French Quarter, catch happy hour cocktails and enjoy some of New Orlean’s legendary famous gumbo or oysters.  Please check the museums’ website for opening hours, but at time of writing these are Tuesday to Saturday 10 am-4 pm, with a guided tour at 1pm except on Saturdays.  Be sure to check my Instagram for apothecary themed cocktails!


We stayed at the Aloft New Orleans Downtown during our stay, which I would recommend, if you want to look for your trip check out below.  Want to check out more on New Orleans before you go?  Then I recommend this book Lonely Planet New Orleans (Travel Guide), to find out lots more information.