The New Orleans Tradition Behind Its Boozy Drive-Thru Daiquiri

Visitors to New Orleans have often marveled at the many splendors of that storied city, from the architecture and jazz, to the incredible food and amazing cocktails. But one of the most surprising of the Big Easy's beverage traditions is the drive-thru daiquiri. 

For most Americans, the very notion is confusing: Drive-thru and daiquiri are words that don't naturally connect. Isn't drinking and driving both dangerous and illegal? Isn't it illegal in Louisiana, too? The answer is yes on both counts. But, also, it's complicated. Like with many things in New Orleans, the rules apply, but they're a bit bendy, especially when there's history involved.

The humble history of the drive-thru daiquiri dates back to 1981, when David Ervin first opened the Daiquiri Factory in Lafayette, Lousiana. Ervin got the idea from a liquor store he frequented during his college days, which had a frozen drink stand on the side. He saw that model's success and thought he could take it a step further by replicating just the frozen drinks part of the equation. He wasn't sure about the legal status, though, and so he did some investigating to see if there was a precedent so he'd know if his business could withstand legal scrutiny. But Ervin couldn't find anyone else who'd tried, and he couldn't afford to pay someone to figure it out for him. As he put it in NOLA, "It was the first business in the nation dedicated to specializing in frozen cocktails, drive-thru or otherwise."

One daiquiri drive thru to go

After some deliberation, David Ervin decided to risk it and start the business anyhow. The choice of location was strategic. Known as a party town, Lafayette had plenty of disposable income floating around to fund people's good times. While Ervin's first day of business was terrifying slow, by that evening, it was clear he'd struck frozen liquid gold. Business exploded, and within the first month, he paid back the entire loan he'd taken out to fund his new enterprise.

Soon after, there were daiquiri stands all over the state.  Louisianians quickly developed quite a taste for purchasing frozen cocktails en route to their destination. The drive-thru daiquiri notion took off in New Orleans, where tourists and revelers enjoyed the novelty of the frozen libations which had become familiar to the local population. 

While laws against drinking and driving weren't a reality in Louisiana at the time, people did express some safety concerns –  but they weren't enough to shut down Ervin's daiquiri joint or its many imitators. But in the years since, drunk driving has emerged as a priority issue for many, and legal restrictions have tightened. Louisiana's drunk driving rate is higher than the national average on several different measures, as is its percentage of drunk driving fatalities, and there is a concerted effort to address those issues through stricter legislation and penalties. 

One frozen daiquiri to go, straw on the side

So how do these drink stands exist without flaunting Louisiana law? It turns out that Louisiana has some very unusual exceptions to open container regulations, made especially for drive-thru daiquiris. 

If the beverage is frozen, it gets special treatment. As long as a frozen drink's lid is sealed with tape, and the seal is intact (no straw protruding from the hole), the container is considered closed — provided no liquid has been removed from the cup. So daiquiri-serving drive-thrus proffer their libations with tape covering the daiquiri cup lid (including the straw hole), and place the plastic straw alongside the cup, making them safe for (future) legal consumption.A fine line? It most certainly is. But it's one that many have walked without legal consequences, so it looks like a pretty safe bet.

It should be noted that this exemption is separate from NOLA's more permissive approach to open-container ordinances. In most parts of the country (including Louisiana), alcoholic beverages may not be consumed openly in public spaces, including streets. But in some cities, including parts of New Orleans, that rule does not apply as long as the beverage is in a plastic cup, Mardi Gras-style. So once you've parked your car, you're free to roam the streets with your frozen drive-thru daiquiri, straw and all.