Tropical Isle (600 Bourbon St., 610 Bourbon St., 721 Bourbon St., 529-4109; www.tropicalisle.com) is a Bourbon Street staple that came to fruition during the Louisiana World Exposition nearly three decades ago.
"I had a concession stand at the World's Fair in 1984," says owner and Mississippi native Earl Bernhardt. "It was very popular. We sold frozen daiquiris made from fresh fruit."
When the fair closed, Bernhardt did not initially have plans to stay in New Orleans. "My accountant told me I needed to invest in something, so I bought a little bar on Toulouse (Street), and me and Pam (Fortner) became partners," he says. "That was almost 28 years ago and we're still here."
With three locations dotting the French Quarter, Tropical Isle offers patrons live music seven days a week and specializes in "Trop Rock," a genre that evolved from Jimmy Buffett's musical style and integrates rock 'n' roll, reggae and country influences.
"We cater to all the Jimmy Buffett fans. We've been nominated as Best Trop Rock Bar for many, many years," says Bernhardt, referring to the Trop Rock Music Awards held annually in Key West, Fla.
Although Tropical Isle caters to the aural preferences of Parrot Heads (a common moniker for Buffett fans), its signature cocktail has wide appeal and nationwide recognition.
"We didn't invent the Hand Grenade until two years after we opened," says Bernhardt, whose stroke of cocktail genius was a response to the Hurricane, a fruity rum concoction. "We decided we need something to compete, so we experimented and experimented and came up with the Hand Grenade."
He partnered with National Fruit Flavor, a local company, to concoct the blend. After six months of trial and error, they came up with the potent, melon-flavored drink. Bernhardt believes the Hand Grenade's success is a result of its flavor and its federal trademark, which adds an extra shot of mystique to the mix. "We're the only place you can get it," he says. "You get something that you can't get somewhere else."
A reduced-sugar version of the original recipe recently debuted for customers who are calorie-conscious. "We've just come up with a new product called The Skinny Grenade," Bernhardt says. "You really can't taste the difference. It doesn't have the aftertaste that many sugar substitutes have."
In response to a rising demand for Hand Grenades and other specialty drinks, the owners produce and package quart- and gallon-sized portions of the concentrate for home use. "We ship our mixes all over the world," Bernhardt says. "We ship quite regularly to our military bases and forces overseas. Last week, we shipped to 32 states and 10 countries in one day. That's how popular the mix is."
Celebrating the Hand Grenade's 25th anniversary and a toast-worthy Carnival season, Bernhardt and Fortner continue to see signs of success. "Before they cleaned the streets on Ash Wednesday, it was a sea of green for as far as the eye could see," he says. "It's definitely become the most popular drink in the French Quarter."
The Hand Grenade's potent mix and distinctive container has been ubiquitous in the French Quarter for 25 years.