The Dirt

Our Neighborhood Bars

By Henry Alpert

Every city has bars and every city has neighborhoods, but like so many other things about New Orleans, the neighborhood bars here feel cast in a different mold, the mold of a ragged fleur-de-lis.

“It’s hard to put your finger on it,” says Geoff Douville, one of the owners of Lost Love Lounge in the Marigny. “Maybe it’s because New Orleans bars never have to close. Maybe it’s the sheer number of how many neighborhood bars there are, all with their own idiosyncratic differences. They are all so different from each other in so many ways.”

In the country’s newer cities with their sprawl and car culture, neighborhood bars can’t take root easily. Nightlife tends to be concentrated in certain districts, and if someone wanted to open a bar in the middle of a neighborhood, the neighbors would more likely howl in protest than embrace it. But in New Orleans, as long as our bars are being good neighbors, we like our neighborhood bars.

A lot of our neighborhood bars have been around for years and years, after all. Even if the bar names and the management are new (“new” in New Orleans time perhaps meaning two decades or so), the places are long established. Their licenses have been passed down through the generations...their legality and physical presence grandfathered into place. A researcher would have to dig through archives of real estate documents and newspaper clippings to find out when many of these bars first began.

Our bars were born when their neighborhoods were taking shape, fifty to a hundred years ago or longer, and grew up along with them. Many are tucked away on smaller streets where you would be unlikely to happen upon them unless you were looking for them or knew about them already.

"Maybe it’s because New Orleans bars never have to close."
Geoff Douville, one of the owners of Lost Love Lounge in the Marigny

That’s how the great neighborhood bars of New Orleans are integrated into their neighborhoods and reflect the lives of the people who live around them. The bar is a place where locals can meet up with old friends and get to know strangers so they’re not strangers anymore. A great neighborhood bar is a place for sports league post-game drinks, trivia nights, and communal TV. It’s a living room made public.

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It’s a place you can walk to on a Tuesday night and a place you can stumble home from with your go cup in hand. And there should be a bike rack outside, or at least some good signposts and fences.

As Doctor Bob often says, “Be Nice or Leave,” and if a neighborhood bar does not have that ubiquitous sign posted inside, the sentiment is implicit. Neighborhood bars are nice. They’re friendly.

“You walk in and just feel welcomed,” says Suzanne Accorsi, a partner at Pal’s Lounge in Mid-City and Martine’s Lounge in Old Metairie. “The bartenders are friendly too. You get a greeting when you come in and a goodbye thanks when you leave. If the staff creates that sort of friendliness, it spreads to the atmosphere of the bar.”

Even though New Orleans neighborhood bars are friendly, they are not really places where people will ask you about your job (at least not right away). No one is all that interested. People aren’t looking for professional connections, and they don’t care what you can do for them, unless it’s buy then a round. What they do want to know is what you’re doing for Mardi Gras. They want to celebrate or commiserate about the Saints. They want your number so they can ask you out for a drink and end up at this same bar. They want a companion to shoot the shit with, to trade jokes, or to catch up on neighborhood goings-on.

And a New Orleans neighborhood bar can never be part of a chain because chains are controlled by corporate offices in distant cities. They’re by definition not part of the neighborhood. Even when those types of bars are friendly enough and have regulars, a corporate sensibility always permeates.

In corporate bars, changes come top down from the management, but neighborhood bar traditions spring up from the patrons, owners, and bartenders. Some New Orleans bars offer weekly manicures or haircuts. One allegedly used to offer free drinks to whoever came in naked. Our neighborhood bars will open up early for international sporting events, allow dogs inside (until the insurance company finds out), and stock the jukebox with brass band CDs.

But neighborhood bars will not sell you drinks in glasses whose costs are built into the price, glasses you can return later (but never do) for your four bucks back. Neighborhood bars certainly have personality but not some kind of theme. If everything is done up like the Wild West or an ironic trailer park or a dungeon fantasy, it’s not a neighborhood bar. Body shots are not drunk from a woman’s cleavage, and waitresses do not circulate with Jell-O shots or test tubes of Jäeger. Some neighborhood bars can be classified as Irish pubs, but the pub atmosphere feels authentic and earned, not an overdone shtick to appeal to tourists.

A neighborhood bar might have some signature drinks and knowledgeable bartenders , but it shouldn’t be a swanky cocktail place where you have to Google the ingredients. The atmosphere should be unpretentious and welcoming to all sorts of clientele, young or old, blue-collar to white, not just the trendy and the beautiful. The drinks are cheap and strong. You don’t have to dress up to hang out at a neighborhood bar, but when a group of gussied-up wedding guests rolls in at 11 p.m. to continue their festivities, they just add to the mix.

A New Orleans neighborhood bar has a Monday night Crock-pot of red beans or a springtime boil of crawfish bubbling outside over a gas flame. More and more places have been adding casual menus to their locations, either with in-house kitchens or pop-ups that rotate through, and they don’t always serve typical “bar food” either. Sometimes the owners are giving their chef friends an opportunity to showcase their talents and to start generating buzz in the New Orleans dining world. It’s a very neighborly thing to do, so of course the customers love it.

But no matter what the cuisine, the food must feel comfortable. It has to complement that low-key feeling of friendliness that keeps neighborhood bar culture alive. If a bar ever starts attracting such large and unknown crowds that regulars no longer feel at ease, it’s lost its neighborhood vibe. And if the spot ever becomes a tourist must-see for the authentic “N’Awlins,” the neighborhood vibe again is gone.

When that happens (and it does happen), the barflies of this city just take their asses down the block to the next establishment, find a seat on a barstool, and start talking to whoever happens to be sitting next to them.

A Few Of Our Favorites 

Kingpin

1307 Lyons St.
New Orleans, LA 70115
Neighborhood: Uptown

Why?

Shuffleboard.
Taceaux Loceaux.
Elvis enthusiasts.

Snake and Jake’s

7612 Oak St.
New Orleans, LA 70118
Neighborhood: Carrollton

Why?

Schlitz and High Life.
Dark.
Dirty sofa.
Open ’til sunrise.
Have seen things we can't unsee.

Pal’s Lounge

949 N Rendon St.
New Orleans, LA 70119
Neighborhood: Bayou St. John

Why?

Mixed drinks.
Food pop-ups.
Air hockey.
Campy erotica.

Lost Love Lounge

2529 Dauphine St.
New Orleans, LA 70117
Neighborhood: Marigny

Why?

TV nights.
Used books.
Dim lights.
Comedy.
Happy vegans.

Markey’s

640 Louisa St.
New Orleans, LA 70117
Neighborhood: Bywater

Why?

Long and narrow.
Tons on tap.
Solid bar food.
Saint's games.

Old Point Bar

545 Patterson Dr.
New Orleans, LA 70114
Neighborhood: Algiers Point

Why?

Sidewalk tables.
Free music.
Good local crowd.
Pee in the river.

Finn McCool’s

3701 Banks St.
New Orleans, LA 70119
Neighborhood: Mid-City

Why?

Guinness pints.
Debris fries.
Futbol.
Expatriates.

Molly's

1107 Decatur St.
New Orleans, LA 70130 
Neighborhood: French Quarter

Why?

Frozen pick-me-ups.
Regulars.
Great jukebox.
Family ties.

Winston’s Pub & Patio

531 Metairie Rd.
Metairie, LA 70005
Neighborhood: Old Metry

Why?

Old ambiance.
English pub.
Good grub.

The Saint

961 St Mary St
New Orleans, LA 70130
Neighborhood: LGD

Why?

Photo booth.
Cheap drinks.
Dance parties.

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