Off the Tourist Path, Around the Quarter
By Lee Dresselhaus
So you're thinking of coming to New Orleans? And naturally, since you're going to be in the neighborhood, you might, just might, visit the French Quarter. Okay, give it up. You're not fooling anyone. The whole reason you're coming all that way into da deep, deep South is to see the legendary Quarter. You've heard of Bourbon Street your whole life and seen it in scads of movies. Looks like fun, doesn't it? Well, guess what?
It is fun. Tons of fun. In fact, you can have all the fun you can handle, and sometimes even more than the law allows in those Bourbon Street places, and in the Quarter in general. You can have fun 24 hours a day because the bars don't have to close, so many don't. And if you fortify yourself for it you can have the best time you'll never remember. There's only one small problem.
Along with that iron constitution you're convinced you have (or at least you had in college), you need to bring a fat wallet. Those places along Bourbon are fun, but they're geared for tourists. So, like tourist traps anywhere else, they're expensive. Sometimes they're really expensive. Don't get us wrong, you can thoroughly enjoy them, but you pay for the carnival atmosphere of Bourbon, and you can pay dearly. If you don't mind paying $4.00 for that beer, okay, but there is an answer that's worth exploring if you think you might want an alternative to the bustle of Bourbon Street.
Scattered about the Quarter are unobtrusive little local bars and "Bar & Grill" type places. They are mostly geared for the locals, people who live and work in and around the Quarter, and these places often have the flavor and sometimes the slightly seedy atmosphere of a neighborhood pub. These places are wonderful, and if you really want a taste of what it's like to live and work in a place like the Quarter, it is very much to your benefit and your wallet to seek them out. To aid in this worthy endeavor we have compiled a list of what we consider the top 10 local bars, or Bar-&-Grills, in the French Quarter. There were no particular criteria to go by in the selection process other than the preference of the locals and the author's humble opinion.
In no particular order, check out:
Coop's Place, 1109 Decatur.
Owned by Jeff Cooperman, this little Bar & Grill has some of the best food, most generous portions, and the friendliest atmosphere you're likely to find anywhere. The extensive menu specializes in local flavor. We recommend the gumbo, the crawfish and tasso fettucine, and just about any of its other seafood dishes. The jambalaya is great, the booze is cheap, the music from the jukebox loud, and the help friendly, if sometimes a bit too tattooed for Mom and Pop. But it's the Quarter, so get over it. Great prices too, by the way.
And right next door to Coop's, we have:
Molly's At The Market, 1107 Decatur.
Jim Monahan is the owner and proprietor of this long-time Decatur Street hangout located near the famous French Market. Molly's is a hangout for the local media types and on any given day or night you might run into or have to step over one or another of those folks. Molly's is an Irish Pub kind of place, and it makes what is probably the best Irish coffee on the planet. Molly's is a traditional not-to-be-missed stop on St. Patrick's Day. Sometimes it has food, sometimes not, and when it does, it's generally burgers and such.
Speaking of burgers, up the street and around the corner we have:
Port Of Call, 838 Esplanade Avenue
You want a burger? This place has a burger. Boy, does it have a burger. Located right on the edge of the Quarter, Port Of Call offers what can be described only as a burger lover's dream. Its burgers are huge and always made-to-order. The atmosphere is dark, old-Quarter, mixed with a slight sea-going feel. The prices are right, and the service good. If you go there for lunch, go early, and if you go there for dinner, go either early or late, or you won't be able to get a seat.
Harry's Corner, 900 Chartres
If you're looking for elegance, forget it. On the other hand, if you're looking for a place that fits the definition of a local bar to a 'T' this is it. The slightly seedy Harry's is located on the corner of Chartres and Dumaine and is most definitely a neighborhood pub. It doesn't serve food, it serves booze. Lots of it. The atmosphere is French-Quarter dark and smoky, and often decorated with various locals. Don't be surprised to see a dog or two hitched to the balcony support outside. Walking your dog is thirsty work, after all.
The Dungeon, 734 Rue Toulouse
Now, this is not exactly a neighborhood pub. If you're looking for the peace and quiet or the quaint atmosphere of a local pub, look elsewhere. The Dungeon ain't it. In fact, the place doesn't even open until midnight. That's right, opening time is midnight. Does that tell you anything? Even though it's located near the heart of touristland on Rue Toulouse near where Toulouse intersects Bourbon, we've included it in our survey because it's a great local favorite. The Dungeon is packed, noisy, and jamming every night with loud rock and people looking to dance. Business-like bouncers who look a lot like people you don't want to annoy ensure the crowd stays nonviolent. The music is in the sonic-boom range, volume-wise. It closes around dawn each day, if you can last that long.
The Chart Room, 300 Chartres
Another example of a genuine local pub. No bells and whistles here, and no food either, just good service, friendly bartenders, and reasonable prices. Dartboards adorn the back walls, and the patrons range from businessmen to bikers. The entire front of the place opens onto Chartres Street, so you can sit and watch the traffic going by, glad you're not one of them. Like a lot of the local places in the Quarter, the staff tend to stay around for years, so you may well see the same bartender you saw on your last visit.
The Jimani, 141 Chartres
This is a fun place. The Jimani is a genuine Bar & Grill, with the grill actually in plain view behind the bar. The menu is limited to the usual burgers and chicken, but this place makes the best Rueben sandwich you've ever had. Eight televisions are scattered around the walls, and if you're looking for a place to watch football, this is it. It's dark, friendly, and comfortable as a well-worn pair of shoes. The night crowd there includes a lot of the bartenders, waiters, and waitresses from other places in the Quarter.
Snug Harbor, 626 Frenchman
The locals just call it Snug. It's a couple of blocks outside the Quarter in the Faubourg-Marigny area, and if you want some great late-night music, this is definitely the place. Snug always has some of the best local bands performing, and when you're talking about New Orleans, that says a mouthful. John Cleary, Charmaine Neville, and Ellis Marsalis are just some of the terrific acts you can find there. The prices are good, and Snug has a great little amphitheater area where you can really watch the acts do their thing. It serves food as well, and the menu is varied and reasonable. We highly recommend a visit to Snug.
Tipitina's, 235 North Peters
No trip to New Orleans would be complete without a visit to Tip's. If you like music, Tip's has, well, the best you can find anywhere. Tip's rocks. The music varies and on any given night you can hear jazz, blues, rock, soul, and/or just about anything else you can think of. Tipitina's has a long history in New Orleans of providing the best in the way of local musical entertainment. This is another highly recommended local place.
Cosimo's, 1201 Burgundy
Cosimo's is the ultimate local bar. Located on the corner of Burgundy and Gov. Nichols in the Lower Quarter, Cosimo's is a local hangout with class. No food is served, but the place is clean and comfortable, the bar prices are good, and the drinks are strong. Cosimo's has been a landmark local hangout for generations, and the bartenders tell us that they get the occasional customer who tells "war stories" about hanging out there in the '60s. Cosimo's is definitely a worthwhile side trip.
Well, there you have it. If you are lucky enough to stumble into some of these places you'll see what we mean. They are as different from the mainstream tourist attractions as they can be. You can eat, drink, and as the locals say, "pass a good time."
Lee Dresselhaus has published short stories, many set in the French Quarter, and he currently writes a humor/opinion newspaper column in Louisiana. In 1998, he won that state's press association award for Best Regular Column.
Copyright © The Southerner 1999.