From corner bars to hipster hangouts, there’s no shortage of pubs on this side of Canal Street
Between their game of darts at the Kingpin, two young twentysomethings explained to me what makes a good neighborhood bar. First, the bartender makes you feel comfortable. Second, you can sleep on three bar stools if you need to. In all my forays into Uptown neighborhood watering holes, I did not see anyone sleeping on bar stools, but I did venture into some very unique places, where I met some of the friendliest bartenders and people in the whole city. While almost every intersection of Downtown has a corner bar, that can’t be said for many Uptown streets, so I had to rely on the kindness of my new best friends at the Kingpin to guide me to their favorite neighborhood pubs.
Lyons and Prytania streets
My two cute friends take their neighborhood bars very seriously. They spoke of loving bars that still have authentic pinball machines, old-time bars where you have to get buzzed in and their favorite bar, the Kingpin, where they love the bartender and the dart games. As homage to the King—as in the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll—the Kingpin has a bust of Elvis behind the bar and many references to Elvis’s illustrious career, including the bamboo-lined back room, an ode to his Blue Hawaii movie. The faux-leopard skin and hubcaps that dot the walls may not relate to Elvis directly, but as we sipped our beers and listened to “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, the Kingpin did put us in a nostalgic mood. The crowd is a mixture of young and older Uptowners from the Prytania Street area who enjoy Foosball, pinball machines and dart games. The affordable beers get even cheaper during happy hour when all bottles and draft are discounted 50 cents. While I hung with my new friends at the dartboard, the bartender graciously brought over my beer, which I had left at the bar. Now that’s the sign of a good local tavern.
Magazine and Joseph streets
St. Joe’s is a rustic corner bar that has an interestingly calm ambience. Perhaps its location at the edge of a high-end shopping block on Magazine Street affects the mood, or maybe it’s the angels that are perched on the ceiling. As we sat sipping our expertly mixed vodka tonics, with Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” playing quietly in the background, my friend and I plotted how we were going to conquer the world and make millions of dollars in New Orleans. Somehow, St. Joe’s inspired us to chart out our future. Not all bars can do this. St. Joe’s attracts Magazine Street workers, Tulane grad students, shoppers from Whole Foods and locals from the neighborhood. Drinks are affordable, and happy hour specials include $2.25 Abitas and $2.75 well drinks. As we visualized our bright future, the attentive bartender kept our glasses full, fueling our divine inspiration.
Hastings Place and St. Mary Street
Off the beaten path, we got varying directions to the Saint from many different people. No one really knew the street name, and all cautioned to park near the street lamp. Heeding their warnings, we parked where they told us to and saw the neon sign—the Saint beckoning us to come in. As we pushed open the big door, we knew that we weren’t entering your average bar. Dedicated to the International Shrine of St. Jude, the Saint seems to be a base camp for neighborhood locals, rock ‘n’ roll types and galactic travelers. With original Pac-Man machines, a functioning photo booth and assorted devotional candles lit throughout the room, the Saint is where ’70s and ’80s amusements meet a devotion to the Saints (the heavenly types not the football team). The drinks are inexpensive, and for only $4 you can get four intimate portraits from the photo booth. An assortment of mismatched second-hand furniture fills the room and a small performance stage is tucked into a corner. As I sat listening to an acoustic duo, I ran into Ninth Ward musical patron Quintron, who shared his excitement about the renaissance taking place in New Orleans. Then I bumped into another friend, who has set up a free clinic for women in Treme, and listened as she described her favorite drink: the Zombie, a rum concoction that is topped off with 151-proof rum. Both spoke passionately about New Orleans and the transformation that is being ushered in by the young citizens of the city. As I looked around the Saint, I felt strangely at home with my fellow travelers. I disregarded the holes in the ceiling and focused on the Shrine to St. Jude, the saint of hopeless causes.
Magazine Street and Napoleon Avenue
Perhaps the guy throwing up in the trash can outside should have been a sign that Ms. Mae’s is the home of the cheapest drinks in the entire city. Bud Light, Miller Lite and Pabst Blue Ribbon are only $1.50, and a shot of Cuervo Tequila, Absolut and Southern Comfort is only $2. As we ventured inside, you could hear the shrieks of college co-eds, the celebratory yelps from the young men playing pool in the back and the thumping bass of NAS on the jukebox. Ms. Mae’s is a classic New Orleans corner bar that dates back generations. Besides the cheap drinks and the amazing tin roof that spans the entire ceiling, Ms. Mae’s is a beloved watering hole that is open 24 hours a day and cultivates a new following every school year.
St. Charles Avenue and Delachaise Street
Delachaise reminds me of one of those perfect bars from an ’80s movie, where the perfect couple goes on a perfect date. With nice amber lighting, comfortable booths, intimate settings for two and a long bar, the Delachaise boasts an amazing selection of wines, beers, scotch, brandies, sparkling wines and Voss water. Inspired by the setting, I ordered a refreshing cosmo and took in the scene. Predictably, there were many couples in the room and our friendly bartender confessed that the music was her own special iPod mix that included Barry White’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” and the Jackson 5’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are.” The French-inspired appetizer menu means that you can indulge in Flor de Cana, my favorite rum from Honduras or Betencourt Rum from Haiti, while nibbling on pommes frites. With prices that begin at $9 for a Ketel One cosmo to $40 for a shot of Johnny Walker Blue, Delachaise is a perfect neighborhood bar for sipping (no gulping) and gazing into each other’s eyes, as long as your partner is paying. My ventures Uptown are far from complete, there are many other bars to explore, including those on Tchoupitoulas and Annunciation and in the Riverbend area. Nonetheless, the people and the ambience of the Uptown spirit divinely inspired me.