Each French Quarter bar off the tourist-beaten path has a distinct personality, but it changes rapidly over the course of a night (or day) depending, of course, on the crowds. Part of the fun of rolling into one of these casual bars is mingling with its eclectic denizens and creating your own environment. Bring friends with you. Bring out-of-towners who are looking to get to know the city beyond Bourbon Street. Bring your mom. Go by yourself, people-watch and strike up a conversation with a stranger. At all of these places you can just as easily start a dance party as you can sit and read a book.
One of the truest affirmations that you’re in a winning spot is knowing that the bartenders of said establishments stay there and hang out, often long after their work shifts end. One such spot is my personal favorite Lower Quarter haunt, Cosimo’s.
A popular misconception about the place is that it was started by recording engineer and studio owner Cosimo Matassa – it wasn’t. Original owner Cosimo LaBuono [Ed. Note: the exact spelling of his last name is not known] opened the watering hole in 1934, and since then, not a whole lot has changed besides ownership. It still boasts original woodwork, exposed brick and drinks on the cheap. Bar manager Jeanne LeBlanc, who’s been working there since 2006, says it’s a pretty laid-back crowd; mostly undiscovered by tourists, Cosimo’s draws nearby residents during the week; Fridays and Saturdays can get a little more rowdy but never unmanageable. Drinks range from $2-$7, and LeBlanc is currently working on perfecting a signature cocktail for the bar which will make its debut sometime this spring. She says that it will contain a refreshing combination of ginger beer, Pimms and cucumber. When I stopped in recently, Cosimo’s was gearing up for its weekly crawfish boil, which takes place every Tuesday until the end of May. The bar also has a back room up a small flight of stairs with a pool table, comfortable couches and a dartboard, along with televisions and even when they’re not serving crawfish, the menu is extensive and serves all kinds of food that might strike your fancy after a few beers – gourmet hot dogs and pizzas are among the most popular items.
After I paid my tab at Cosimo’s that night, I headed over to Royal Street’s Golden Lantern. I had never been in there at night before, but I did kick off a recent Fat Tuesday with one of their self-proclaimed “world famous” Bloody Marys, and it had set the tone for the rest of the delicious day, so I was eager to go back and check out the evening crowd. The place is small in size but makes up for it in personality. Bartender Wayne, who started working there in January, says that every Friday night the bar hosts blues singer Lisa Lynn, while on Saturday nights Divas R Us, a group of female impersonators, takes the stage. Golden Lantern is also the birthplace of Southern Decadence, a festival that began as a small party more than 40 years ago that’s evolved to now include 120,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender revelers from around the globe every September. Wayne says that the bar is always full of “a lot of tourists who want to escape the Bourbon Street scene,” who mingle with regulars. Happy hour, he says, lasts from “8 a.m. to 8 p.m.” Well drinks are $2.25, beers are $2.50 and premium drinks are $6 or $7. The décor inside is eclectic and colorful; a Marilyn Monroe print graces one wall and several funky statues adorn the top of the bar, looking upon thirsty revelers.
A few blocks away, Flanagan’s Pub is situated on St. Philip Street. It’s always a good time of day to be at Flanagan’s, whether you’re stopping in for a pre-dinner High Life, or if you need a pick-me-up (generous) shot of Jameson afterward. Flanagan’s also serves standard bar fare that is quite tasty – fried things and other munchies abound. The bar itself is located in the middle of the establishment, so it’s a good place to people-watch – or alternatively, become one of the people who’s being watched.
When I stopped in on a sunny day last month, bartender Susie at Harry’s Corner, who makes a fantastic Old Fashioned and Pimm’s Cup, was celebrating her birthday. She generously shared her cake with the other patrons of the establishment. At 6 p.m., there was a small crowd of geriatrics who happily mingled with 20-somethings. Characters were in full force. I was fond of one woman who said she’d been popping in to the place for more than 30 years. “I’m here every day that I work,” she told me as she polished off a highball of unknown ingredients.
Six blocks up toward Canal Street from Harry’s in the area of the city which has arguably the highest per-capita rate of tourists, the Chart Room is a small, intimate space – almost a hole in the wall – that is always teeming with a crowd of regulars, many of whom are in the service industry. This place provides an oasis from all the Uncle Terrys and Aunt Carols who’ve driven in from Tallahassee for a weekend of debauchery that you don’t necessarily want to know about. There are a few tables at which to sit, though they tend to get pretty crowded in the later hours. Lewis Bernard, a longtime fan of the place, who makes regular trips there despite being a resident of the Irish Channel, says he likes it because, “It reminds me of my neighborhood bar, which is a quality that is difficult to find in that part of the Quarter.” He also gives it props for being in a spot that’s easy to remember: “It’s on Chartres Street,” he says with a smirk. “I can find it no matter how much I’ve had to drink.”
Find Them Here
1201 Burgundy St.
| Chart Room|
300 Chartres St.
| Flanagan’s Pub|
625 St. Philip St
| Golden Lantern|
1239 Royal St.