One thing I love about walking through an old New Orleans house for the first time is seeing the place unfold room by room and space by space, revealing all that is so often hidden from the street view.
There was plenty of that discovery experience the first time I walked through the old New Orleans house that is now operated as Bayou Beer Garden –– much more, in fact, than I had expected.
Found near the abrupt end of Bayou St. John and set back just a bit behind the dark canopy of oaks lining Jefferson Davis Parkway, Bayou Beer Garden looks just like the other double shotguns lining the block. But pass the small paved front yard and the narrow front porch, pull open the door, and the cool, dimly lit interior reveals an exceptionally well-appointed and welcoming bar. It does look a little cramped at first, with the pool table and jukebox taking up what must have originally been the living room and with the long bar stretching down the length of two more rooms. But walk around the vestigial fireplaces, still standing with their mantels after walls were removed around them, and the place opens up with a dartboard area and a back room with arcade games and secluded tables.
But to really see what sets Bayou Beer Garden apart, continue out the side door and down a narrow outdoor passageway lined by fence boards painted with bayou scenes. It opens to a sprawling deck, one large enough to land a helicopter or throw an enormous party.
This is the payoff of the Bayou Beer Garden, its full glory, like the courtyard of an old Creole town house or the ballroom of an Uptown mansion. One end is open to the weather and furnished with umbrella-topped café tables while a tin roof on the other end shelters an outdoor bar with a wide-screen TV and a space for bands to perform. It was fun watching some of the World Cup action outdoors here, and this fall the deck should be a great perch to watch football games.
It’s nice to see the turnaround at this address, which has been dramatic. After Katrina, the property was converted into a coffee house, and these operators began the deck that would later be extended to today’s beer garden. The coffee house may have done well had its prominent neighbor, the former Lindy Boggs Medical Center (née Mercy Hospital), reopened and provided a steady supply of customers. But the flood-ruined hospital remained a darkened hulk; the coffee house never really functioned smoothly; and although progressively more and brighter banners advertising breakfast, smoothies and even a full bar sprouted from the little home’s façade, the business soon folded.
But in 2009 Dean Disalvo and Fiona Delargy, a native of Ireland and a longtime bartender at the nearby Mick’s Irish Pub, teamed up to buy the place and transform it into a proper bar. Less than a year old, the place already has a genuine air of character, thanks in no small part to the characters who patronize it.
The beer selection is impressive. There’s Guinness on tap, and the bottled array includes exotics from Belgium and Germany. I’m partial to a draft of the locally made NOLA Hopitoulas IPA, which is served here in an English-style pint glass with that handy bump-out near the rim.
The idea of a beer garden near the bayou has a bit of historical precedent. At the turn of the century, when New Orleans was filled with German-born immigrants, there was a German restaurant and beer garden called Over the Rhine located on Bayou St. John farther north at Spanish Fort. The beer garden part of the Bayou Beer Garden overlooks nothing more bucolic than a dirt parking lot and a grassy lot beyond, but the ambiance from the banana trees, the thatch bar and the simple pleasure of drinking outdoors makes it feel relaxingly tropical.
As it stands, the Bayou Beer Garden is conveniently situated as a way station or destination for people pedaling the nearby bike path or canoeing the bayou. And once the Lafitte Greenway is opened, there will likely be more cyclists cruising past, perhaps ready for a draft of the world’s most popular energy drink.
Plans are even under way from the nonprofit health care provider St. Margaret’s to finally redevelop the adjacent Lindy Boggs property as a nursing home. It’s scheduled to open next year. Visiting Grandma might never be the same with Bayou Beer Garden across the street.
Note: Parking for Bayou Beer Garden is in the rear, in a large and well-hidden lot off North Rendon Street, which directs you straight onto the deck. The parking spots up front are reserved for the bar’s residential neighbors.
Bayou Beer Garden
326 N. Jefferson Davis Parkway, New Orleans, 504/302-9357