Crossroads tend to be pretty interesting places, and the spot where Mimi’s in the Marigny sits is no exception.
This two-story bar of neat brick and weathered woodwork is squarely in Faubourg Marigny, but Bywater begins just a few blocks downriver, and Mimi’s falls along the portage route for people from these reliably off-kilter neighborhoods traveling to the rest of the city and back. The dynamics that make Mimi’s so interesting, though, go beyond urban geography. Rather, it’s a layered effect built on music, food and drink, and it stretches through the main barroom, around a tight staircase and up to a second-floor lounge.
Walk through the front door, and the place looks like many another neighborhood joint with a well-stocked bar; a pool table; and a mellow, after-work happy hour scene that grows by the hour into a full-fledged crowd. The first surprise here might be the wine selection chalked up above the bar, which proves curiously strong in Spanish and South American reds. But things add up when a cook barrels downstairs balancing a few plates of garlic shrimp, manchego toast and sautéed calamari.
Mimi’s serves dirt-cheap Pabst Blue Ribbon on draft, reasonable bottles of Rioja and some of the finest tapas in town. Upscale dining restaurants around the city are jumping on the tapas trend –– and stretching the concept with double-digit prices and formal presentations –– but Mimi’s has been a destination for traditional barroom tapas for years and keeps its kitchen open very late. Even when the bar really gets going, the spicy patatas bravas and ceviche keep coming out to gird late-night drinkers.
The tapas are prepared upstairs, where there’s a lot more cooking than food. Just past the kitchen’s service window, the second-floor space opens into a lounge that feels like a cross between a Spanish restaurant and a house party. There are sofas and tables and lamps of the sort you might hope to score at a bargain consignment shop and windows with views of Marigny rooftops and the lighted Crescent City Connection a few miles upriver.
When a band performs here, however, the place feels more like a vintage music hall from some indeterminate era. Musicians arrive and trudge upstairs past the tapas crowd with accordions and guitars, antiquated mikes, upright basses and all manner of shiny or battered brass. Their musical gear stops short of the kitchen sink, but sometimes scrub boards are involved. It all comes together for regular acts at Mimi’s such as the New Orleans Moonshiners, who do deeply traditional hot jazz and swing tunes with the youthful energy of people who want to get noticed, or Zazou City, playing gypsy jazz with plenty of Django Reinhardt references. Each Wednesday, Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue present an old-timey country show that mines material from the days before musical cowboys had to be so relentlessly patriotic.
Many other bands perform throughout the week, though for years now Saturday night at Mimi’s has meant a dancing date with D.J. Soul Sister, the local radio host and funky mistress of ceremonies who spins old school funk, soul and disco from her Technics turntables. This weekly late-night dance party is dubbed “Hustle!” –– and D.J. Soul Sister always gets people moving.
The Mimi’s crowd is all over the board, reflecting the diversity of neighbors who claim the place as their own. But if you’re particularly interested in checking out how the young, disaffected and desperately hip of New Orleans are dressing these days, Mimi’s can also double as a highly entertaining human safari of the hipster aesthetic.
If you see an underfed 20-something who looks like he just fell out of a John Hughes movie (starring as the geek) but had his wardrobe mangled by some jock bullies along the way, you may certainly count that as a hipster sighting. Look for males wearing pink plastic belts and hip packs; implausibly tight pants over spindly legs; T-shirts bearing labels of long-retired consumer brands; and, above all, the type of woozy, gluey, world-of-your-own body language and facial expressions some of us only experience while suffering severe head colds.
I’m not sure what makes Mimi’s so attractive to devotees of this peculiar fashion trend, unless they all stay together in some group home further up the Franklin Avenue bus line and just find the place convenient. It’s OK, though. There are plenty of down-to-earth people around the bar with whom to share a laugh at these antics before the trend peters out.
Mimi’s in the Marigny
2601 Royal St. New Orleans, (504) 872-9868; www.mimisinthemarigny.com