With restaurants opening so rapidly along Freret Street, it’s worth remembering that it was a bar that first led people back to take a fresh look at this historic commercial stretch. The bar was Cure, which opened in 2009, bringing the latest in cocktail culture, a high-style design and a wave of patrons who previously just sped on past Freret.
The restaurants keep opening (there’s more than a dozen and counting along an eight-block stretch) but lately more night spots have been joining the mix as well. In fact, two have opened since the New Year.
The larger and more ambitious of this pair is Publiq House (4528 Freret St., (504) 826-9912), the big blue building with a colorful, neon-traced marquee sign lighting up its block.
Once a location of the (long-gone) Canal Villere grocery chain, this now can be a place to drop by for drinks or a destination to check out a particular band. In this way it’s comparable to dba, though in terms of scale, it seems to fit somewhere between dba and Tipitina’s. Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes are scheduled to perform this Saturday, Feb. 23 (doors at 10 p.m., $5 admission).
When the stage is dark, though, it’s still an interesting place to check out. A motley assortment of chandeliers seems to bring the high ceilings down a bit; the bar is paneled with old window shutters and a vintage army truck has been fashioned into a soundboard station.
The bar has a very good selection of local drafts (among other beers) and a list of specialty drinks, plus a few surprises. The daiquiri machines initially look out of place churning away behind the bar, but Publiq House calls these its “craft frozen cocktails” and they are a bit more high-brow than your suburban drive-thru daiquiri special. There’s a frozen Irish coffee made with Jameson and cold drip coffee, for instance, and a brandy Alexander made with New Orleans Ice Cream-brand praline crunch ice cream.
Then there’s the list of beer-tails, or cocktails made with beer, to the tune of Anchor Steam with rye, St. Germain, lemon juice and Luxardo liqueur (the Steamroller) or Framboise with gin, lime and ginger ale (the Floradora). The short wine list is pretty interesting too, and this might be the only place in town with both daiquiri machines and a choice of four sparkling wines by the glass. Expect to drop $7 or $9 for a specialty cocktail or daiquiri, and be aware that draft prices can be up there too (a pint of cider ran me $8).
Publiq House periodically hosts food trucks in its parking lot, and in season it’s also throwing twice-weekly crawfish boils (Fridays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.)
The other new bar on Freret is called Other Bar (5039 Freret St.), and this one is a much more low-key place. Directly across the street from the twinkling wiener garden of Dat Dog, Other Bar took over the former Alamo Underground space and made it into a sort of game room-meets-rum bar concept.
In what is becoming a Freret Street motif, the interior is a stylish patchwork of recycled woodwork with a loungey collection of chairs and bar tables. The tiny bar dispenses mostly canned beers (plus a single NOLA Brewing draft) while the liquor shelves and cocktail menu are mainly devoted to rum. Most of these drinks are straightforward – a dark & stormy, mojitos, rum and Mexican-style sugar cane Coke – and the prices are right, with most running $5 or $6. The rum selection can get into some pretty heady territory – the Ron Zacappa 23, for instance, and the unusual Old Port Rum from Bangalore, India, are particularly smooth sippers all on their own.
In the second room there’s skee ball and a tabletop Ms. Pac Man machine that requires no coins to play. Here’s an inside tip: keep the “player 1” button depressed for a few seconds and the screen will display a menu of some 270 other vintage games available to play. A round of Zaxxon, anyone?