One of the principal delights of the French Quarter Festival is its namesake setting. Whether you plunk yourself by one of the stages at Woldenberg Park with its sweeping river vistas, visit the fenced grounds around the Old U.S. Mint stage or meander around the smaller bandstands on Bourbon and Royal streets, the historic core of New Orleans makes for an incomparable festival venue. This setting also provides amenities like no other – namely the profusion of French Quarter bars.
Some may think it anathema to duck into a smoky barroom when the music is outside and the nice spring weather is available. But not me. As the French Quarter Festival has grown more popular and as the crowds surge, I’ve come to count on periodic visits to this neighborhood’s watering holes as a festival survival tactic. For the jostled, foot-sore, sun-beaten or merely thirsty, a well-placed bar can seem like a festival oasis.
Now, any French Quarter Fest booster will remind you that beverage sales from the festival’s own vending booths help fund this free event. But it’s a thirsty day out there at the festival, and there’s plenty of drink opportunities to go around. When you’re near a stage, patronize those festival vendors. When it gets too hot, too crowded or when you just want a drink poured into an actual glass and a seat to rest the dogs for a bit, here are a few dark dens to consider just off the festival mainstream:
Chart Room Tavern
300 Chartres St., 522-1708
Befitting its name, the Chart Room has the narrow, low, heavy rafter look of a sailing vessel, with nautical maps matting the walls for extra effect. This is one of those French Quarter service industry haunts with bargain drinks and minimal fuss. The draft beer selection is extremely limited, but there’s something satisfying about this bar’s thick glass handle mugs that makes up for it.
900 Chartres St., 524-1107
One block off Jackson Square, this is a French Quarter joint incarnate. It’s not hip, nor is it tacky enough to draw the irony crowd. That makes it just right as an easy spot to drop by for go-drinks or to linger by one of the always-open windows to watch the passersby. There are oldies and New Orleans R&B on the jukebox, while the bartender will pour a good Bloody Mary and a tall Abita draft.
Molly’s on Toulouse
732 Toulouse St., 568-1915
This attractive, understated barroom is housed in an old Creole cottage with walls of soft brick and polished woodwork the color of burnt sugar. Another in the ranks of service industry standbys, there’s a pool table and a jukebox stocked with a provocatively rich harvest of heavy metal albums. The draft beer selection is concise but has some solid pub options.
Monaghan’s Erin Rose
811 Conti St., 523-8619
Like Molly’s above, this place offers a dramatic transformation for those who discover it just steps off Bourbon Street. Erin Rose seems like it’s in a whole different neighborhood, one where drink prices take a sharp turn downward and local color amps up pleasingly. Regulars make a clubhouse of the place, installing themselves at the bar with the predictability of a professor’s office hours.
621 St. Louis St., 648-2009
Though part of the regal Omni Royal Orleans hotel, this is one of the most unlikely French Quarter hotel bars. It’s on the ground floor, but just past the actual bar a few steps will bring you down into a subterranean lounge. The notion of a sunken bar in this town sounds like a bad Katrina joke, but if you want a place right in the middle of things where you can still feel you’ve truly slipped away for a bit, Touché fits the bill.