Still Smoking at Dos Jefes

The pop trends that seem to come from nowhere are usually the ones that disappear the fastest –– see widespread facial piercing; baby pacifiers as adult fashion accessories; and the public demand for Zima, the sweet malt beverage that fueled so many poor decisions during its brief reign.

Other trends are more like revivals of some style, pursuit or pleasure that once had much greater followings, like a forgotten room in the corner of American life that is suddenly flooded with people. In these cases, once the hoopla dies down and the trend-followers flake off for the next hot thing, the original devotees have the room to themselves again, where they can stretch out and reminisce on the time when the world came to visit.

This is what happened to cigars in the ‘90s. The once-stodgy stogie rapidly became a craze for a whole generation that was simultaneously rediscovering pinstripes, swing dancing and martinis. That tide turned a long time ago, but vestiges remain and one of them is Dos Jefes Uptown Cigar Bar, where a ‘90s-inspired vision of a cigar den endures. The walls of this Tchoupitoulas Street club are covered by now-fading ads, nostalgic posters and photos of celebrities gripping cigars like status symbols or Freudian props. An illuminated glass-fronted humidor case holds the goods. As more bars and clubs in New Orleans are voluntarily going smoke-free (check out this list) Dos Jefes is still proudly themed toward tobacco.

But Dos Jefes has always been about more than a good smoke, and at least during my recent visits it seemed few people were actually there for the cigars. Rather, the larger appeal of this place is as a bar and music venue that holds itself just a little higher than the local norm for refinement and creature comforts.

Bands perform Monday through Saturday, usually with no cover charge, and the list is eclectic, grownup and intriguing. Some standbys these days are John Fohl, the blues guitarist who backs countless New Orleans acts and now has the Monday night set at Dos Jefes, and pianist Tom Hook, who holds court on Tuesdays. Check out the Dos Jefes music calendar and you’ll find the gypsy jazz of Tony Green, Brazilian jazz from trombonist Rick Trolsen and Caribbean-infused zydeco from Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes all coming up within the next two weeks.

There was a time when Dos Jefes seemed ahead of the curve on the drinks trend, stocking its bar more like that of a fine restaurant than a typical New Orleans watering hole. It still has an impressive spread of high-end liquor, and the bartenders mix decent drinks, though this isn’t the place to come looking for the cocktail culture now in bloom at places like Cure and Tonique.

When bands are playing, Dos Jefes feels more like an intimate jazz club than anything else. There is really no room for dancing but rather a cluster of small tables lit by candles and served by cocktail waitresses. On weeknights, music begins at 9:30 p.m., a little earlier than most clubs. It all makes Dos Jefes a great second act for an evening following dinner at an Uptown restaurant –– especially Clancy’s or Patois a few blocks away.

In temperate weather, when the front doors are held open, you can hear night trains passing on the nearby riverfront tracks, often blowing their whistles as if in appreciation of the music going down within.

 

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