The Enlightened Already Know

Today’s Happy Hour column is coming at you with suggestions for visiting several new places, thanks in no small part to my inability to concentrate on one thing for any lengthy period of time. I don’t think it’s just me, but Carnival season needs to get into full swing as quickly as possible. After an exciting time around the end of 2011/beginning of 2012, I’m bored.

Thankfully, and not a moment too soon, the Krewe du Vieux rolls – actually it’s more like a series of lurches – this Saturday night. I’m way beyond ready.  

Anyway, while my pal Robert Peyton over on his Hautes Plates blog somewhere next to this one has featured many, many new restaurants recently opened in our little burg, I have not done the same for the bar scene, an oversight that will be corrected to some extent here.

Here is a small list of watering holes that have thrown open their doors just over the past several weeks, ready for your patronage. What’s pretty cool about the bars noted here is that they are, for the most part, close to one another. Park the wheels and put on your walking shoes.

519 Fulton St.
(504) 593-8118
Open for lunch and dinner every day except Monday

Who doesn’t love the Manning family? Who doesn’t love football? Who doesn’t love a room full of TVs, all tuned to one of the multitude of ESPN channels at all times? Okay, so maybe a number of you folks out there don’t love one of those things, but if it’s a sports bar you crave, plan on enjoying this one.

I’m still trying to come to grips with the menu. Suffice it to say it’s a work in progress. I hope. The place is pretty … uh … big. Seating well over 200, with a variety of areas, each providing a different view of the proceedings.

The bar serves all the expected drinks, and the specialty of the house is a Razzle-Dazzle, a raspberry rum, lemon juice and raspberry tea thing. If you like sweet, you’re going to love this.

The menu, put together by Anthony Spizale, a local boy who made a name for himself over at the Rib Room for many years, is an interesting attempt to please sports nuts (duck wings, pigskin sliders, potato skins, burgers noting the Manning family’s jersey numbers of 10, 14, 18), and also has a selection of dishes appealing to the three people in town who are not football-crazy (catfish, meatloaf, beer and cheese bisque).

I suggest you don’t pass up checking out the display of sports memorabilia, or take in a ball game on the TVs. The concept of sports bars, and all their unsubtle signals, needs to be uppermost in your mind, however. This is a good one and you are likely to have a good time with the drinks, the game and the gang.  

Gee Whiz: Wherever you look, no matter where you sit, there is an excellent view of at least three TV’s, including the big one, a 13-foot mega-screen over the bar.

Burgundy Bar
931 Canal St.
(504) 522-5400

Located in the brand-new Saint Hotel, an 8-story boutique property, this elegant watering hole offers jazz and a quiet oasis. While the staff here, or at least a few of them, could try to remember that New Orleanians pronounce the name of the street which borders one side of the hotel, burr-gun-DEE, and not as Americans pronounce the region in France, BURR-gun-dee, that does not detract from the sumptuous décor. And I do not use that term lightly.

Rich, flowing fabrics greet you in the lobby, and deep red velvets meet you in the bar. The bar is dimly lit, quite moody, and the selection of beverages is a work in progress. It is new, you know, so that’s fine.

Gee Whiz: A big picture window onto Canal Street offers a view no other bar in town can offer, and makes you wonder why no one has done this before. I have a pretty good idea why, but let’s enjoy this.  

601 Loyola Ave.
(504) 613-3860
Open for lunch and dinner

This latest offering from chef John Besh and his new partner Brian Landry (formerly executive chef at Galatoire’s who recently did a stint with the Louisiana Seafood Promotion Board) is located in a street-level corner of the newly reopened Hyatt Hotel.

Both chefs grew up around Lake Borgne, just east of here in St. Bernard Parish, and have fond memories of fishing, etc. Importantly, these talented guys use local ingredients every chance they get. Shrimp, oysters, flounder, pompano and black drum are featured alongside duck, rabbit, cochon and, yes, even alligator.

The cuisine direction is to feature the style of the Isleños, a people still living their Canary Island heritage, who immigrated to Louisiana in the late 1700’s, speaking Spanish and bringing a Spanish, African, New World influence to their cooking and living.

As with all of Besh’s restaurants, the bar is complete, providing an excellent wine list, and quality, well-constructed cocktails from only fresh ingredients are the rule.

Gee Whiz: If you have not visited the new Hyatt yet, this is your chance to dive in. It’s a grand place and spending an entire evening there eating and drinking in several different venues is an easy thing to accomplish.

Vitascope Hall
601 Loyola
(504) 561-1234
Open every day, lunch and dinner, and open late

Another fixture in the Hyatt Hotel. I’m starting to be real sorry this hotel did not open for us sooner.

Vitascope Hall was the world’s first indoor motion picture public movie house that charged admission, and it was located at 623 Canal St., where Canal meets Exchange Place. In keeping with New Orleans' commitment to preserving historic sites, it is today a Burger King.

Prior to the opening of Vitascope Hall, all motion pictures were shown in the great outdoors with the image projected on a large sheet, usually hung from a couple of trees. The theatre in New Orleans changed all of that.

The bar Vitascope Hall in the new Hyatt may be one of my new favorite places for drinks. The seating areas are divided from one another, so some level of privacy for a group can be achieved. Every area has its own flat-screen TV. The drinks are good – though not cheap – and the burger is excellent.

Gee Whiz: On your smart phone you can download a Vitascope Hall app that allows you to know the song title and artist of what music is playing and what has played, and you can make your musical requests to the system through your own phone.

827 Toulouse St.
Open Daily, breakfast, lunch, dinner, with weekend brunch mid-day

Continues a trend to completely move South Louisiana to New Orleans. Cochon, Café Atchafalaya, Borgne, Maurepas and now Vacherie. Will anyone be left out in the country?

Jarred Zeringue has brought cuisine from his home on the German Coast right into the Quarter, and he is doing a good job of making folks feel at home, passin’ a good time. The dining room is a bit dressy when compared to its namesake community, but it is in the Hotel St. Marie so a modicum of elegant comfort is acceptable.

The bar is not overextending itself, and it is a fine oasis, providing honest beverages properly prepared.  The bar bites, at prices that are fine for the French Quarter but would never fly back home in Vacherie, are creative and tasty. Perfect accompaniments to a cocktail or glass of wine. Good textures, a bit salty, and eaten with the utensils that God provided, unless you’d prefer something more traditional, like a knife and a fork.

Gee Whiz: The cured meats are locally done, and the proprietors do their own pickling. These are the same folks who operate Eat New Orleans on Rue Dumaine, Café at the Square and Between the Bread, both of the latter on St. Charles Avenue. These eclectic, small dining establishments are quite well-done and comfortable. 

New Orleans is enjoying a renaissance (overused word, but not in this case) of excellent and new places to dine and drink. If you are not climbing all over this town to discover new places, what is it going to take?  Okay, if you insist.

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