We Thought So

Photo by Tim McNally

It’s always nice to receive validation from another source to affirm what you think you know. New Orleanians, being the basically self-absorbed-in-our-own-culture group that we are (and why not when you have the depth of culture that we enjoy?), have come to embrace the fact that our bars are among the very best on the planet.

That’s not to say all of our bars are that way, but most truly are. Our visitors agree, and while, from time to time, they may not “get” some of our dining preferences and styles, I have never heard a complaint about New Orleans bars, which are usually interesting, even historic, well-operated, proffer a good drink, and are plentiful.

Let’s not forget one of New Orleans’ great contributions to world culture. No, not jazz, although that is phenomenal. I’m referring to the go-cup. Some people, and we will forgive them, do not enjoy jazz. Nobody doesn’t like the concept and the reality of the go-cup.

Now, along comes Esquire Magazine and their listings of Best Bars in America. Your favorite little burg between the river and the lake scores big. New Orleans has three bars in the top ten, and all of our bars rated by Esquire, in aggregate, score very high.

To be fair, the article doesn’t list all of the bars in any city, but I have to believe that the logical ones, the main ones are included. There are some missing essentials, in my opinion. It is a tough task to include "all the gin joints in all the towns." Credit to Esquire Magazine–and to David Wondrich, spirits editor and writer, and an unabashed lover of New Orleans–for getting in as many as were included. (He even included some, from other towns, that maybe should have been omitted–but that would have left those areas without proper representation.)

Wondrich particularly noted (in the Top 7) Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop as the Number 4-ranked bar in America, with a score of 84%; and Arnaud’s French 75 as Number 7, with a score of 83%.  I agree wholeheartedly with Wondrich here. Chris Hannah at Arnaud’s is one of the greatest bartenders you will ever encounter. Napoleon House scored 82%, which would put it in the Top 10.

Three bars from a town our size made the list of Top 10 Best Bars in America? Pretty impressive.

Other highly ranked New Orleans bars were The Spotted Cat, The Chart Room, The Bar at Tujague’s, Fritzel’s on Bourbon and The Republic. Also noted were Fred’s Lounge in Mamou and Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette.

Which brings us to the question: what makes a great bar? Well, for most of us, it’s personal. Do we walk in the door and everyone knows our name? Does the bartender automatically reach for our favorite drink before we reach a seat? Is there an air of comfort where we settle in and just feel right? Is the place convenient to where we live or work? Are the bathrooms clean? Is smoking allowed? Do they serve food?

Notice that not one of those important questions, all of which are bases for how we make a decision as to whether we like the place or not, have anything to do with the quality of the cocktail. You are now beginning to appreciate how most people make a decision about a favorite bar. And all of those non-drink related qualities are valid and fine.

That is not to say that if the professional behind the bar cannot make a good drink, then the bar is okay anyway. But if we are going to be regulars at the bar, or even if we just drop in, we will get the drink we want done the way we want it. We will almost always receive beer at the proper temperature, or wine from the correct grapes.

But here is where, I think, New Orleans bars shine. They actually, deeply want you to have what you want, the way you want it. Our watering holes are focused on customer satisfaction. The desire to serve correctly and to the customer’s desires is almost always present. That’s really what sets us apart.

We take this for granted. We are here and don’t really have a competitive frame of reference. However, when traveling, I’ve been in bars where if you ask for a drink a particular way, or, worse, if you return a drink not made to satisfaction, the re-make will be done, but begrudgingly. In our town, in practically every instance I have witnessed, the correction or suggestion is taken in the correct spirit and the “proper” response is completed. The transaction is finished with, “Please tell me if this one is better for you.”

I love that. From time to time, I have said to the bar professional that I prefer a bit more of the base spirit, and it is given freely, with a smile. I’m not trying to get away with more booze for free. I just like a drink the way I like a drink. And I will willingly pay. But it hardly ever comes up. Even if it did, I’d understand.

I like New Orleans bars a lot. I love the feeling of camaraderie and shared pleasures that should always be present in a bar. I think we do it as well as anyone, anywhere.

Happily, so does Esquire Magazine. And now so does America. Thanks, y’all.

Categories: Cocktails, Happy Hour, Web

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