I had the “pleasure” of spending some times in New Orleans the past few days. I didn’t put “pleasure” in quotes because New Orleans isn’t a fun town, I put it in quotes because I was there for a conference and didn’t get the chance to get out much.
I did manage to escape the ether of the conference center on Saturday night, and headed directly for the part of New Orleans I like the least – Bourbon Street. I was with three other guys, and they wanted to go, so what was I to do? I figured there was no chance I could talk them into finding a nice quiet craft beer bar someplace, so I went with the flow and braced myself for beads, drunk tourists and criminals lurking in the shadows.
Our first stop was Pat O’Brien’s, home of the world-famous Hurricane. For those who’ve never had one, a Hurricane is a ton of rum fruited up with passion fruit, orange juice and a few other sweets. It’s a hangover in a glass, but a tasty one. I enjoyed mine outside in the courtyard, drinking quickly while slightly shivering under a heat lamp.
The next stop was Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the oldest continually operating bar in America. Stepping inside transports you right into a pirate bar in the 17th century, but instead of pirates, the place is filled with chubby hipsters and people still wearing nametags from whatever conference brought them to the Big Easy. Not as colorful, but no one’s going to slit your throat either.
The best part of Lafitte’s is its location. It’s two block past Saint Ann Street, the line that marks the beginning of the gay bar portion of Bourbon Street. This is a line every frat boy knows not to cross. To get to Lafitte’s, you have to walk past some very pretty boys and lots of videos of Ricky Martin and George Michael that are projected onto the buildings. As you continue down the street, the bright lights and sounds of the main section of Bourbon Street fade, and you find yourself feeling very vulnerable in a slightly dangerous city. Both act as a great a filter for meatheads and tourists.
The guys I was with squaked the whole way, but were impressed with how authentic and interesting Lafitte’s turned out to be. It’s a must-see if you’re ever in New Orleans. For those keeping score, I had an Abita Amber, which should be NOLA’s official beer. Unfortunately, there’s a limit to the amount of culture you can foist on guys who want to cut loose, and soon we were headed back to the raucous mess that is the walking mall portion of Bourbon Street.
As we walked, a sign caught my eye. It was the Beer Fest International Beer House. I popped in to find about 40 taps sporting a pretty nice selection of middle-of-the-road craft beers. I had an Arrogant Bastard and got a Flying Dog Amber Lager for a buddy who normally drinks Yuengling. Both cost $10.50 for what they claimed was a 24-ounce cup (it was more like 20), but I didn’t complain – it was the first real craft beer I’d seen in days.
I thought this place was very cool – a one-of-a-kind establishment dreamt up by a local beer nerd. Then we walked to the other end of Bourbon Street to find another Beer Fest International Beer House that was almost identical, down to the last shabby detail. There were also two Rick’s Cabarets and a few other “one of a kind” locations. It made me realize that this free wheeling strip of drunken revelry is actually a closely calculated set of businesses designed to maximize profits. I immediately felt like a yokel for ever thinking otherwise. I drowned my sorrows in a “24-ounce” Unibroue Maudite. It did the trick.
After that the evening gets a little blurry. There were many shots, a couple of more beers and this very cute girl who was really into me until I told her the story of how I met my wife, who I remain happily married to. She sort of drifted away after than. Go figure.
The next morning I was hurting, but I was also happy. The last time I visited Bourbon Street all you could get was Abita, Bud, Heineken and oddly, Rolling Rock. To be able to get good beer in the heart of meathead territory was a welcome surprise and goes to show just how far craft beer has come in the last several years. If you ever get dragged to Bourbon Street, take comfort in the fact that at least you can have a good beer while you watch America’s finest, stumble, puke, and flash.
Oh what the hell, “Laissez les bons beers rouler!”