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10 June 2015

Neighborhood Bar Culture in New Orleans

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Every culture has a meeting place. In New Orleans, this place is often a bar. Sure, plenty of other places love bars too, but the New Orleans neighborhood bar is somewhat of a unique institution. This isn’t the Bourbon Street club, mind you. This is a much more sedate affair, and the point in these places isn’t to get drunk, get laid, or to make people on Instagram jealous. The point is to spend time with a unique social group: your bar buddies. Bar buddies are people you know only on their stools. You may know about where they live, but you never go to their houses. The bar is your common living room. The bar is all you have in common, and it’s enough.

Indeed, a good neighborhood bar is much like a living room, or a park. It’s a place to meet and discuss the day, a place to eat the food of an amateur chef, a place to be the tipsy version of yourself that is accepted unquestioningly against this brass rail. You get to know the regulars; you get to know the bartenders. You tip liberally and your tab always ends up lower than you expected. This isn’t “Cheers” though: this is something more intimate. This is a community center. These bars are where you go when you want recognition beyond simply your name. Recognition here extends to experience, and the commonality of getting drunk and staying up too late on a weeknight watching bad movies together.

Of course, the neighborhood bar isn’t exclusive to New Orleans. It’s just that in New Orleans many bars predate NIMBY zoning laws that exclude such institutions in many other cities, at least in the United States. Outside the US, these bars can be as common as they are in New Orleans, sometimes not even under the umbrella of bar, but instead a coffeehouse or a restaurant. Whatever the title, whatever the libation served, the neighborhood institution is a vital thread in the fabric of place. To discover what it’s like to live somewhere, find an establishment frequented by regulars, introduce yourself, dive into the social pool, and become a bar buddy. It’s not so hard, and the rewards are as bountiful as they are unpredictable.