Bouligny Tavern (Photo: Joshua Brasted)
The list of people who travel to New Orleans to gape at a big screen TV is very short. This is a city famous for entertaining its visitors at almost every waking moment — from the extravagant architecture and talented sidewalk musicians, to the diverting back-and-forth among strangers at restaurants and bars. A television seems, well, one-dimensional in comparison. Of course, sometimes a television in a bar is essential — to cheer on the Saints on a Sunday afternoon, for instance — but more often you’re missing out if your eyes migrate to the blue flicker.
Here are four places where the only distraction is to enjoy a chat with the person on the stool next to you.
Bar Tonique hits several sweet spots — it’s in the French Quarter, but on its frayed edge, which makes it feel apart. It’s a locals hangout, but one that also attracts adventurous tourists. The U-shaped bar encourages conversation with new friends. Need a conversation starter? Which of their extensive whiskeys would go best with which of their extensive classic cocktails? Discuss.
Bouligny Tavern is high on the list of loveliest spots for a quiet sip in a city with no shortage of lovely spots. It stands apart for its its midcentury grace, which somehow manages to be both spare and supple. A blaring television would definitely be out of place; a wise-cracking Mad Man would not. Cocktail specials will appeal to creative sorts, or go low key with a local beer or classic cocktail.
Cure opened in 2009, and ushered in a revival of creative handcrafted cocktails in a city that’s always favored a stiff drink over watery beer or wine spritzers. Housed in a former firehouse along a stretch of upscale casual restaurants (think: epicurean hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza), it’s contemporary without being unmoored from the city’s storied past. Happy hour specials and the daily punch offer great value; for a splurge, try a “reserve cocktail,” like the old-fashioned made with 20-year-old bourbon. One temperate days, the side patio can offer more entertainment than any flatscreen.
Cane & Table offers an oasis of class amid the garishness of the French Quarter. It has the DNA of a undiscovered Havana dive, with peeling walls and plants sprouting from the bricks in the courtyard. Rum’s the specialty here, with a focus on proto-tiki drinks, which are a little less ostentatious than later incarnations. Sitting inside removes you from the hubbub of the street; a seat in the courtyard takes you to a distant island, if only in your mind. Feel like exploring the streets as you sip? (Note: you can do that in New Orleans.) Ask for your drink to go in a hollow pineapple.