Bars. New Orleans is famous for them. And there are a lot of different kinds of bars in the city. So, I’d like to share with you one particular kind of tavern—that is, the family-run bar. I’ve picked three of my favorites, and this is why you should give them all a try.
First off, we have Domilise’s Po-Boy and Bar (5240 Annunciation St). The late Dot Domilise’s po-boys made the place famous citywide (though now, her po-boys are nationally recognized in such magazines as Bon Appétit and Louisiana Cookin’). Peter “Jr.” Domilise founded it in 1918 as a bar, not a restaurant—that would come later, as Peter’s wife Sophie Wagner Domilise’s tradition of making hot lunches for the dockworkers morphed into a restaurant. Dot Domilise, her daughter-in-law, took over the restaurant that friends of the family had opened and transformed into what it is today.
Today, Joanne Domilise, wife of Kenny Domilise, the grandson of Peter and Sophie, runs the place. The bar is 100 years old and doesn’t have a railing for feet, since at the time, you were to go “belly-up” against the bar. And the history of the place is visible on the floor: you can see the original, unadorned concrete, as well as two more generations of tile, preserved in time in a winding, snake-like streak. But what really makes the place special is the bartender, Raymond Chauvin. Or, I should say, the one-and-only Raymond Chauvin, who has been working there for 48 years.
Their fried shrimp po-boy is their most popular, and even though they have a fully functional bar, they tend to sell more Barq’s root beer than spirits. But my favorite thing about Domilise’s is the atmosphere. There’s a rare simplicity, a feeling of community and an abiding sense of history here—a friendliness and openness that brings to life that legendary Southern hospitality. Joanne told me that she’d like to get back to her roots, that she’d like the place to become a little bit more of a bar than it has been recently. And it’s that attitude, that love of place, which will resonate with you when you walk in.
Next on the list is Henry’s Uptown Bar (5101 Magazine St). Founded in the year 1900, Henry’s is 117 years old and has been in the family for four generations. Henry Gogreve, father of current owner Steve Gogreve, took over the bar from his father-in-law Edward Crone, and eventually, the bar went from being known as Crone’s Bar to Henry’s Uptown Bar.
The bar itself is original, as is the roof, and there’s even an old, hand-painted sign that was rediscovered after a car hit the side of the building in 2006 and scraped off the paneling. On the wall is a framed copy of the Warren Report where Henry Gogreve was interviewed about Lee Harvey Oswald, who used to wander around the area and annoy customers at the bar while his wife bought groceries from Henry’s Meat Market.
And even though the bar is famous for its Bloody Marys, the real stars of Henry’s Uptown Bar are the customers and their relationship to the bar. Take Kathy, whose husband has been coming here since he was 18—and now he’s 62! Or Mike Barnes, who arrived for Mardi Gras in 1969 from Missouri University and was welcomed by Henry Gogreve, who just looked at him and said, “Come with me,” before leading him to an efficiency apartment in the back. And Mike has been coming back ever since. You see, there’s a feeling of old camaraderie, of individual stories, here at Henry’s Uptown Bar. I would encourage everyone to go and visit to see if you, too, might become one of its regulars.
And that brings me to Revel Café and Bar (133 N Carrollton Ave). It was founded in February of 2015 by Laura and Chris McMillian, a husband and wife team. Both are founding members of the Museum of the American Cocktail, and both are expert mixologists with more than 20 years of combined experience. And while they do have a house special called the “Geeze Louise” and Chris is famous for his mint juleps, that’s not why you should go to Revel Café and Bar, and that’s not why Chris and Laura want you to come here, either.
The McMillian family runs Revel Café and Bar precisely the way they would like customers to feel: included and as part of a family. Laura runs the front of the house and helps Chris bartend, while their son-in-law, formerly head chef, still lends a hand in the kitchen. Their youngest son helped build the place, and at least three of their children come in every so often to help out. Even their grandchildren come in to visit and have fun. And that’s because the place is family-friendly: Revel Café and Bar offers mocktails to pregnant women and happily accepts even toddlers, as they offer non-alcoholic drinks for people of any age under 21. And there is not a single television in sight.
This is because for Chris and Laura McMillian, the experience is all about something deeper—it’s about care and comfort; it’s about conversations; it’s about people and a very personal interaction. Or as Chris put it, “You may not like the drink, but your pleasure is the real reward for all of my work.” And having gone there myself and experienced this all first-hand, I have to agree with him: this is exactly what Revel Café and Bar is all about. And when Chris proceeded to tell me that, “If we can get you here, we can get you back,” I realized that he was right on that point, too. And I’m sure that you’ll feel the same way once you give this place a try.
So, the next time you decide to go out, think about it carefully: all three of these places are wonderful in their own unique ways, and all of them are worth visiting. You can’t go wrong with any of them.