"So where'd you meet this new boyfriend of yours?" Dad asked me. "In a bar—where I meet most of my new friends." That was 30 some-odd years ago and New Orleans, and to be specific—the French Quarter, was my "new" home. Finding a wealth of new friends was easy; as I explained to my Dad, bars are our social meeting ground where folks come together, like when communities and people lean towards their church for social gatherings and interactions. Bars supply more than mere drink. They offer seating for those seeking conversations, floors for dancing or standing room only during a Saints game, and something to belly up to when ordering a round for your co-workers after a long brutal day. Bars dispense more than libations; they serve up camaraderie.
I have traced my friendships through the years back to their sources and so many stemmed from a friendship formed at The Fatted Calf bar on St. Peter's. Susan befriended me and from there introduced me to her corner bar, Cosimo's. My friendship/family tree branched from there to the Touché Bar (a local's hangout under the umbrella of the Omni Royal Hotel). The Touché became my living room. Solid friendships were born there and actually nourished by two bartenders who are still my friends decades later. Tanya was/is bigger than life and her laugh was how I came to meet her and become a loyal Touché resident. Someone insisted I go and hear her laugh—why not, and, yes, she had, still has, the most infectious laugh. Also tending to us misfits was bartender/social director extraordinaire Mary Ann, who was always elevating our bar experience with Salon Nights—ranging from book clubbing or an evening of political discussions (arguments). Additionally, once a week, we'd have Movie Night. The hotel provided a VCR, and we all took turns renting movies from Tower Video. Yes, young readers, there was a time before streaming when we dinosaurs held movies in our hands, popped them into a black box and, bingo (!), the magic appeared on a TV screen.
No two bars were alike back then and this remains true today. But things were different then. No one had cell phones (except doctors and drug dealers), so conversations, brilliant or slurred, ensued with eye contact. There were no fancy pants beers; well, there was Abita Amber. Budweiser and Miller ruled. Heineken if you were feeling kinda continental. And there was smoking, lots of smoking, and I hold no nostalgia for this; however, I am proud to say my fellow smoker bar mates, despite their grousing, complied with a change to non-smoking seamlessly (anti-maskers could follow that lead). Also in the bars of my early days (prior to New Orleans), beer was primarily available in longneck bottles that were returned to the beer distributor for reuse. This direct turn-around was the ultimate recycling—you did NOT toss to the trash bin. And yes, beer was available in cans, but the evolution towards today's easy to flip open style was a finger cutting nemesis for busy bartenders. My first bar gig was slinging beer and required the rounded end of a church key to efficiently flip that can's opening. Oh, and about that time Miller Lite made its debut…we beer drinkers didn't quite trust the "lite" part.
Before my move to New Orleans, I had bonded with bars, but back then more emphasis was on disco and partying and "looking for love in all the wrong places." I'll amend the "wrong places" remark with a truthful "I often used poor judgment when it came to romance." But no regrets with disco dancing—heck, I even won a spaghetti dinner once in a Donna Summer's "Last Dance" contest (I was the only one to enter, but I still think I could've been a real contender).
It was in New Orleans that I discovered the camaraderie of bar regulars. I would still allow libations to skew my judgment in relationships from time to time, but for the most part the folks I met, be them romantically or platonically inclined, were aces. I garnered friendships from so many men and women, and these friendships have endured for decades.
Bars also double as a dog park of sorts. I discovered this after I met Husband (1999), who came with Ginger the Labrador. I caught him stone sober in a coffee shop (our caffeinated cafes are also fabulous environments for social gatherings). He quickly introduced me to the wonderful world of dogs (prior to this I was strictly Ms. Cat Lady), and that's when dog friendly bars became a bonus as we both loved bars, perhaps too much! Our favorite at the time was Mae Bailey's Place. Despite being a hotel bar and kinda fancy, it was an inviting neighborhood bar and had a relaxed attitude about dogs. They even allowed us to use the adjacent conference room as a dog run at night, where our two barfly mutts ran laps around tables and scored treats from their bartender.
Mae Bailey's also had HBO-TV and we'd gather to watch Sex in the City and Six Feet Under—a real treat in those days (remember, this was before television on your phone). After Katrina when virtually no tourists were there to partake of the bar's hospitality, I would bring dinner over and eat with the bartender.
I haven't enough fingers and toes with which to count the vast number of friends I've made within the Quarter's many taverns; not to overlook the other neighborhoods I've called home and their bars (and coffee shops). Whether you partake of libations or java, you can join in the social warmth of these unique gathering places. I might opt for a seltzer or decaf more often now but the camaraderie is never diluted. Good people are always on the menu and among them you will find life-long friends and friendships. Cheers!