“We’re really the only independent rock and roll club in the French Quarter,” says Ryan Hesseling, co-owner of perennially popular club and bar, One Eyed Jacks. While most locals think of it as a music venue for local and mid-size traveling acts or for its famous Thursday 80s night, the front bar is such a perfect encapsulation of New Orleans vintage style that it’s worth a round for atmosphere alone.
Although Hesseling isn’t sure of the building’s age, he’s quick to point out that in its past lives, the space has hosted a myriad of businesses: car repair, a veterinarian office that fronted for a speakeasy and during the 1970s, a burlesque theatre. The space has so long been associated with a vice of one type or another that if you ask a local, they’re likely to tell you this oft-used, New Orleans urban myth: Oh, that place was once a bordello.
And it would be easy to believe them given One Eyed Jacks’ gilt-framed collection of nude velvet paintings that adorn its red flocked damask wallpaper. Despite the fact that only the building’s facade could be the considered of historic value, step inside for a drink and you’ll find that New Orleans aesthetic style that so many visitors fall for. Elements like banquette style seating, an oversized chandelier and spotty gold mirror make for the vintage, shabby glam synonymous with the city. It’s an atmosphere that draws on historical decor but one that exalts character, imperfection and exudes a strong scent of impropriety.
And while all of One Eyed Jacks current business is above board, Hesseling is glad that a naughty aura remains. When asked about the building’s often sordid past, he says, “I’m rather proud to be a part of that tradition’s continued evolution.”
One-Eyed Jacks also has a second, even smaller bar upstairs, the Matador. Dark and discreet, the space evokes a 1960s feel. True to its name, velvet paintings of bulls dominate. So do echoes of James Bond and secret trysts. Matador’s hours are erratic and based on crowd-size and unless you’re in the know, you’d probably miss the door leading upstairs. But if you’re there on a happening night, it’s worth inquiring if the Matador is open.
One Eyed Jacks
Allison Alsup is a writer, teacher and designer. She is the co-author of the forthcoming French Quarter Companion, a guide to drinking in the French Quarter, to be published fall 2013 by Pelican Press.