When Polly Watts took over the 24-hour neighborhood bar from her father in 2006, the Avenue Pub was a run-down dive with off-flavor Bud and Miller Lite on draft. Not knowing anything about beer, she turned to professionals — most of whom were trying to sell her expensive equipment she didn’t need — to find the problem and fix it. It took her local beer distributor to show her the buildup of mineral deposits and other unfortunate things in and around the draft lines, and she replaced the whole system in 2007.
Brand-new, 30-tap system in place, the Pub was selling “every flavor of Bud, Miller, and Coors imaginable on sparkling clean, well-calibrated lines,” Watts laughs. But when NOLA Brewing opened, its president, Kirk Coco, told her that with her robust tap system, she had the ingredients to open a serious beer bar. She marched over to meet beer purveyor Dan Stein of Stein’s Deli and Market, learned about a website called Beer Advocate, and threw herself into the world of craft beer.
The European beer selection is one of the best in the southeast, if not the country, but the 50 taps also carry a wide variety of American craft beer, especially from local breweries in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Now, the Avenue Pub has received the highest acclaim of any beer bar in the region, winning spots on “Best Of” lists, including (but not limited to) Draft Magazine, Travel and Leisure Magazine, and Thrillist. The Pub has also increased the size and scope of its bourbon program to earn even more accolades, working with distillers from Four Roses, Old Forrester, 1492, Buffalo Trace, and even Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell. Brewing celebrities like Evil Twin’s Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, Greg Koch from Stone, Brian Strumpke of Stillwater, The Bruery’s Patrick Rue, and Brooklyn Brewery founder Steve Hindy can all be found at the Pub when they’re in town, either as part of an event or just to hang out.
Beer, Bourbon, and a Balcony
The Avenue Pub provides one-of-a-kind beers and events. Beer lovers can find small batch, unpasteurized German Franconian casks of lager during Oktoberfest, and the Pub has hosted renowned Belgian brewery Cantillion’s Zwanze rare beer release since 2011. Watts is the only barkeep in the city to publish “kegged on” dates on all her hoppy beers — many beer enthusiasts want the freshest IPAs possible. The European beer selection is one of the best in the southeast, if not the country, with consistently available beers from Belgium, Great Britain, France, Spain, and Italy, but the 50 taps also carry a wide variety of American craft beer, especially from local breweries in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The Avenue Pub’s balcony extends over the sidewalk of St. Charles Avenue (the only balcony to do so) and is a perfect location to watch the parades.
Another change Watts made early on in her tenure was to clean up the upstairs balcony bar and open it to the public year round. Her father had only opened it during Mardi Gras in years past — and for good reason. The Avenue Pub’s balcony extends over the sidewalk of St. Charles Avenue (the only balcony to do so) and is a perfect location to watch the parades, especially as a craft beer lover.
Watts only serves beer under 8% ABV during parades and puts the Pub’s beautiful, style-specific glassware away to serve it all in plastic go-cups. The Pub is a popular spot for using the bathroom along the route, but only for customers: you get a bathroom ticket when you get a drink. Keep an eye on the Avenue Pub’s Facebook page for special beer releases and brewery events on the balcony for the first weekend of parades — and all year round, since Watts always brings an excellent variety of beer-and bourbon-focused events into the Pub.
Food for Thought
The Avenue Pub’s 24-hour operation means that it serves a lot of post-shift service industry folks, including many chefs. One such chef is Nathanial Zimet, a longtime customer and owner/chef at Boucherie and Bourree on South Carrollton in the Riverbend. He approached Watts when she was dealing with a kitchen transition and offered his services as a menu consultant, meat purveyor, and kitchen staff trainer for the Pub.
Zimet’s menu items include a duck fat confit prepared chicken leg, cauliflower-cream cheese hummus, currywust, Gulf fish sticks with Meyer lemon tartar sauce, and a Cajun Croque monsieur, made with Zimet’s own housemade smoked ham and tasso. He’s also worked to improve existing Avenue Pub menu items, like the Dump Truck Fries. The large and small plates complement the beer beautifully and make it easy to stay a while, whether there’s a parade outside or not.
All photos by Paul Broussard