New Orleans is a city that knows its food and drink, no doubt. For many years, bellying up to the bar meant a great drink, but often bar snacks were relegated to a bowl of aging popcorn or store-bought pretzels and some curiously over-salty/spicy/sweet mix of crunchy bits with nuts. Those noshes serve a purpose, for sure, but palates have progressed, and so, too, have the bar snacks.
The food that emerges from these notable bar kitchens almost trumps what’s shaking at the cocktail counter, but the reality is a partnership that’ll have you eating (and drinking) like a boss.
3641 Magazine St.; (504) 891-1810
A favorite quaff and an elevated snack mix of crispy chickpeas, chili peanuts, and curried popcorn are the obvious go-to. Still hungry? Order the piping-hot gougères (pastry puffs) filled with melty comté cheese or from the bruschetta and crostini menu: the rich and decadent beef marrow and garlic butter option is a must.
The rich and decadent beef marrow and garlic butter crostini at Bouligny Tavern is a must.
321 N. Peters St.; (504) 609-3811
This is the real deal. Located inside Bienville House Hotel, this tiki bar features proper décor, plenty of ephemera, and the big Kahuna, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, on hand to talk rum and tiki cocktail history. An Espresso Bongo? Yes, please. Oh, and from the kitchen, have some of those curry-spiced taro chips with sides of kimchi ketchup and Sriracha mayo.
3222 Magazine St.; (504) 302-7931
At one of the outdoor tables when the weather is fine and a bottle of wine is uncorked, crostini wars have been waged over the Smoked Snapper Dip. An order of the slim, crispy fries is the only solution, and ask for a ramekin of the charred green onion aioli for dunking.
819 Rue Conti; (504) 581-3866
The Empire Bar inside this fine-dining institution is manned by serious pros. If Paul Gustings is working, prepare for a dose of droll, and order a margarita. Gustings’ jaw-dropping version is perfectly sweet-sour and served chilled, “up.” It’s not over. Add a Cuban Sandwich Slider (note the orange-chile glaze) and shovel in the warm Gruyere fondue with parsley and “garlix oil” and the grated parmesan Frites Fondue. Yes, those are two of the seven $5 “snacks” at the bar.
622 Conti St.; (504) 267-7098
So much to swoon over… sipping a Hemingway Daiquiri, one elbow resting on the wrought iron rail of the balcony. The only time that cocktail rests on the table is when your hand is tucked into a dish of House Roasted Nibbles (olive-oil Marcona almonds, Southern candied pecans, spiced walnuts). On Thursdays from 4 – 7 p.m., it’s “Cicchetti,” and the specialty cocktails go nicely with complimentary bruschetta (toppings change with season and the chef’s whim).
916 Lafayette St.; (504) 265-8392
A historic building that was once a “sporting house” (also known as a brothel) was both maintained (architectural integrity upheld) and transformed (interior modernized and walls hung with a rotating art collection) for a sleek restaurant and bar. Just do it — order all three bar snacks at this weekday Happy Hour (4 – 6 p.m.): honey and rosemary popcorn; “Karaage” chicken wings sticky with Steen’s cane syrup glaze and sharp with garlic chips; and Brussels sprouts that have both tang and richness.
1113 Decatur St.; (504) 581-1112
A lovely interior courtyard patio for cool evenings, or the water-marked, old French Quarter bar interior. You choose; there is no way to lose. The gaspingly lengthy list of hand-crafted “Prototiki” cocktails, with their layered and interesting flavors, are matched by clever bar food. A Velvet Telescope (coffee, grapefruit, and rum) partners perfectly, for example, with Fresh Puffed Pork dusted in curried jerk seasoning.
535 Tchoupitoulas St.; (504) 599-2119
New New Orleanian chef Nina Compton’s restaurant is all that, and that includes the bar, where the ‘tenders whip up killer $6 specialty cocktails during happy hour from 3 – 6 p.m. As for food? There’s nothing so fine as feasting on $5 orders of tender and crunchy conch croquettes, the spiced roasted jerk corn, and an island-meets-the-Mississippi version of Dirty Rice Arancini.