Molly’s, a Ryan, a Kerry and an Erin:
The Irish Pubs of the French Quarter
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The French Quarter, despite its name,
has quite a bit of Irish blood running through it.
old port cities of the East Coast, New Orleans saw a huge influx
of Irish people in the 19th century and for a time the Celtic
brogue was heard as commonly on the streets here as the Creoles’ Francophone
dialect. Both those mother tongues have assimilated into the
modern New Orleans accent, but one contribution of the Irish
to French Quarter culture is indelible and indispensable to
this day: the pub.
As is true wherever they are found, Irish pubs serve as local
watering holes and gathering spots for friends in the French
Quarter. While the karaoke joints and dance clubs and theme bars
shake, rattle and roll, these pubs are bastions of camaraderie
and good cheer, places for locals to unwind after a shift and
for visitors to sit back and observe New Orleanians at leisure
in their natural element.
The pubs are often found literally in the
shadows of flashier establishments. There’s Molly’s
on Toulouse (732 Toulouse St., 504-568-1915), for instance, an
attractive, understated barroom of soft brick and polished woodwork
the color of burnt sugar housed in an old Creole cottage. Regulars
perch themselves on window sills or along the bar, while just
outside the howls, chants and yelps of Bourbon Street are clearly
audible and occasionally drown out the jukebox.
Monaghan’s Erin Rose (811 Conti St.,
504-523-8619) offers a similarly dramatic transformation of setting
by taking just one step up and inside. Bourbon Street, in all
its bead-flinging, feather boa-strewn glory, is merely two doors
away, but Erin Rose seems like it’s in a whole different
neighborhood, one where drink prices take a sharp turn downward
and local color amps up pleasingly. Regulars make a clubhouse
of the place, installing themselves at the bar with the predictability
of a professor’s office hours.
In a city famous for its jazz and R&B, a handful of musically-inclined
pubs provide a welcome alternative for fans of acoustic music
and singer-songwriter genre.
“We offer a
stage to some really talented people who can’t always
find places to play in the Quarter because they don’t
do traditional (New Orleans) music,” says Doris Bastiansen,
owner of the Kerry Irish Pub (331 Decatur St., 504-527-5954),
which hosts live music six nights a week (Wednesdays are usually
pool league night).
Traditional Irish music and acoustic harmonizing
are well represented, but also cock your ear for such diverse
acts as hillbilly bluegrass interpreted by Australian banjo slinger
Mike West (he sells “squirrel fat soap” during shows)
or the larger-than-life stage presence of Lips and the Trips,
whose singer often invites game patrons up on stage for rock
“You’re never going to see the
Neville Brothers here,” says Ms. Bastiansen.
Well, maybe not on the stage, you won’t,
though it’s anyone’s guess who might wander through
the doors of the Kerry. With no cover charge and a street reputation
for pouring the best pint of Guinness in the Vieux Carre, many
an innocent Decatur Street stroll has been cut short by a stop
inside this hospitable pub.
Have a Pint, Spin
The entertainment provided by other French Quarter pubs is entirely
in the hands of fellow patrons and passersby.
Just down the street from the Kerry is Ryan’s
Irish Pub (241 Decatur St., 504-523-3500), an unassuming picture
of tranquility during the day but something else altogether at
night. Fitted out with cozy booths and a beautiful antique bar,
the pub can get quite lively after sundown depending on which
nationally touring acts are performing at the adjacent House
of Blues and the temperament of the crowd those acts draw to
Those with the gift of gab will find a stable
of regulars with plenty of stories to swap at Fahy’s
Irish Pub (540 Burgundy St., 504-586-9806), where a decidedly locals’ scene
develops after restaurants and other bars begin cutting their
shifts for the night. The popular drink at Fahy’s is a
local version of the “mind eraser,” a sweet vodka
concoction served in a pint glass and slurped quickly by two
or more people simultaneous through straws in a race to the bottom.
Pool is very popular here, as evidenced by the rows of small,
wooden lockers for regulars to stow their personal pool cues
And if you find yourself at Molly’s
at the Market (1107 Decatur St., 504-525-5169) any day or night
without an interesting yarn to share with a total stranger, just
wait around a bit and you will likely witness the makings for
a worthy story to tell the next time around. It’s hard
to imagine a more variegated bar crowd anywhere than the one
that develops at Molly’s, located just around the corner
from the French Market. Molly’s serves as the de facto
press club for New Orleans, and for years journalists, political
hopefuls and other local notables have spent honorary shifts
behind the bar pouring drinks for their friends and critics alike.
But on a normal day, the place fills with a crowd of fops, bards,
fancy ladies, punks, bankers, artists, students, tourists and
those best described as open to suggestion.
If, for some reason, this social cocktail
doesn’t spark things up for you, there’s always inspiration
to be found in the collection of French Quarter stories and memories
enshrined on the walls and behind the bar, which now includes
even Molly’s founder Jim Monaghan. His ashes have been
interred in a place of honor above the bar ever since his jazz
funeral disbanded outside the pub’s doors in 2001.
Ian McNulty is a freelance food writer and
columnist, a frequent commentator on the New Orleans entertainment
talk show “Steppin’ Out” and editor of the
guidebook “Hungry? Thirsty? New Orleans.”