When I agreed to tackle the task of writing a guide to the bars of New Orleans, I set two rules. Rule #1: I would visit or revisit every bar I wrote about, and would not write any entries based on my memories of the bar. Rule #2: I did not have to drink at every bar I visited. Drinking on deadline is a different experience than drinking while out with friends. You have to stay sober-ish, pay attention, and take legible notes to do justice to each spot. And I pretty much stuck to these rules. Well, at least the first one.
The night I revisited Pal’s, I had decided that it was one of the bars that I was not going to drink at.
I usually saved my drinking for places that specialized in cocktails, choosing club soda or a Coke at neighborhood joints when I needed a break from booze. Then I walked into Pal’s. It’s really hard to not drink in a bar you love, and I sure do love Pal’s. It truly is one of those great neighborhood spots where the bartender treats you like an old friend. We walked in and were greeted by Trent. When we said we needed a minute to decide what to drink, he affably replied, “Take your time. You’ve got till 3 a.m.” It’s a bar that feels lived in, like a den or your parents’ basement. Your mom would probably not have displayed the 1960s-era portraits of naked ladies, however tasteful they may be, but she certainly would have allowed the air hockey table. The cushy black bar stools with their brass rivets give the bar a sense of class, and for all the use they have seen, they’re in remarkably good shape. Pal’s is worn but not dilapidated. When I visited, the bar’s lone TV showed Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows, but it gets tuned to Saints games when football season arrives.
After a visit to the ladies’ room, I checked in with Trent about the sole piece of graffiti that adorns the wall. It says “Laura Izzo, please come home.” I asked him if that was the same Laura who used to work at the Shim Sham, which is now One Eyed Jacks. He said it was and that he used to work with her there. Pal’s is owned by the same people who owned the Shim Sham, so they shared a lot of staff. Laura moved away from New Orleans to go to graduate school in 2004 and I haven’t thought about her much since then. But when she left, someone wrote that plea on the wall at Pal’s, and since then, whenever Trent repaints the bathroom, he paints around that sentence.
Drinking by City Park at Ralph’s on the Park
New Orleans bars are full of these interconnections and moments marking someone’s arrival to or departure from the city. This is a city where bars encourage a special kind of memory making, and Pal’s in particular is a great place to make a new one or be reminded of an old one.