Buffa's, New Orleans
Choosing a bar to write about in New Orleans is like choosing your ice cream at Baskin-Robbins. We've been to plenty of places (and will go to more, I'm sure) that were more like Dairy Queen where your choices are chocolate or vanilla. Sometimes we've been to places where there was no choice: there was only one bar. (I guess in those cases, to follow the analogy, the Dairy Queen was out of chocolate.) Even in the French Quarter (where we're staying), there are more than a hundred bars to choose from.
To narrow things down, we decided we wouldn't go to a bar on Bourbon Street. Many of the places were so noisy with music and crowds, we knew we wouldn't be able to have conversations we could hear. The other concern was that Bourbon Street would be populated by tourists. We wanted to talk to locals.
So we got suggestions from locals about bars and looked into several. We finally decided to go to Buffa's Bar and Restaurant on the corner of Esplanade Ave. and Burgundy St. Frankly, we were convinced to stay because of the plethora of Dr. Who posters (with a Firefly and Monty Python bonus) decorating the hallway. We soon found ourselves at the bar next to a delightful couple from Manhattan (which wouldn't actually be considered a local in Louisiana, for those of you who are geographically challenged).
There were two rooms to choose from at Buffa's; the front had the the bar, and the back room with the piano and lounge singer (and another bar). We heard Alexandra Scott singing Ernie's Rubber Ducky Song, followed by a Tom Waits song (as one does). But that room had more of a restaurant feel.
So we went back to Holly the bartender in the Tom Waits t-shirt in the front bar. Holly said she moved to New Orleans from Las Vegas just prior to Katrina, and she said the hurricane grandfathered her into a local status. She had arrived six weeks before the storm and wanted to stay in the place she was living, but after a few days, she was shipped off in a bus to she didn't (initially) know where.
But Holly came back to New Orleans and loves it. She loves the food and the music and the drink. She feels she never knew what life was about before she got here. Mindy said something about the middle aged tourists on Bourbon Street acting like college students, and Holly said one of the great things about New Orleans was that the locals were often older people who could go on acting like youths.
We took awhile to decide on our drinks, and it should be noted that it's not Holly's fault that there are no cherries in Mindy's Amaretto Sour or Dean's Manhattan. We asked her to leave them off.
So we asked Holly our two questions: what makes for a great bar and what makes for a great church. Holly said that drinks are the least important element of a good bar. She looks for a place that's fun, with music and a good vibe. She has favorite bars in the neighborhood (besides Buffa's), such as Cosimo's and the Golden Lantern. Golden Lantern is a gay friendly bar, and she enjoys their burlesque drag shows. As for what makes for a good church, Holly admitted she isn't a church-goer, but the Golden Lantern on occasion does Sunday Gospel Drag Shows. She says it's fun and where, she says, "I get my Jesus on."
By now our neighboring Manhattan couple had ordered something to eat and drink, and were willing to strike up a conversation, so we asked our questions. Rose and Brian had just flown into New Orleans an hour and a half before, and this was their second bar. Brian spoke about the importance of good bartenders, which he said was someone who makes pleasant conversation. They had favorite bartenders back home ("we follow them when they change bars," Rose said). They had been quite surprised to meet one of their favorite home bartenders at the airport when they arrived in town.
Rose talked about how in NYC, a bar can be like your living room, a place where you hang out with your friends. She said that was much more common than drinking at home. She appreciates the neighborhood feel of bars back in New York.
I asked what makes for a good church. Rose said they might be looking a church, but a Catholic church. She said the teaching is important for them. Many churches in New York have priests from South and Latin America, she said, and many of them preach Liberation Theology, a form Communism. They're not okay with that.
Brian said that the church he grew up in was very formal, but the alternative was meeting in the basement with a guy strumming a guitar, and Brian thinks "that's why people drifted away".
We did meet another local at Buffa's. Hank came and ordered a drink so he could use a restroom. He was born and raised in the area, though he's worked in Biloxi and Austin. When Hank answered our good bar question with, "Good clientele," it was apparent he had been in the bar business. He said a good staff brings in a good clientele. Of course, he added, one jerk coming into a bar can spoil the atmosphere.
He said he didn't know what would make for a good church, "I believe, but I don't practice."
Before we left, we looked into the back room again; Debbie Davis was singing a tribute to Randy Newman. (Randy Newman reminds me of a something completely different. Newman sang a song, "I Love LA." But here, "LA" means Louisiana, not Los Angeles. I'm not sure I'd ever get used to that.)
Total time spent in bar: a little over an hour
Our rough count: 9 in the bar area, lots more in the back where the music was
Music: Holly's playlist in the bar (an eclectic Russion duo). Live music in the back room.
Snacks: full restaurant menu available.
Followup: Holly's our friend on facebook now!
Visitor Treatment: Everybody who came in was greeted; service was prompt, and Holly made sure we knew how to find the live music in the back.