Aug 21, 2014

A commoner reviews the Chart Room, New Orleans

Commoners love dive bars.  Maybe that’s why my recent look at a favorite local hangout in Decatur, Ill., resonated so well with so many commoners like me.  And that provides me the perfect segue back to my New Orleans trip earlier this spring, because if there’s one dive bar in New Orleans’ French Quarter that resonates strongly with locals and tourists alike, it’s the Chart Room.

The Chart Room is the type of dive bar that has earned enough notoriety to be mentioned in popular travel guides (and a plug in Esquire’s list of 100 Best Bars in America), yet it still feels like home to its regular clientele.  Located on 300 Chartres Street on the corner with Bienville, its French doors are seemingly always open until 4 a.m. nightly, delivering the perfect atmosphere for the crowd to quite literally spill out onto the street or, in rare quieter moments, providing enough perspective for you to sit, drink, chat with friends and slowly watch the world go by one French Quarter resident at a time.  

Cheers to day drinking at the Chart Room!
And it’s that view from a dimly lit Chart Room to the outside world that makes me love day drinking at this place.  And apparently, all of my friends do, too.  (Ok, I admit I love late night drinking here, too, but it’s so dark in there I can scarcely take a decent picture.)  Not only did we kill much of a Monday afternoon in the Chart Room, but we came back at least two more times during our four-day stay. 

So, what makes it such a great dive bar?  First, the drinks are downright cheap compared to most other bars in the Quarter.  Second, the bartenders almost always deliver a strong pour with your mixed drinks.  Third, the payment type:  cash only. 

Then there is the atmosphere.  The bar’s theme is loosely nautical, but the exposed brick walls and old wood – from the floor to the ceiling to the bar itself – makes it look and feel prototypical French Quarter.  

People from all walks of life flow through the bar day and night – there seems to be no real “down” time at the Chart Room.  Again, check out the crowd in the picture above on a Monday afternoon – a pleasant combination of neighborhood watering hole and tourist oasis. 

And the bartenders are knowledgeable and conversational to just about everyone.  Sure, they love their regulars, but they don’t seem to be turned off by the tourist traffic.  Then again, most tourists who frequent the Chart Room are savvy enough to have learned long ago to limit their exposure to Bourbon Street.   I always try to sit at the bar for at least a round or two during every visit, and for some reason I usually get talked into drinking a NOLA Blonde Ale.  For some reason, it just seems right to drink a local brew here.

The choices appear to be more limited that usual.
And what kind of dive bar would the Chart Room be without an awesome jukebox and a reputation for one of the best selections of music in the Quarter.  On this particular visit, the jukebox seemed even more suitable for the place because of its “condition”…

… yes, that’s what the inside of a 100-CD jukebox looks like.  Fortunately, my friend Terry took it all in stride at played a few rounds of jukebox roulette.  And the bar staff was kind enough to leave a list of the most “popular” CD selections taped to the jukebox, so we wouldn't be entirely in the dark. 

It’s those little touches that make visits to dive bars like the Chart Room so memorable.  I have to admit, when we returned later in the week and discovered the jukebox was fixed, we were mildly disappointed. 

If you find the Chart Room on your next visit to New Orleans, I highly recommend you drop in for a drink or two.  And if you're like me and my friends, you're liable to wind up staying all day before you realize it.  

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