Beer over beignets any day.
Navigating New Orleans’ French Quarter is all about picking the right spots, and those spots tend to exist on the fringes of the neighborhood, far, far away from 3 for 1 beer specials and over-served bachelor parties. On the southeast end of the neighborhood, near the French Market, a string of dive bars and no-frills diners can still be found mixed in more gentrified options. Aunt Tiki’s is in the running for most decorated dive bar among the choices in the area, a neon-infused explosion of visual stimulation.
Describing every visual element of Aunt Tiki’s dive bar space would ruin the fun of experiencing it in person, which can be surprising given the fairly nondescript look of the bar’s exterior. Looking for the phrase ‘Aunt Tiki’ will prove to be a fruitless pursuit as the name of the bar does not grace the bar’s front door. Instead, a faded black and white sign above the door contains a bolted-on life preserver that reads ‘Tiki Bar.’ A second ‘Tiki Bar’ reference can be found above the door.
Inside, the visual details run deep, but there are some standouts, including the giant red letters spelling ‘dare’ above the bar. The mirror that runs along a good portion of the bar has been covered up almost entirely with stickers from all walks of life (including Scoundrel’s Field Guide). The array of liquor bottles behind the bar serves as just one aspect of a pretty dense setup, with what looks like the clearance aisle of a Halloween store mixed in with New Orleans Saints gear and a handful of framed pictures.
Opposite the bar is where the real show can be found, where sporadic seating leaves ample room for decoration, a large neon sign inscribed with “Billy’s, Home of the Famous Volcano” serving as the centerpiece. Having visited Aunt Tiki’s many times at all hours of the day and night, the color inside is always the same, the faint red glow of the neon sign permeating the dive bar’s space.
The rest of the wall is a shrine to tiki bar decorations of years gone by, framed tiki-inspired poster prints mixed in with metal sculptures and what look to be original pieces of art. The display stretches back to a series of video poker machines the vending machine portion of the dive bar (e.g. cigarettes). Beyond those machines, a tiny alcove made up of church pews circling what looks to be some kind of shrine (or just an old fireplace) sits completely secluded from the rest of the bar.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, the path to the bathroom is, for some reason, bathed in blacklight and painted to glow. Be warned that Aunt Tiki’s is cash only, ATM next to a plush leather couch and reading lamp, of course.
From the checkerboard ceiling to the attached spider web decorations to just the density of decoration, Aunt Tiki’s is an intense display worth studying. Bathed in red, volcano-themed neon at all hours day or night, the space feels like a hidden dive bar even though it exists on one of the most trafficked streets in Louisiana. Somehow the tourists seem to evaporate a few feet past Café du Monde, to Aunt Tiki’s benefit, one of a handful of dive bars still authentically anchoring the fringes of the French Quarter.