Nothing quenches thirst like exposed beams & brick.
There’s a lot about New Orleans that feels gothic, from the legit stuff like the architecture to some of the less legit stuff that passes as bar decoration in some of the tourist-heavy parts of the city. And though the Black Penny has been refurbished, it retains an organic amount of gothic appeal that feels like stepping into some kind of dive bar tribute to New Orleans nights gone by.
Drinking near the French Quarter is all about drinking just a bit off the beaten path. Sometimes there are gems in the heart of the neighborhood (like the Chart Room), but more than likely, a dive bar in the French Quarter is a dive bar just outside the French Quarter. The Black Penny fits the bill, one of a string of bars that line what constitutes the northern border of the French Quarter, Rampart Street.
And first look supports a decision to drink at the Blank Penny with faded, original walls ringing the a space that is actually pretty damn stark. As far as renovations go, the Black Penny version served to accentuate the age of the building rather than cover it up with drywall and paint. Sure, there’s a new sign out front and the view from the street looks a little more inviting that it did a decade or so ago, but the bones are left exposed here, and that fact is what gives Black Penny its uniqueness.
The front room to the space is the real testament to the exposed surface effect with exposed wooden beams above and stripped walls inside the front door that feature spots of faded brick shining through. Separated from the main bar area, the space feels a little bit like a dive bar waiting room, a collection of booths in a high ceiling room with a view of the bar through a painted green brick archway.
With renovation comes a handful of perks, most of which can be found in the bar room itself, from the reclaimed wood wall that stretches behind the bar to the Black Penny’s fairly extensive craft beer selection. Painted green plaster walls stretch into painted green brick to complete the very deliberate two-tone vibe to the bar area. A curving wooden bar dominates, connecting all of these somewhat diverse visual elements under the welcoming umbrella of alcohol.
And though it can be difficult to use the term ‘dive bar’ and ‘craft beer selection’ in the same review, the Black Penny keeps that dichotomy as organic as possible, using the natural character of the building as its chief calling card. Yes, there’s a robust set of merchandise for sale and yes the bathrooms have clearly been renovated, and so Black Penny isn’t quite one of New Orleans’ timeless, untouched dive bars. But the tribute to the past and to the space isn’t one that can be ignored and for a bar in such close proximity to Bourbon Street, the tradeoffs seem worth it to drink some kind of triple-quadruple-super-dry-IPA, but do it among the bricks and plaster that have long been a part of the neighborhood.