Nice neighborhood spot, if not all that divey these days.
As is the case with other dive bar gems near New Orleans’ French Quarter, the best drinking options are usually saved for the fringes, the edges of the area where tourist traffic fades and locals start to make up the majority of a bar’s clientele. The Buffas slogan hits it on the head with the phrase “On the border of the Quarter since 1939” serving as both nod to the building’s history and its dive bar credibility.
I have been lucky to visit Buffas a handful of times over the past decade or so, bearing first-person witness to the bar’s transition from legitimately worrisome dive to the more modern bar that now occupies the space. And with any dive bar transformation, there is always a bit of worry around how the past will be preserved and how much divey-ness will actually remain. In the case of Buffas, a lot of the danger that I felt on my first visit has been scraped away in favor of something much more polished (and much more monetized).
At its heart, Buffas is a neighborhood corner bar, one that was once a little rougher on the edges but today still carries that some, part-of-the-neighborhood vibe. Not only does the new Buffas now have a web site (no small feat for a small dive bar), but it is both regularly updated and features live streaming concerts as the Buffas back room features a rotating set of performers. Interested parties can even leave a virtual tip for the band currently streamed. This is no backwater dive.
Outside, the oval windows provide the building its most notable feature, elongated and ringed with neon, each window feels a bit like a warped porthole. White paint gives Buffas a very clean and fresh feel, with an updated sign now hanging above the door accentuating that renovation’s effects. Casual outdoor seating rings the corner that Buffas sits on in keeping with the New Orleans tradition of not just allowing but encouraging the drinking to tumble out into the heat.
The bar’s layout includes a front room dominated by Buffas’ main bar, a fresh wooden L-shaped offering that even features charging ports (renovation has its perks). Beer comes out of an iced-down cooler for some of the more frequently purchased offerings, a limited set of liquor offerings rounding out the selection. The front room is ringed with low tables that make the space feel, at times, more like a diner than a dive. A full kitchen provides pretty legit looking food at prices that flirt with tourist-level rates for some selections, another impact of the bar’s update.
A back room, sometimes used and sometimes not, offers both special event reservation as well as the Buffas stage for live music that cycles through the building. When bands do play, the windows and doors are often left afar, allowing the sound to float into the street (sometimes a point of contention with neighbors).
Buffas isn’t the gritty dive bar that I was once a little wary to set foot in many years ago. The paint is fresh, the fixtures redone, the marketing more sophisticated and the pricing elevated to reap the benefits of all of those efforts. Gone is that tinge of “dive” but it cannot be argued that Buffas is insincere about what it is, a neighborhood bar for locals since 1939.