All the fun of drinking on the street, with less light.
New Orleans is an amazing city, and so all of the grains of salt that come with recommending dive bars in and around touristy-heavy districts carry a little bit less weight there. All things equal, a touristy bar in New Orleans is about a million times more interesting than a tourist-heavy bar in Orlando (with all due respect to Orlando). And so Bourbon Street and the French Quarter in general can be a somewhat difficult area to dissect for that reason. Many choices are good, some are objectively awful and there are a few gems, like Chart House, among the fray.
Two blocks off of Bourbon Street, Chartres Street is just removed enough to have a chance at a hidden gem or two. The classy Napoleon House sits on Chartres (get a Pimm’s Cup, naturally), which is a fun juxtaposition against Chart Room, maybe the most unpretentious bar in a city that does a pretty good job of removing pretention once the 3 for 1 beer special bars are left behind.
Most nights, the doors and windows of Chart Room allow the drinking to spill out onto the sidewalk and street, a seamless connection to the French Quarter between dive and drinker. Having visited Chart Room at all hours of the day, somehow the light seems to evaporate just a few steps inside, no matter the time. At night, Chart Room feels like a pitch black void of dimly lit, almost secret dive bar drinking. In other words, the vibe at the Chart Room is perfect and removed-enough from the nearby insanity to make it feel like dive bar drinking in a remote part of one of the world’s great cities.
French doors, nearly always open, line one wall of the space, short tables positioned at the juncture between bar and sidewalk to again make that connection to the rest of the city. A short, ancient wooden bar commands the single room space, lined with seats and allowing just enough room for a small set of taps and a heavy selection of coolers behind the bar. The walls that aren’t made up entirely of doors are lined with exposed brick, a set of windows running the length of Chart Room’s long interior wall, windows that this drinker once witnessed a man press his naked ass cheeks against at about 2 in the morning.
Surprisingly plush seating lines this longer wall, creating a set of mini-snugs almost, lined benches broken up by short wooden arm rests and completed with short tables throughout. Many a late night drinker have fallen asleep in these chairs, no doubt, given the combination of soft seating and dim lighting. Twin bathrooms complete the small space, a wooden plank-lined roof bringing everything together.
And as with any great dive bar, Chart Room is cash only and features a sign that’s easy to miss, resembling more of a old fashioned street sign than anything else. When in doubt, keep an eye out for blue awnings and casual outdoor drinking at short tables, like some kind of French coffee shop twisted into a new Orleans late night dive.
Simply put, Chart Room is by far the best drinking option this close to the French Quarter, an area where the best beers can be found on the fringes rather than squarely in the midst of wandering tourists, as Chart Room sits. That a dive bar this pure can exist in such a heavily trafficked, heavily monetized part of the city is a testament to the authenticity of a place like Chart Room, in the running for best dive bar in New Orleans.