Not a tourist area, and that’s pretty much the point.
To clarify right at the beginning of this review, Cooter Brown’s does not fall into the typical New Orleans dive bar mold. At its heart, Cooter Brown’s is really more of a Swiss army knife of a space, cavernous by New Orleans standards and multi-purpose in its use, from tavern food cranked out of a small kitchen just inside the entrance to an impressive selection of 40+ beers on tap. Were Cooter Brown’s British, it would probably qualify as an old-school tavern, a little bit of everything more than a purely dive bar experience.
The Riverbend neighborhood of New Orleans is an area that tourists likely don’t regularly reach, owning to its sheer distance from the French Quarter and even the destinations a little bit closer in like the Garden District or Magazine Street. Cooter Brown’s exists at the edge of all of those attractions, bordered by, you guessed it, the Mississippi River and the end of a well-trafficked stretch of St. Charles Avenue.
Traveling through the area, it almost feels like the city takes a right turn, angling inward to match the bend in the river, leaving Cooter Brown’s and its neighbors with a feeling of living on the edge of the city. Across a small park outside of Cooter Brown’s, a daquiri takeout spot. Next door, a Thai restaurant. This is a hodge podge of a corner and Cooter Brown’s has anchored it since 1979, a natural collecting point for the neighborhood locals.
The artwork outside lives up to the bar’s timeless status, an explosion of Wild West iconography, from the cowboy that features on the Cooter Brown’s sign above the door to the classic red awning that lines the front edge of the bar. Underneath, an extensive mural continues the theme, a cowboy on the side of the road beckoning all comers to Cooter Brown’s. Metal picnic tables allow for outdoor drinking, as is the New Orleans tradition.
Inside, the space stretches farther than looks possible given the view outside. The front room features Cooter Brown’s main bar, an extensive, winding offering flanked by case after case after case of beer, an array boasting what is reportedly over 400 varieties of canned and bottled alcohol. Not to be outdone, an array of taps across two bars (more on that later) ups the collection with a few dozen draft offerings.
The can’t miss feature of Cooter Brown’s is the ancient array of celebrity sculptures that line the back bar, just off the wide seating area that stretches from the front room. Dozens of sculptures line a ridge below the ceiling, each celebrity holding some kind of ancient alcohol bottle. That Elvis is holding a bottle of Little Kings feels entirely unrealistic but supremely perfect. History’s great drinkers, and also Mother Teresa, make for a great drinking activity, guessing each sculpture’s identity.
The back area is almost snug-like, permanent wooden booths opposite a small bar that provides a secluded nook of sorts within the cavernous Cooter Brown’s space. Everything else within the bar is basically an open seating area in front of a massive video display, making Cooter Brown’s an obvious collecting point for sporting events.
And so while Cooter Brown’s isn’t necessarily a hole-in-the-wall dive bar, it offers a little bit of everything. Restaurant, sports bar, craft beer hub, Wild West tribute, sculpture gallery, the sum of the parts is an entirely unique experience in an equally unique part of New Orleans worth the dip around the bend of the Mississippi.