No circumstances should result in drinking two purples.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is a confusing dive bar to serve as the subject of a review like this one. The evolution of the dive bar over the past decade or so has inched it closer to the Bourbon Street template, complete with mystery purple frozen drink dispensed from an endlessly whirring machine behind the bar. And in one sense, any sense of encroachment of “tourism” on a place like this might be a death sentence for an authentic dive bar.
But this is a building erected in the 1770s. This is a location with a Wikipedia page that includes words like ‘contraband’ and ‘illegal seizures.’ Ghost tours rotate around the location, supposedly one of the most haunted buildings in New Orleans (high bar). And even without those murky but romantic roots, a café opened at this location in the 1940s and it was declared a National Historic Monument in 1970. Purple drink behind the bar or not, belief in ghosts or not, it is simply undeniable that Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is a bar knitted to the fabric of one of the most diverse and vibrant cities in the world.
Today, there are a few blocks in between Lafitte’s and the heart of Bourbon Street’s tourist-driven absurdity, and those few blocks provide just enough cushion to take the edge off of the wandering bachelor parties. But it is by no means a foolproof barrier, hence the purple drink, hence the dense crowd nearly any hour of the day. But the sign has remained the understated 1700s-era dive bar tribute it should be, a small wooden inscription over the door, a mural on the wall.
The structure is brick and wood and air, with really no hard line between the indoor atmosphere and the Bourbon Street crowd that has no doubt spilled out into the street. It looks like, stay with me now, a very old blacksmith shop, the kind of ambiance and history that a “Voodoo Daquiri” can’t spoil. A short bar winds around the bar’s front room, a minimal amount of frontage to crank out the level of alcohol that pours out of Lafitte’s on a nightly basis. A secondary room holds low tables that serve as the dive bar’s only seating, really, and at night that seating can be quickly engulfed by the crowd.
A relatively new addition can be found in the back room, a piano bar setup in a small corner of the dive bar’s back room, removed enough from the street and the bar’s open doors to create a mini atmosphere of its own. And that’s really what I take away from Lafitte’s, a dive bar with a legitimate claim to one of the oldest standing structures in one of America’s most historic cities. Bourbon Street or not, tourists or not, Lafitte’s has the ability to create an atmosphere all its own that feels historically-authentic no matter what happens in and around the dive bar over the years.
Night accentuates all of Lafitte’s best qualities, candles on the table, gas lighting outside, the dim light inside spilling into the darkness outside. Even with a dense crowd, the history of the building and the bare, preserved walls can make Lafitte’s feel private, feel intimate. That a smuggling run or two might have been planned a century or two ago by the ghosts drinking to your left only heightens the allure.