Original walls, original flooring, historically-good drinking.
It should go without saying for a travel guide like this one that the heart of the New Orleans drinking scene lies far afield from “Buy 1 get 2 Free” drink specials on Bourbon Street. And it seems almost sacrilegious to label some of the finest drinking establishments in the world as dive bars, but the term is bestowed here with love, with reverence and with a stout appreciation for no-frills drinking in a city known for a frill or two.
Le Bon Temps Roule sits in a building that dates back to 1890, complete with original walls and flooring. The bar’s heritage is steeped in jazz, from shows held in the back room dance hall to the long line of past owners with some connection to music. And, as the bar’s web site states, the unassuming neighborhood bar also has a brush with infamy as a favorite bar of Lee Harvey Oswald, who lived just up the street many decades ago.
With all of that preamble, it’s probably time to note that Le Bon Temps Roule is an amazing place to spend a long New Orleans day getting drunk. Blistered wood flooring covers the space, with window-facing, solid wood booths line one wall. And these are the prime spots to snag, with ample view of the it-could-be-anything walking down a street in New Orleans and the intimate feeling of an Irish snug given the frame of the booths.
Pool tables dominate the space in the front room, with a bar and seating opposite the door. There are neon bar lights and metal signs and Saints gear attached to every attachable surface, of course, and you won’t be able to escape TouchTunes, even here.
But there’s more to this bar than the expected. It’s the chalkboard out front with a daily message, it’s the ancient planks that line the entrance, it’s the wooden benches built into the side of the building. It is starkly impossible to walk by the mere presentation of Le Bon Temps Roule and not wander inside, especially on a hot day through time-weathered doors underneath a not-so-subtle sign that reads “Air Conditioning.”
And maybe best of all, Le Bon Temps Roule sits in a part of New Orleans far enough from the Bourbon Street crowds to wash out most of the tourists without feeling so remote as to make a casual drinking crawl impossible. The best dive bars are the ones that live as integral pieces of an everyday neighborhood, less a tourist destination and more a piece of the surrounding community. Le Bon Temps Roule lives squarely at that intersection. And has a plaque over Oswald’s favorite stool, to boot.