The ceiling alone gets an 11.
Some of the world’s best dive bars are found in the “in between” places between neighborhoods, between tourist areas, between the so-called nice parts of town. Far enough from over-development, the seams of a city, if that isn’t too romantic a term, is where some of the best, most authentic, most history-steeped dive bars grow as organic parts of their neighborhoods. And that is the Mayfair Lounge in a nutshell, a bar in the running for best dive bar in New Orleans, no small feat given the density of amazing drinking options in the city.
On this reviewer’s most recent visit to Mayfair Lounge, the people I was drinking with openly wondered where the hell I was taking them when we parked the car. Needless to say, this is a good sign when it comes to dive bars, so embedded into the neighborhood that a location can feel almost hidden. Indeed, Mayfair Lounge sits in a triangle sliver of New Orleans next to a combination Chinese & Vietnamese restaurant and across the street from a medical complex. Strictly speaking, Mayfair Lounge is sometimes lumped into the Garden District, but truthfully it sits in a weird pocket south of the St. Charles streetcar, north of well-trafficked Magazine Street and well removed from the mansions that dominate Garden District tours.
And that in-between area serves Mayfair Lounge well, a dive bar really only spotted thanks to a bright yellow, amazingly vintage sign that reads “The Mayfair” above the door. There’s a small bench outside, a refreshed paint job, a bar game sign if you look hard enough, but you would be forgiven for missing all of that were it not for the canary yellow siren song of a sign outside. The interior of the Mayfair Lounge is, in a word, glorious. Immediately the ceiling leaps into view, a densely packed array of what can best be described as the necklaces, plastic trinkets and random stuff you’d find on the street after the Mardi Gras float passed by.
All of that visual stimulation hovers above a small bar, this is a tiny triangle plot of land after all, that stretches above halfway through the bar’s main space. Select seating can be found at the curved, faded wooden bar, offering the best possible view of the regulars that continuously stream into the cash-only dive bar neighborhood haunt. Beads and Mardi Gras-themed decorations hang not just from the aged ceiling, but from the windows, from the bar itself, from the liquor bottles, from really any flat horizontal or vertical surface.
The pool table directly inside the front door completes the space in the bar’s main room, a pair of TVs at either end providing a glimpse of the outside world (tuned to Wheel of Fortune on last visit). A small second room feels a bit of a world away from the visual intensity of the front space, offering a bit of overflow seating. It is worth noting that the visual appeal of the space isn’t limited to the decorations throughout, but rather the walls themselves, almost all covered in faded murals of some variety and adorned with vintage appliances still humming along (presumably).
Of course, a few video poker machines are wedged into the space opposite the bar and a small hallway in back gives way to a cigarette machine and the dive bar’s bathrooms. But it’s the main room that holds the dive bar beauty here, a mashup of neighborhood bar, New Orleans roots, aging surfaces and the kind of authenticity found in a history steeped, “in between” area like the one that houses a true New Orleans dive bar gem, the Mayfair Lounge.