Escape tourists, or your family, either one.
Jackson Square is tourist zombie apocalypse, a stream of wayward wanderers grabbing a beignet and a picture with a statue. With that much disposable income in one place, the bar and restaurant offerings nearby are priced with that fact in mind, making a cheap beer hard to come by in the area. Pirate’s Alley Café is not perfect by any means, but given the touristy sheen that surrounds it, the fact that a dive bar of any kind can exist where it does is a feat by itself.
True to the dive bar’s name, Pirate’s Alley Café sits in Pirate Alley, part of the network of roads that extend out and around Jackson Square and the adjacent St. Louis Cathedral. Because the alley only runs 600 feet, it is not always depicted on tourist maps of the area, again a benefit to the dive bar. Paved in cobblestone, the area has attracted a diverse set of tenants, including the Faulkner House Bookstore next door, where Faulkner wrote his first novel.
Just a block away from street art vendors and makeshift psychic readings at card tables, a sign in the shape of a pirate ship’s wheel hangs off the brick corner of the building, the only suggestion a bar might be nearby. According to the dive bar’s web site, which resembles an 1990s-era Geocities property (this is a good thing), the building sits on the site of the Spanish Colonial Prison established in 1769. The history of the area is best left to their site, but suffice to say, the reading is as colorful as to be expected for a site this close to the heart of the city.
There isn’t much to the space, which is to the benefit of the Pirate’s Alley Café, making it more of a dive bar outpost than a full-fledged bar. In New Orleans style, large shuttered doors fly open each day, providing only a handful of archways as barrier between dive bar and the alley it sits in. Sporadic outdoor seating creates a wraparound patio of sorts and there is no shortage of tourists that pop in for a to-go drink on their way to some other sight.
Inside, the theme is played up to an extreme degree, from the nautical decorations that dot the walls to the mural of a pirate-like compass that covers the ceiling. Above each archway, half circle windows dip inward, providing a little bit of airflow in a city that can sometimes run short of ventilation. A series of ledges provides ample opportunity for pirate themed this, nautically themed that, and there is some kind of reference to a map about every five feet.
This is a dive bar hole in the wall in one of the most historic areas of one of the world’s most historically-rich cities. In close proximity to one massive tourist magnet named Jackson Square, Pirate’s Alley Café has still somehow managed to maintain the authenticity of the building and the space inside. Frozen to-go drinks and map murals aside, this is as divey as it gets for the part of town it sits in, making it a beer and absinthe-soaked (yes, absinthe) gem in the heart of New Orleans.