Nothing like nine kinds of rum and a hamburger.
The best dive bars can often be found around the “fringes” of a city, the areas that are just outside of the more trafficked spots, areas more likely to be frequented by neighbors rather than sightseers. New Orleans is a city full of these fringes, pieces and parts of the city that skirt the gravitational pull of the French Quarter, playing that line between ‘yes, we’ll take your tourist money’ and ‘this place is strictly for neighbors.’ Opened in 1963, Port of Call is one such New Orleans dive bar, a tiki-infused, hamburger-slinging, baked potato-specializing hole in the wall.
Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans is an unofficial dividing line between the French Quarter and the Marigny neighborhood, a triangle plot of the city that divides the French Quarter and Bywater areas. The tourists that venture this direction are probably headed for Frenchmen Street and it associated jazz bars, but the dive bar game is strong here, Port of Call serving as a sort of gatekeeper to all points north and east.
The first glimpse of the dive bar is dominated by a sign that looks like the title card to a B movie hanging above the door inscribed with the name of the bar. A string of picnic tables out front make it clear that there’s food and drink to be found within, the entrance just off of the corner orientation of the building. One could be forgiven for being a little bit shocked upon stepping foot into the bar, as there is no indication outside that this is a pretty intense tiki bar, a fact immediately apparent at first glance inside. Rope fishing nets hang from the ceiling, giving way to exactly the type of multi-color string lanterns and that come to mind when the word ‘tiki’ starts getting thrown around.
Wood paneling covers every inch of the bar’s main room, a dual-level division between the main bar above and a small dining area below. Port of Call is a dive bar, to be sure, but calling card 1a is certainly the food menu that deals almost exclusively in beef. The hamburger is the star, by the decree of Port of Call and the personal opinion of this reviewer. The loaded baked potato that comes with it is no slouch either, easily one of the best I’ve ever had and a crucial part of the Port of Call experience.
A tiki bar would not be complete without tiki drinks, comprising the rest of the menu at Port of Call, running the gamut of rum-infused, brightly colored hangover factories you would associate with a little tiki drinking. It is best not to dig too deeply into the ingredient list (read: number of rums involved) as everything is delicious and everything potent. The presentation matches, branded glasses used atop branded napkins to really drive home the Port of Call aesthetic.
Overflow seating can be found in back, passing under two beautifully vintage-styled bathroom markers, and Port of Call does get crowded almost every hour of the day, so prepare to wait. Sadly, probably because this is a dive bar with the audacity to serve amazing food, the hours aren’t as extensive as a typical New Orleans offering, closing as early as 9 PM during the week and often closed Mondays and Tuesdays. In short, get there when you have a gap in your schedule that can accommodate the trip because it’s worth it and a spur-of-the-moment decision may not fit Port of Call’s hours.
It’s not often that the Venn diagram between dive bar and “Zagat-rated” overlaps, but Port of Call is one such example. And that combination makes Port of Call unique in a city with no shortage of dive bars and diner experiences. The combination, and the dive bar’s position on the fringes of the French Quarter, provides the perfect launchpad, a hamburger and baked potato base enabling further exploration of the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods beyond.