Because sometimes the New Orleans sun is too much.
The contrast between the tourist horde that descends upon New Orleans’ French Market and the subset that stumbles a little bit further into The Abbey and its neighboring dive bars is stark for two locations about a minute’s walk apart. Within ear shot of the crowd lining up at Café du Monde, a short stretch of decidedly less tourist-marred bars and diners can be found on Decatur Street, just one block away from the entrance to the much more tourist-palatable French Market.
Along with dive bar brethren Aunt Tiki’s and Molly’s At The Market, The Abbey provides a crucially different experience for those willing to venture that few feet further. The Abbey in particular, under its stained glass-themed sign, seems to absorb all light no matter the hour of the day, creating a welcomed cave-like atmosphere away from the New Orleans sun. A couple of chairs can be found outside, but this is the kind of dive bar to retreat into, not spill out of necessarily.
Inside, it’s all black paint and Christmas lights, the perfect combination to match the name of the bar and all its associated imagery of dimly lit cloisters. Though there are a couple of TVs inside, they play second string to the more interesting wall art throughout the space. A handful of stained glass-looking windows slash sculptures slash I’m not sure what they are line the space, continuing the theme from the sign out front. More than one skeleton can be found hanging inside, including behind the bar where framed photos and handwritten signs create the feeling of a shrine or ofrenda.
The layout is a simple one given the small space, an L-shaped bar dominating one side, ancient wooden booth seating lining the opposite wall. Notable is the actual, honest to God jukebox just inside the front door, a machine that not only plays real physical media, but also allows for the amazingly satisfying jukebox experience of flipping through albums to find the right song. A pair of New Orleans standard issue video poker machines can be found further inside the space, personal photographs filling the space between and lining almost one entire wall of the dive bar.
The bathrooms feature a continuation of the black paint and a selection of local artwork to provide ample entertainment for a visit to the back. A framed picture and quote from Anthony Bourdain can also be found, a sure fire sign of an excellent dive bar, to this reviewer at least.
There are dive bars in New Orleans that embrace the free flow of alcohol into and out of the space, staying as connected to the world outside as possible. The Abbey is not that dive bar. Refreshingly given some of the more tourist-dominated sights nearby, this is a dive bar for ducking in and avoiding the world outside rather than stay connected to it. Dark lights, dark paint, a love for stained glass, The Abbey is a dive bar removed from the city and world around it, a perfect day- or night-drinking refuge.