New Orleans’ Best Bar You’ll Never Go To

Town of a Thousand Taverns, that’s what they used to call New Orleans back in the day.  Nowadays, they call New Orleans a city and most people around hereabouts call a tavern a bar.  I don’t think the city has a thousand bars, though that’s not far shy of that mark.  As I sit here thinking about it, I can think of 997 bars in New Orleans.  That’s my best estimation.  It isn’t official.

If you go through the records at City Hall to see how many bars are in operation in New Orleans, that will give you the official count but it won’t give you the most accurate tally.  There are plenty of bars in the various neighborhoods that aren’t licensed.  They’re just open for business.  They’re just there.  They don’t advertise.  You won’t find them on Yelp.  They’re just bars for the people who live nearby, a place to meet your neighbors, catch up on what’s happening, and wet your whistle.  Then you can whistle your way homeways, all the way past the graveyard.

We have a lot of cemeteries in New Orleans, too.  All of those are licensed and registered, except the ones that aren’t.

A belle on Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans
Une belle d’Esplanade de la Nouvelle Orleans


You never know what you’ll find in New Orleans.  One thing you won’t find is the Grunewald Hotel, which is too bad because the Grunewald Hotel was home to the best bar in New Orleans that you’ll never have a chance to go to.  That was a time when men were men, women were women, and a bar was more than just a bar.  If you’re coming to visit from Fayette County, Iowa (pop. 20,880), a trip to any New Orleans bar is an adventure, unlike anything you’ll find in any of the incorporated towns in Fayette County.

None of the bars in New Orleans today, the new New Orleans, the post-Katrina New Orleans, is like the fabled Grotto.  Even in pre-Katrina New Orleans, The Grotto was the stuff of legend.

The Grunewald Hotel stood where the Roosevelt Hotel is now.  The old hotel burned down and the Roosevelt was built to take its place.  You can’t visit the Grunewald and you can’t visit its justly famous (among cognoscenti) bar, The Grotto.

How groovy was The Grotto?  Take a gander of this old postcard:

The Best New Orleans Bar You'll Never Go To
Grotto Bar, old Grunewald Hotel, Baronne Street, New Orleans


They don’t make barrooms like that anymore.  Imagine it!  I’m sure it smelled like bourbon, cigar smoke and damp concrete—the best kinds.  When somebody laughed loudly in The Grotto, it echoed off the stalactites, making the mystery-filled atmosphere even more cheery.

Here’s a view from the other side of the room:

The Best Bar in New Orleans Where You Can't Go!
The Grotto Bar in the old Grunewald Hotel, Baronne Street, New Orleans


Table for two by the nymph’s backside okay with you?  Sure ’nuff, it would have been.

If you’re wondering why we never feature pictures of our lobby on this blog, it’s because I want to buy a truckload of cement and make our lobby look like The Grotto.  Just pump the wet cement through our front door with a hose and let it harden.  Our lobby is already home to The New Orleans Odditarium.  Imagine how much more enchanting the odditiarium would be if it was decked out like a cavern.

The Grunewald Hotel and its infamous Grotto Bar are long gone, lost to fire and most people’s memory.  Not to mine, though.  In my dreams, I sit in The Grotto Bar with Frau Schmitt and I have a sazarac while she sips at a Ramos gin fizz.  That’s New Orleans for you.  That’s the New Orleans state of mind.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t any good bars left in New Orleans nowadays.  There are are more than plenty.  You can’t walk down many streets from beginning to end in this city without finding a place to wet your whistle or to whet you appetite.  New Orleans waxes fat with the very finest watering holes and chow halls.  You’ll find out for yourself.

New Orleans has many layers.  It’s a city full of the most interesting history.  For those who keep this history in mind, it’s an even more fascinating place than it is to those who know nothing about it.  New Orleans tantalizes.  This is a city full of hints and surprises.

You’ll find out for yourself.

The Grunewald Hotel is long gone.  You can stay at the Roosevelt Hotel, which was erected on the very same lot after the Grunewald burned down.  Or, you can make your own adventure and stay at La Belle Esplanade, a boutique experience inn in the spirit of the Grunewald and The Grotto.  If you’re tempted to bivouac off the tourist radar and experience the real New Orleans and all of this city’s many mysterious layers, just click that light blue “Availability” button in the upper right of this page.  Welcome to the New Orleans where we live, the part of New Orleans where dreams come true.

À votre santé,

La Belle Esplanade

where every morning starts with a curated breakfast salon full of history and whimsy.

Monday, January 30, 2017  Last night, Frau Schmitt and I had dinner at Vessel, a newer restaurant and bar close by our inn.   We highly recommend it when you’re here.