Craft Beer, Fine Food, New Traditions


Sometimes the only way to preserve traditions is to update them thoroughly – and create new traditions in the process.

The Avenue Pub, on St. Charles Avenue at the edge of the Lower Garden District, was opened by the father of current owner Polly Watts when she was a senior at Tulane University. She helped him establish what was basically a typical New Orleans corner bar, then left town after graduation with no plans to ever to come back and run it herself.

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Then Watts’ father passed away in 2006, and suddenly she found herself owning a bar in a city in both major crisis and major transition.

“When my dad died, we were a 24-hour dive bar,” she recalled. “But Hurricane Katrina uprooted a lot of the regulars. We had to find a new customer base.

“There was that massive influx of people from all over the country,” she continued, “many of whom came from places where they had mature beer cultures. So we thought that if we could bring the level here up to the rest of the country, we could create a community around beer.”

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As Watts pointed out, New Orleans certainly has had a “drinking culture” for a very long time, but the craft beer wave that surged in so many other places was initially just a trickle here. That created an opportunity for the Avenue Pub, and it became really the first local watering hole to focus on serving microbrews from around the country.

Soon, though, even this new tradition had to be further refined, as New Orleans finally began sprouting its own craft breweries. In addition, Watts never forgot that local customers are the bread and butter for any bar.

“We like the destination clients,” she said, “but I never want to lose touch with the people who can walk here. We’re really a neighborhood bar with a really good beer list.”

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The Avenue Pub truly does have an eclectic list of brews, mixing a few of the top local ales with high-end and often lesser-known beers from around the country. However, Watts aspired to be known for more than just the suds. Moving thoughtfully and deliberately, she has upgraded her kitchen and menu to go far beyond standard pub grub.

“When you come in here, we want you to see things on the menu that you haven’t heard of before,” she said. “We want to raise the level of everything we do here to equal what we do with the beer.”

This progression started before the pandemic, but as it did for every other restaurant on the planet, COVID-19 had huge impacts. The days of the Avenue Pub as an around-the-clock establishment had long passed, but even after reopening, the hours had to be seriously curtailed.

“Staffing is such a challenge,” explained Watts. “One-third of our pre-pandemic employees left the industry entirely.”

Watts has responded by providing employees with guaranteed minimum tips and starting salaries that would have been unheard of in the industry three years ago. As a result, “we are taking the baby steps out of our COVID hours. We have reopened the balcony Fridays and Saturdays for the first time since 2020, and we reopened the downstairs on Sundays.”

Of course, given the restaurant’s location, Carnival is essential to its success.

“We really had no idea what to expect with Mardi Gras,” Watts recounted. “What we saw was crowd levels about like 2016. Definitely not up to 2019 and 2020. But just having parades go in front of my bar was a beautiful, beautiful thing.!”

Despite the various disasters, the changes in clientele and the marketplace, and the evolution of the place itself, the Avenue Pub remains a New Orleans tradition for people who really know their local establishments. And Watts is not the type to stand still for too long anyway, so her place will likely always be a tradition in progress.

“It’s a journey and it’s not over,” she concluded. “And through it all, we’re still standing.”



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