Wherever you’re from, whether New Orleans or elsewhere, chances are there was a bar in your neighborhood like Verret’s Lounge — before the neighborhood got too expensive for a bar like Verret’s.
Even before stepping into this under-the-radar, Central City drinking spot, the Verret’s vintage tilted martini glass marquee exudes a sense of instant familiarity. And once settled inside, either at a stool along the bar or in one of the red booths lining the opposite wall, you very well may think you’ve been to Verret’s many times, whether or not you have.
It’s 8 p.m. on a Thursday. A red lightbulb inside the fringed lamp pools over the counter as bartender Wayne Jolla, extends a heavily inked arm and asks our names, offering a welcome as genuine as if we were steadfast regulars.
Indeed it’s not hard to imagine ourselves being exactly that as we pull up stools to the padded counter.
With its red tablecloths and wooden paneled walls, Verret’s manages to hit the right balance of charming scruffiness and unassuming retro.
Its smaller footprint means the bar can feel positively happening with a couple dozen patrons.
Two mounted flatscreens flash sports, but televisions don’t dominate the space, leaving plenty of room for conversation and a tasteful selection of modern R&B.
The bar at Verret’s is modestly sized, so don’t come looking for fine Scotch or an extensive wine list.
Draft beer is limited to Abita Amber and Rolling Rock. Like most neighborhood spots, cocktails at Verret’s are of the, I’ll have a ___ and ___ variety.
The exception is a short list of house concoctions, including $6 Negronis and Bulleit Old Fashioneds, written in chalk over the bar with the most expensive, a kitchen sink of a drink, weighing in at $7.
At a time when so many recent establishments are pushing $12 craft cocktails, it’s refreshing to find a newer spot with prices within reach of those longtime locals who live nearby its doors.
Despite an earlier run of Taco Tuesdays and on-going conversations about the possibility of steak nights, Verret’s doesn’t offer food. Pub grub consists of a bag of Zapp’s.
What Verret’s does offer is a new covered patio with three barbecue grills for patron use at no cost — just ask.
A handful of picnic tables, perfect for small groups, occupy the neat, no-frills space. Given the balmy weather on the day we visited, it’s a miracle the tables weren’t all taken.
Affordability, approachability and diversity are three reasons why Verret’s, though mercifully not yet packed, has already inspired a dedicated following within its first year.
On its website, Verret’s dubs itself “freaky, friendly, hipster tolerant.” Indeed a quick look over the small crowd confirms that the bar doesn’t cater to a particular demographic.
Customers range in age from 23 to 73. This Thursday that means visitors to the city, regulars from the surrounding blocks and crosstown locals who’ve come to hear the band.
That would be a Florida-based violin and guitar duo called the Nouveaux Honkies whose soundcheck, a harmonized rendition of Dolly Parton’s classic, “Jolene,” offers a small slice of what’s to come. Thursday, Friday and Saturdays, Verret’s offers a varied musical line up, all cover free.
It’s a diversity that appeals to bartender Jolla. He was raised on Baronne Street, less than a block from where he now tends bar Thursday nights, and his enthusiasm is visible.
“I’ve watched this neighborhood for 30 years,” he says. “Growing up, there was a lot of unnecessary foolishness. There wasn’t a lot of diversity.”
He’s well aware of the revitalization vs. gentrification debate around Central City, but embraces the changes.
He sees Verret’s as an example of how neighborhoods can develop without becoming exclusive.
“Right now, it’s a melting pot,” he says of the bar. “Everyone comes in here. The change is so positive.”
Good to know: Verret’s Lounge, 1738 Washington Ave. (at Baronne). (504) 895-9640
Open every day. Happy Hour: 3-7 Monday-Friday; 11-7 Saturday and Sundays -- $1 off all beers and well drinks. Free music Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays from 9 p.m.