Longway Tavern opened on Toulouse Street in the French Quarter in May. That’s barely enough time to get a few scrapes on the varnish. But still, the word new doesn’t seem to fit.
The word that comes to mind here is next.
Longway Tavern was developed with unmistakably modern style in a snug Creole cottage with a very old lineage, reaching back to the 18th century. This bar and restaurant is just the next chapter.
What makes it stand out is the way the people behind it have embraced that idea.
Longway Tavern is a good place to get a drink. Cocktails are well-made and straightforward. The wine list is interesting, and the beer keeps it simple (Guinness pints and High Life mugs are the only drafts).
It’s a good place to eat too, with an original menu that could fit at an ambitious restaurant but also furnishes snacks for easy noshing and keeps it coming until midnight.
The setting is everything.
The design work and renovation that led to Longway Tavern seem more centered on revealing than transforming. It shows in the building's old bones and the dimensions of its spaces, in its courtyard between the rooftops of adjacent townhouses, in the way its doors and multi-pane windows frame the people and mosaic details and street scenes of the French Quarter just outside.
Mostly, it’s the way this tavern connects past and present, that relationship with time that is the allure of the French Quarter all over.
Old frame, new lens
Longway Tavern is hardly the only place treading this path in the city’s historic heart.
But it is the latest and it helps cast a light on why the French Quarter needs more like it, more places that are enticing and relevant to New Orleans people, not just New Orleans visitors.
The tavern is run by LeBlanc + Smith, a local hospitality company with a track record for blending contemporary tastes with evocative New Orleans settings (see its restaurant Sylvain near Jackson Square or Cavan on Magazine Street).
More casual than a lounge, its design and approach are still more polished and intentional than a dive. The hurly-burly of Bourbon Street is just a few doors away, but Longway Tavern is not geared toward lowest common denominator calculations.
The Quarter must have its storied old classics and it must have its joints. It also must have bars and restaurants (or, in this case, a tavern that splits the difference) that exude a New Orleans sense of place while reflecting how the next generation interprets this cultural inheritance.
Every generation makes a mark on the French Quarter, one way or another. Just around the corner, on Bourbon Street, you can still see the high tide mark that a previous one left in the 1980s-era script of neon.
Longway Tavern is what happens when you take the current revival of freshness and craft, add deliberate notions of a modern hospitality culture and set them in an old French Quarter frame.
The kitchen here is led by chef John Sinclair. The pork shoulder steak with broccoli raab and a touch of chili heat is your bistro-worthy dinner at the bar. Against all expectations, I‘ve developed a craving for the succotash with its crispy cake of whipped tofu. The calamari is as good as any I’ve had in New Orleans.
There’s no burger, but the thin-sliced steak sandwich on crackling-crisp baguette is a welcome alternative, and the salty-sour boquerones next to a glass of beer always reminds me of a tapas bar. The radish dish — halved, salted, served with goat butter and caviar — is too dainty for the tavern setting.
The design and concept for Longway Tavern was directed by its proprietors, Liam Deegan and Róbert LeBlanc, the founder of LeBlanc + Smith.
As it came together, they have talked convincingly about living up to the heritage of the building they took over and developing something here with character and authenticity.
That can be a fraught idea, authenticity. Just bringing it up can sometimes invite ridicule. But it's inherent to the city’s great eating and drinking places, and you can also feel when it's absent.
Of course, it changes from one to the next. What is authentic at Arnaud’s or Napoleon House or Tujague’s is fidelity to a long history and character honed over time. What is authentic for Molly's at the Market or Harry’s Corner or the Chart Room has been accumulated and weathered through successive tides of regulars.
What’s authentic for a tavern that just opened has to be different. Here, it means a modern expression of the way New Orleans eats, drinks and convenes today while remaining mindful of the history that got us here.
Ultimately, like any business, the clientele will dictate what Longway Tavern will be by the way they use it. That interplay is what keeps all the great French Quarter places vibrant instead of just aging curiosities.
This spot will surely change with time (there’s already a plan to replace the fixed bar stools, bolted to the floor, with moveable ones).
But when there’s an idea of stewardship built in from the start, I’m ready to raise a glass.
719 Toulouse St.
Mon.-Thu. 4p.m.-midnight; Fri.-Sun. 11 a.m.-midnight; happy hour 4-7 p.m. daily
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