While Labor Day signals the end of summer for most of the country, New Orleanians know it means at least another six weeks of hot, humid weather. Since blazing midday heat keeps most folks indoors, locals who want to relax outside wait for sundown.
This is why venues that offer outdoor drinking often see a spike in patio seating, even in the midst of a heatwave, as locals who have been trapped inside all day converge to seek out a bit of Mother Nature.
One such spot that features a snazzy, newly renovated patio is Winston’s Pub. Situated near the train tracks on Metairie Road, Winston’s offers locals a cozy drinking haven.
Originally billed as an English pub, its atmosphere has transformed into a true New Orleans neighborhood bar. The walls are peppered with Falstaff, Regal, Jax and Union beer signs, which hang alongside vintage beer taps.
Bartender Stephen Joseph says Winston’s is a bar of regulars and he likes knowing what’s going on in their lives. Joseph has gone to both weddings and funerals of patrons. One woman’s unexplained nine-month absence caused him so much worry, he now he tells regulars, “If you get pregnant, tell me, so I don’t wonder what happened to you.”
No matter the time of day, there’s a good mix of ages. “It’s not just an old man bar, and now that we’ve gone non-smoking, we get a lot more ladies.”
Drink orders at Winston’s reflects the changing tastes of the patrons. Joseph used to make only Old Fashioneds for folks from the Metairie Country Club. “Now I get 25-year-olds ordering them.” Their craft beer has expanded beyond its original few taps and now includes 40 Arpent, Nola, Parish, and Bayou Teche, as well as ubiquitous Abita.
A seasonal cocktail menu features herbs from the patio garden and fresh squeezed juices. Joseph encourages patrons who normally order a vodka and cranberry to expand their horizons.
“If someone wants the Lavender Line (a gin drink) with vodka. I say “Let me make it with gin and if you don’t like it, I’ll make you a replacement with vodka.”
So far, no one has sent one back. Another drink special is Marrero Nights, named in honor of his girlfriend’s abode and featuring unusual ingredients including amaro and Lillet.
Imbibers also enjoy the spiffy patio. Owner Edward Piglia says, “When we switched to non-smoking we figured our smokers would use it or that people would go out there if the bar was full, but now it’s a destination.”
He also has plans to add horseshoe pits in the fall along with a big screen TV for football watching. Much of the decor comes from owner Piglia’s personal collection of New Orleans paraphernalia. “The building was built in the 1930s and has been a bar pretty much since then. We tried to keep the decor to that period.”
One 1940s photo shows a neon Dixie 45 sign beckoning thirsty locals. Its twin glows above the bar today.
Winston’s has maintained another connection with its building’s past. When the bar was Bandi’s Tavern, they offered $1 shots every time the train passed.
Even though Bandi’s closed in 1995 people continued to ask “Y’all still do train shots?” Bartenders would reply, “No, that stopped 15 years ago.” Finally Joseph brought them back. “When a train comes, people run up to the bar, yelling “Train shots, train shots!”
Shot flavors change depending what’s on sale. Joseph tells his liquor reps “Nothing is beneath me.” Today’s flavor is a mix of Smirnoff Peach Sorbet and Pinnacle Whipped Cream, which tastes like peaches and cream if you don’t think about it too much.
When Hurricane Isaac blew the roof off, Winston’s closed for almost a year and emerged with a complete renovation. It was then when Piglia learned what the bar meant to locals. “Almost every day someone would stop by to find out when we were opening, to tell us how much they missed the bar.”
Elizabeth Pearce is the co-author of “The French Quarter Drinking Companion.” She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @etpearce.
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