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Sep 02, 2014

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New Orleans crawl

By Gregg Smith

Crawfish, cool jazz, gumbo, oysters, etoufee, trolley cars, jambalaya, hot peppers, over head fans, high heat and humidity; ask most folks what New Orleans is and the answers are usually contained in that list. Ask them to name good beer towns and the "Big Easy" never seems to make the cut. At first glance putting together a New Orleans beer pub crawl seemed hopeless as separating the delta from Spanish Moss hanging in Cypress trees. How pleasant to find perception flawed. In New Orleans you can have it all.

Throughout this pub crawl you'll have opportunity to see, hear and taste the best the city has to offer. To do it you'll start without a beer. Relax, it's part of getting into the city's easy going pace. Start at Canal Street. Have one of the friendly locals direct you to a St.Charles street car stop and have a dollar ready to pay your fare. Stepping on board you're about to take the least expensive and most scenic tour of the city, directly through the heart of the garden district. What you'll see is some of the best examples of gracious living the south has to offer. Push the window up, sit back and enjoy the ride past well kept homes, Loyola and Tulane Universities, and Audubon park. As you go you'll notice the tracks are ever gradually turning, the route parallels the river and the arc is how "Crescent City" got its name. After a relaxing ride of twenty minutes or so the trolley makes a hard right turn on Carrollton. This is where you begin to look sharp because within about eight blocks, at Willow Street, it's your turn to pull the signal cord; and, like a native, walk to the back of the car to exit (you have to push on the door to get it to open).

When you step off the trolley at Willow street face the same direction the trolley is moving then turn left. Walk down Willow about fifty yards and on the left side you'll see an unassuming green building at 8140 named "Carrollton Station", nearly across the street from a transit station. Stepping inside it strikes a person as a bit dark; this is characteristic of most New Orleans bars where limited window space makes it easier to keep places cool. The interior of deep wood planking is somewhat brightened with prints and photo's of sailing, a easy topic for engaging the owner in conversation. As you move to the taps the low light and dark walls may result in overlooking the back bar, but take a moment to admire the fine old wood work.

But chances are the details of the interior will be noticed later. What you really want to focus on are the dozen taps and a beer list of more than 50 bottles. Among the selections are the "local" micro breweries of Abita Springs and Rickenjacks. If available, give the chewy scotch ale from Rickenjacks a try. To accompany the beer there's live music most evenings; in fact, Carrollton Station is self-described as a "Bar and Music Club". Ask the barkeep for a description of the acts which are posted on a nearby board.

The toughest part of leaving Carrollton Station, aside from the taps, is stepping outside and readjusting to the sunshine. It makes you feel like one of the mole people. While re- calibrating your vision head back to Carrollton Avenue, cross the street, and take a right. This sends you back toward St.Charles which you will cross. After the intersection begin looking for "Cooter Browns" at 509 South Carrollton. It's about 70 yards down on the left.

Although the interior of Cooters is dark and foreboding from the door, be adventurous and boldly step inside. The decor is probably best described as rough wood, southern cowboy or semi-rundown frontier style. A stereo plays music from a several hundred CD collection, usually cued up to the college bands of the late sixties and seventies. (like the Eagles and Creedance). However, beer is the reason to visit, and you won't be disappointed

With over forty taps and more than 200 bottles, there is something refreshing in "the land of cotton" about hearing a southern accent requesting a Corsendonk. The beers are listed on a menu by country, which includes more than 24 Belgians. At the end of the bar is a shucking table where you can order up ice cold oysters, with a choice of several stouts to wash the mollusk down. Should stout be a little too big for your taste the barkeeps will also pull a respectable Black and Tan. These folks are knowledgeable about beer and the only thing they're reluctant to draw is a request from Larry the owner for a Coors Light. As he tells it, the reason to have so many beers is to ensure everyone gets what they like, and he likes Coors Light.

When you finally pull yourself out of Cooter Browns it's once again time to get on the Trolley. Walk back up to St.Charles and get on one heading back downtown. Travel down to Eighth Street where you get off, turn right, and walk down Eighth. After about nine short blocks you'll hit Magazine Street, turn right again and on the left side at 3236 Magazine you'll find "The Bulldog".

With a name drawing inference to a British namesake The Bulldog is the newcomer to the New Orleans beer scene. It also may have the biggest selection in town, 50 taps and 200+ bottles await you. Unsure of ordering a particular beer? No problem. The bar does its imitation of an ice cream shop by supplying small shot sized taste samples.

Decorated in British green with prints and bar towels from famous English pubs and breweries the bar has a pleasing feature of allowing patrons to take beers out to the sidewalk where they thoughtfully provide patio chairs. The Bulldog permits smoking but has a rather innovative means of discouraging it; the cigarette machine is located in the ladies room. Another unique aspect of The Bulldog is pitchers of your favorite tap, and aside from Celis Grand Cru it is also one of the few places which will allow you to buy Old Foghorn in that quantity.

It may be all you can do to remove yourself from the Bulldog, but if you manage, walk back over to Eighth and up to St. Charles again. Hop back on the trolley and head downtown where you'll get off at Canal and start walking down the left side of Decatur. At 331 you'll find "The Kerry" an Irish Pub serving up what many feel is the best pint of Guinness in town.Though the beer selection is limited there always seems to be a friendly crowd. If you're wandering around the French Quarter The Kerry is a quiet daytime retreat from the garish bedlam of Bourbon Street.

A final recommendation is out the front door of The Kerry, left, and straight on to "The Crescent City Brewhouse" at 527 Decatur. Operating as New Orleans' only Brewpub, the brewmaster Wolfram Koehler offers four fresh brewed beers including a Pilsner, Vienna, Dunkel and a rotating special - often a wheat beer in the summer months. The pub sits in a restored building across the street from the old JAX's brewery. JAX is long gone but Koehler has rushed in to fill the void and he ensures a relaxing place to enjoy the beer by supplying live jazz from many notables including members of the talented Marsalis family.

By this point you've achieved a state of tranquility and are ready to work back toward the French Quarter. Although the taps there are more sparse there's great music and many of the places are now serving up beers from southern micro's. Have fun in the Big Easy and don't worry about being able to find good beer; it's there.

Gregg Smith

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