This North Rampart Street bar offers all the elements needed for a great neighborhood hangout according to this month's guest columnist, Konrad Kantor.
In New Orleans, we know what makes a bar enjoyable.
Delicious libations, knowledgeable bartenders, a neighborhood atmosphere, delicious snacks and a Saints-friendly environment that stops short of being oppressive to non-sports fans – all those things go a long way with locals. There’s not a bar that combines these ingredients more successfully than The Black Penny.
Enter 700 North Rampart Street and you will find close to 100 cans of beer displayed above a bar operated by some of the city’s friendliest and quickest bartenders. The atmosphere doesn’t scream anything in particular, and the bar is not easily categorized. Most of The Black Penny’s bartenders have concocted thousands of cocktails in some of the city’s most reputable craft joints. However, if you don’t ask for one, they’d never let you know it.
Is it any wonder that Ed Diaz, proprietor of one of the world's most down-to-earth cocktail bars, Bar Tonique, and Bert West, known for consistently friendly service at Erin Rose, partnered up to create what is surely one of the most fun and memorable places in town?
The Black Penny has been open over four years, and the list of bar alumni is an incredibly short one. The Penny simply doesn't have much employee turnover. At the Penny, the bartenders love what they do, plain and simple.
Attitude is a reflection of leadership, and it should not surprise that for the first two years of the bar’s existence West himself could be seen working every single day -- and happily. Whether cleaning the sidewalk before the bar opened, greeting last-minute patrons getting off their own late night shifts for a final shot-and-beer or counting the bar’s register at 4 a.m., Bert did everything with a smile.
All of his bartenders now follow suit.
With a staff trained to make people from all walks of life feel welcome, The Black Penny's aura extends outward, onto an evolving Rampart Street. Diaz's Bar Tonique was Rampart's first true turning point, and Robert LeBlanc's new-and-improved Meauxbar brought a more upscale, local crowd to the French Quarter's lakeside outskirts. The Black Penny simply solidifies the reputations of the businesses that came before.
In a city that doesn't always love change, it is exceptional that a single generation of business owners was able to turn a 13-block street into a place where everyone feels safe and welcome.
Perhaps the common thread between all these North Rampart businesses is that they aim to serve the neighborhood, which is what the French Quarter always has been and always will be. The increasing influx of New Orleans tourism is great for revenue, but often makes downtown locals jaded. Is there a worse feeling than living in a beautiful, well-kept historic district and not feeling as if you are a part of a community?
Stroll right up to The Black Penny and watch veteran bartenders Lucinda, Cynthia, or Giovanni wash that feeling away with their palpably positive energy. If you feel like being fancy, ask Lucy for some St-Germain cocktails, as she’s the city’s ambassador for the brand. Once you mention cocktails, you’ll see right away the staff at the Penny knows how to concoct all of the bar’s well-curated spirit selections, including Chicago’s favorite, Jeppson's Malört.
In an industry that sometimes leans to style over substance, The Black Penny exudes a sense of permanence. Lifting a glass there leaves locals and guests of the city alike feeling that they're part of a neighborhood tradition.
It’s said that the emotional response to a piece of art is what makes a painting powerful. Cannot the same be said of a bar? How one feels upon entering or leaving the establishment?
In a city that doesn't have a shortage of bars that get things right, The Black Penny still stands out. It triumphs in hospitality, and the genuine nature with which it is consistently delivered.