Why New Orleans Matters

As soon as we pulled up, I knew that this was gonna be the highlight of my trip to New Orleans. When the door to Snake and Jakes Christmas Club Lounge swung open, I got tears in my eyes as I beheld the kind of unclean, unsafe booze shack that I've wasted many an hour in.

One glance told you that this place was trouble incarnate, a serious dive, which I took as a very good sign. A low slung, half–falling down concrete building with no sign and Christmas lights twinkling outside, this utterly depraved den (in a residential neighborhood no less) effortlessly radiated the kind of pure grunge evil look and aroma that most dives only dream of achieving. Overstuffed black naugahyde couches, covered no doubt in God knows what kind of germ–ery, lined one wall. The ceilings were scary low and getting lower. A forest of mirror glass Christmas balls hung at one end of the bar. The sound system, well, let’s just say it had volume but little to no fidelity. Boom boxes are more high end.

I was assured by the smattering of pierced, tattooed, and slightly inebriated clientele (it was still early) that this was the kind of place that didn’t really get cooking until 3 or 4 in the morning and that once you were inside at that hour, it became an inescapable whirlpool that you couldn’t or wouldn’t find your way out of until well after the sun came up. The head nodding of many battle–scarred veterans all around confirmed this to be common knowledge.

In the ultimate sign this was a very special place, the bathrooms at Snake and Jakes were world class disgusting. I could only imagine how they smelled during one of those hot, humid Loosianna summers. The bottom of the wooden door on the men’s room was curled up from being wet so much. Wet with what? I didn’t ask. “Hey, they’re clean now!” a guy who said he was from Brooklyn volunteered. “Wait `til later. Go in there later,” he continued, “and someone will be passed out, someone will be getting a blow job and someone else will be puking.” While this bit of charming grandiloquence was clearly meant to impress the first–timer, it's clear that things regularly got a little ugly at Snake and Jakes late at night. Only the twisted (or soon to be) need apply.

The best part is that this being New Orleans, the place has a full liquor license and seems to operate with minimal intervention from the PO–lice. I couldn’t help but think the whole time I was in there that in New York this place wouldn’t last 15 minutes. Hell, a entire phalanx of acronyms, NYFD, DEA, NYPD, not to mention the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (mental hygiene? In New York? WTF?), would be crawling all over the place, looking to be bribed or congratulated for shutting it down.

I discovered later that this dangerous–looking dump, which definitely has its share of power drinkers, small time hoods and working girls (I hear that drunks have been mugged outside), is also home to a thriving population of NOLA hipsters and college chicks from Tulane looking to slum it. It has a website (snakeandjakes.com) which trumpets, “your late nite dive” and “Dogfighting is for Pussies.” It even has a Cafepress.com website where they hawk merch. Things just ain’t what they seem these days. Damn hipsters! They won’t be satisfied until they’ve ruined every honest to God drinking hole in America.

Still, if you love a good dive bar, this place is a classic. Not a place to go sober. Or with a wad of cash in your pocket. They truly do not make `em like this—if they ever did—anymore.

Robert's picture

WOW. I guess you can't really say some of this stuff in the rag's last page, but oh if you could... I'd skip to Aural Robert first thing every month. Fabulous piece of writing.

Steve Dollar's picture

Alas, I have probably contributed to S&J's hipsterization: http://playboy.com/style/a-list/dive-bars/08-snake-n-jakes-christmas-club-lounge.htmlAwesome joint. That and the Saturn Bar!

Gene's picture

I used to live very close to S&J's and spent a good amount of time there. I just can't remember much of it. Man, I miss New Orleans.But the Saturn Bar is THE bar. THE place. There ain't another bar on the planet like the Saturn.

Bob D's picture

Excellent article, Robert! Man, definitely popping in at Snake & Jakes when I'm in the States in September. Looks like it wouldn't be out of place in any town here in South Africa...

nunh's picture

I like the Blue Crystal (later the Whirling Dervish) better - true funk and fun (the Filth - the Horror!) - cool article - next time your coming down - send me an email and I'll show you around (have you been to Algier's Old Point Bar or Crown & Anchor?) - thanx!