The Avenue Pub - Craft Beer In the Big Easy
Although New Orleans’ craft beer culture is still in its infancy, The Avenue Pub stands out as one of the best craft beer bars in the country. Honored annually in Draft Magazine’s Top 100 Beer Bars, the Pub takes its name from its location on the city’s iconic St. Charles Avenue - patrons can sit on the upstairs balcony to watch the historic streetcars or parades roll by.
Originally a 24 hour dive bar, its location ensures a constant stream of tourists, especially during Carnival season. The downstairs bar is still open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but owner Polly Watts has turned the upstairs “Balcony Bar” into an after 5pm, non-smoking section where special beer events are often held.
Watts took over the Pub in 2006, after her father passed away, leaving her the bar. It wasn’t until 2008, though, when she started working with newly opened local brewery, NOLA Brewing, that she discovered she enjoyed craft beer and realized there was no one else filling that niche in the market. “I remember my staff thought I had lost my mind. I held a meeting and told them that we are going to be a craft beer bar. Some of them laughed,” she remembers. “They aren't laughing now!”
That year, the Avenue Pub and NOLA Brewing teamed up to promote craft beer in the city for its first American Craft Beer Week. Since then, the Pub set the standard for events for both American Craft Beer Week in May and the new Louisiana Craft Brewers Week in September.
Watts is well known in the local beer community for her love of sour beer like Lambics and Geuezes - an obsession that both inspired and was fueled by her 2011 trip to Belgium. She met dozens of brewers and brewery owners and came back with a number of new friends and contacts to call upon for amazing Belgian beer. She arranged with Brouwerij Van Eecke in Watou, Poperinge, to create and supply for her the Avenue’s own house beer, the Pub Pils.
Watts also met and befriended Brasserie-Brouwerij Cantillon owner and master blender, Jean van Roy, and was able to get on the very limited list of participating bars for its epic annual Zwanze release. Van Roy had just decided that year to only release the beer on draft to a handful of bars around the world that he trusted, in response to the black market demand for Zwanze beer bottles that plagued its previous releases, especially in 2010.
The Avenue Pub’s Zwanze celebrations have drawn beer lovers from Houston, Dallas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Atlanta. Not only does the Pub offer the Zwanze beer, but Watts plans for an almost overwhelming day of rare sour beers from renowned breweries in addition to the lineup from
Cantillon like Tilquin, Drie Fonteinen, Trois Dames and de Struise. It’s an amazing day for sour beer drinkers, and Watts’ excellent event organization skills as well as her highly trained staff create an environment where these beers can be enjoyed deeply.
For the recent Vanberg & DeWulf “Coast to Coast Toast” event which promoted Belgian beer importer Vanberg & DeWulf’s beer catalog, Watts provided some of the toughest to find bottles in their lineup, like de Cam’s Oude Lambic and Oude Beersel Bzart Lambiek, two very rare and expensive beers.
But that’s what Polly Watts does. She is constantly on the search for the best and most exciting beer from across America, Belgium, France, Italy, Sweden, England, and everywhere else there’s good beer. Every October she offers between four and six casks of unpasteurized, small-batch brewed Franconian lagers from Germany for Oktoberfest.
Every week on Friday nights finds the Balcony Bar serves cask ale from local breweries and one-offs from breweries like Brooklyn Brewing and Saint Arnold out of Houston. The Avenue Pub was the first bar in the area to start offering firkins of cask conditioned ales, and has been at the forefront of its growing popularity in New Orleans.
Everyone knows that the Pub is the place to be - even brewery owners like Greg Koch from Stone will stop by to meet the Pub’s patrons and just enjoy a delicious beer - perhaps one of the 50 on draft or one of the many diverse bottles in the Pub’s collection. Although the Avenue Pub is the best craft beer bar in a city that doesn’t have many, (and is perhaps better known for the “Big Ass Beers” sold on Bourbon Street) the bar’s beer selection, staff knowledge and special events make it one of the best beer bars in the country.