Outside of Kentucky, Louisiana and the city of New Orleans contributed most to the heritage of Bourbon whiskey. People who fled the Whiskey Rebellion fled to Louisiana territory and New Orleans to escape the Federal Marshals looking for them. Trade west out of Kentucky ultimately led to New Orleans. In order to sell Kentucky corn whiskey in the city the whiskey merchants in Kentucky decided to make it taste more like French Brandy and age it in charred barrels. It is even likely that that the name “Bourbon” comes from “Bourbon Street” in New Orleans. There are indeed several very good Bourbon bars in the city. It is a very rich heritage and it is only fitting that one of the best Bourbon Bars in New Orleans has an owner with Kentucky ties.
Polly Watts, the owner of The Avenue Pub 1732 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans lived in Louisville, Kentucky for many years. Her husband was a reporter for the Courier-Journal and they developed a love for Bourbon Whiskey. When her father passed away she inherited the Avenue Pub and returned to New Orleans and she took her love of Bourbon with her. She decided to take the business and step things up a notch by increasing her beer and Bourbon selections. Her beer menu is extensive including many craft and imported beers that are hard to find, but I was there for the Bourbon. The Pub serves some food and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even on holidays. It is a popular place for firefighters and other first responders to come after working the night shift.
I met Polly at the upstairs bar where the Bourbon is the main feature, The downstairs bar has Bourbons but Beer is the main feature offered to the patrons. I arrive before Polly did and had a chance to talk with the bartender. He was very knowledgeable about beer and Bourbon. While I was sitting there he helped one couple select a beer and another person select a Bourbon. I thought he was very good in the way he helped in both cases. He was not dictatorial and telling them what they should drink but instead found out more about what they normally drank and made suggestions. I was impressed.
The Bourbon and other whiskey menu is extensive. They separate the brands by distiller and I thought it funny that they list Kirin and Diageo brands together. The prices range from a $4 for Evan Williams Bonded to $86 for Pappy 23yo. The pour is generous and served in a rocks glass. They do not offer flights but I did not expect flights on the menu as that is not what people are coming to the Avenue Pub for. They are coming to enjoy a beer or a whiskey. The atmosphere is friendly and fun.
I talk with Polly at the bar for some time and then move out on the deck to enjoy a smoke. She tells me her story and how she runs the place. She insists upon employees willing to learn about her beer and whiskey selections. She stays busy trying to coordinate purchases of products from craft brewers and small distilleries (She even has Carl T. from Huber’s Starlight distillery on the menu). She participates in as many barrel selection programs as she can. The Avenue Pub really is like having a bit of Kentucky in New Orleans as far as the Bourbon selection goes, but it is definitely a New Orleans establishment that must be experienced.
I would give them 2 points for the extensive menu and 1 point for reasonable prices and generous pours. I would score the service 2 points for knowledge and 1 point for style. The Avenue Pub scores 2 more points for atmosphere and 1 point for being so far from Kentucky bit still having so many Bourbons. It would be nice if the neat pours were served in a whiskey tasting glass and if the menu had an option for a flight or two, but even without these, The Avenue Pub is a great place to visit and start drinking Bourbon in New Orleans. I score the place with a total of 9 points.
Photo Courtesy of The Avenue Pub