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Cocktailgating

Three bar strategy plays to get you in the groove on the way to a Saints game

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True New Orleans tailgaters are a devoted and industrious lot. But with the Superdome's locale in a tight urban gird, the pre-game itinerary for many more Saints fans includes a visit to a barroom then hanging by a buddy's pickup on a surface parking lot in the CBD. Yet three Saints seasons, one head coach change and countless on-field ups-and-downs since Hurricane Katrina, some of the pillars of support for the Who Dat nation are out of action.

Hi-Tops, the cavernous, jersey-decked sports bar just a few pedestrian bridges from the Dome itself, remains entombed within the shuttered Hyatt Hotel. The prime pre-game location of Smith & Wollensky's, the high-dollar steakhouse where the filets were rare and the cocktails well done, is empty and up for sale. The Sazerac Bar at the once-and-future Roosevelt Hotel (more recently known as the Fairmont) is still awaiting its promised rebirth, while the temple of blue-collar swank just across University Place, Lenny's Piccadilly Lounge, is dark and quiet.

Clearly, charting a path to victory " here defined as getting greased on your way into the Dome " calls for a game plan. Below, we offer three from the playbook:

In the Red Zone

You're almost there, the pressure is mounting, all you need to do is connect with a bartender and you'll be golden. It's time for a Red Zone play, when proximity to the Superdome and downtown parking trumps all.

These days, Allegro Bistro (1100 Poydras St., 582-2350) is first among all Red Zone destinations. It's located on the ground floor of the Energy Center high rise, but on game day this normally mild-mannered restaurant is ground zero for pre-Saints partying. Chef and proprietor Ron Wilemon says the scene grew so intense that a few years back he instituted a $10 cover charge for people who want to drink inside the restaurant and partake in pre-game buffets, available for an additional charge. For everyone else, Allegro sets up a grill, multiple bars and a DJ station outside in the wide, adjacent Lafayette Street pedestrian mall.

Cajun Mike's Pub 'n' Grub (116 Baronne St., 566-0055) and Chuck's Sports Bar (510 Gravier St., 524-9485) have unapologetic backstreet ambience on their side, and bartenders who know how to serve thirsty, motivated patrons quickly. Tchoupitoulas Street neighbors Vic's Kangaroo Café (636 Tchoupitoulas St., 524-4329) and Lucy's Retired Surfer's Bar (701 Tchoupitoulas St., 523-8995) shed their theme pretensions (Aussie and aloha, respectively) for game day and focus on fueling Saints excitement. The purple and gold décor at Tucker's Tavern (896 Magazine St., 522-0440) screams LSU, but Saints fans certainly march up to its bar on their way to the Dome as well.

Further toward the river, Ernst Café (600 S. Peters St., 525-8544) comes alive for Saints games as fans pack in beneath its soaring ceilings. Right around the corner is the Fulton Street corridor, periodically used as the setting for Black and Gold rallies sponsored by nearby Harrah's Casino.

The Option Play

A straight line isn't always your best way to the goal, especially in the face of mitigating circumstances in play. For instance, you — or those in your entourage — may prefer bars with a bit more polish, or places where a respectable meal might be had before plunging into the Superdome's cauldron of plastic beer bottles, processed cheese food and high-decibel cheering. Such circumstances call for an option play, a velvet hammer in the world of pre-Saints barroom preparations, where the extra perks can add up.

This domain is a specialty of hotel bars. In particular, Kabby's Sports Edition (2 Poydras St., 561-0500) in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside has 32 TVs all aimed at sports and an unparalleled collection of sports memorabilia on display. If admiring the actual Saints helmet Danny Abramowicz damaged in his collision with a TV camera doesn't summon up Saints sentimentality, nothing will.

You also could pay a pre-game visit to Shula's Steakhouse (614 Canal St., 586-7211) in the JW Marriot hotel in the hopes that some of the magic that brought namesake Don Shula a perfect season as coach of the Miami Dolphins in 1972 will somehow be transferred through you to the Saints. Other upscale options abound, including a perch at the Swizzle Stick Bar (300 Poydras St., 595-3305) at the Loews Hotel or the Polo Club Lounge (300 Gravier St., 523-6000) at the Windsor Court Hotel.

And no matter the official outdoor programming along Fulton Street, corridor denizen Grand Isle (575 Convention Center Blvd., 520-8530) serves its draft beers through iced taps, and Gordon Biersch Brewery (200 Poydras St., 552-2739) offers its own proprietary brews. A rookie to the scene this year is the new Ruth's Chris Steakhouse (525 Fulton St., 587-7099). This is one of the few links in the Ruth's Chris chain to serve weekend brunch, which is certain to be an intriguing pre-game option for Saints fans who have some jingle to go with their cha-ching.

Fourth and Long, or the Hail Mary Play

The die-hard Who Dat knows the path to pre-game success sometimes calls for an unorthodox approach, so the Fourth and Long play calls for visits to bars found outside the full mayhem of the pre-game experience near the Dome, but which reveal surprising convenience for getting there in a hurry after you park.

One tip: consider where those CBD streets near the Dome end up when they cross Canal Street. For instance, O'Keefe Street becomes University Place which, in the French Quarter, becomes Burgundy Street, where Three Legged Dog (400 Burgundy St., 412-8335) is open all hours. Just around the corner, the Erin Rose (811 Conti St., 523-8619) or the Alibi (811 Iberville St., 522-9187) offer similar side-street convenience and amenable early-bird hours. A block toward the River, Deanie's Seafood (841 Iberville St., 581-1316) offers both a large bar and local seafood, while on Bourbon Street itself the Old Absinthe House (240 Bourbon St., 523-3181) crams in a solid crowd of long-time Saints fans before and after home games.

An offensive push from the direction of the Warehouse District reveals the strategic placement of Ugly Dog Saloon (401 Andrew Higgins Dr., 569-8459), Dino's Bar & Grill (1128 Tchoupitoulas St., 558-0900) and the Rusty Nail (1100 Constance St., 525-5515), which opens at 9 a.m. for Saints games and whips up breakfast burritos to boot.

Saints fans head to the Dome after some pre-game tailgating. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • Saints fans head to the Dome after some pre-game tailgating.

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