In late summer 2011, things looked bad for Bacchanal (600 Poland Ave., 504-948-9111; www.bacchanalwine.com), the popular and then mostly outdoor destination for wine, food and music. In August of that year, City Hall made a full court press of enforcement, swooping in with a team of officials one night. They cited the place for a litany of code violations and permit issues, from its outdoor kitchen to its live music.
Bacchanal eventually secured appropriate permits and has greatly expanded its operation. It now has a proper indoor kitchen, a dining room and a new bar serving wine, beer and craft cocktails.
All of this developed in stages, with most components coming together in time for the Super Bowl in February. Now, with the arrival of spring weather and the shop's courtyard looking as appealing as ever, the place seems ready for its close-up.
The front retail area retains the tattered wine cellar look Bacchanal has had since proprietor Chris Rudge first opened it as a neighborhood wine shop in 2002. People still line up at the register to buy bottles to take home or to drink on the premises, usually in the rear garden. Head out to that garden, though, and there are several noticeable changes.
A staircase leads to a deck that overlooks the scene below (a second deck faces the street), and the upstairs space has been renovated into a bar and dining room, together seating roughly 80 people. The look and feel up here is something like a designer-built Creole cottage treehouse, with exposed beams and brick, dim lighting, lots of gleaming woodwork and windows and doors standing open all around.
In the first-floor kitchen, chef Joaquin Rodas and his crew prepare dishes that would be at home in a contemporary bistro, though here most are served on paper plates. They range from snacks like bacon-wrapped dates with roasted tomatoes or steamed mussels with chorizo (each $8) to flat iron steak ($16), pork shoulder with hazelnuts and shitake mushrooms ($14) and whole grilled branzino ($22).
It's all a big change for Bacchanal, where it once was advisable to bring your own camp chair to ensure a seat. But the place still functions in much the same way it always has. Guests order food at the kitchen window and servers track them down to deliver dishes. Cheese plates are still popular, and bands perform under strings of lights stretching from tree branches to fence posts.
Bacchanal serves lunch and dinner daily (until midnight on Friday and Saturday) and hosts live music nightly.