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Homedale Inn Provides Shelter from the Storms in Lakeview



Gentle reader, I wandered alone through the purple moor of Lakeview. Memorial Day had been swallowed up in a dense and silent gloom. A thunderstorm the size of Alabama hurtled toward the city from Texas and I needed a place to hole up. Friends, entering into an ancient neighborhood bar for the first time can be an unsettling business – being a strange face out of the storm. But I was in need of shelter, and by lucky chance, at the door of the Homedale Inn.

 

Beyond the great tomb cities that crowd the cemeteries toward the end of Canal Street, I walked. Clumps of grass like mossy sedge clung about the neutral ground and the wide front yards of bungalow houses. New-planted trees stood by with full leaves frozen in time like a pause or a deep breath.

 

I’d been calling on acquaintances of mine who “never come down to the Quarter,” as they say with a kind of smug pride. Curse them. 

 

A lupine call I thought it was that reached my ears, reedy in the distance. My pace quickened.

 

The Homedale Inn stands just off Canal Street, hemmed on either side by the elevated railroad tracks and the 610. Square with wood siding painted a light green. A dark green metal awning spans the front. Three flood lights attached to the top center illuminate the Homedale Inn sign between Regal and Jax Beer emblems. Lit starkly in the inky night, the wide structure gave a lonely impression.  

 

I took hold of the barred door beside a two-top table set out with a full ashtray. “Est. 1937” read the green sign to my right. The tavern is the longest continuously operating business in Lakeview, and I could feel the gaze of those years on my back. I pushed the door. 

 

“Hello…” I said uncertainly, six pairs of eyes leveled upon me. Then all the heads turned back away. 

 

To my right, three young men played darts on the second of two well-lit boards. To my left, two men sat along the bar, staring up at a basketball game on the television. A dark-haired woman, the bartender, tidied nothing in particular. I took a backed stool near the end.

 

“Whiskey, please,” I answered the barkeep, and quickly the whiskey appeared. $2.75 for beers and $4.50 for the liquor. 

 

I mostly contemplated the ice in my drink as classic rock played low from an internet jukebox. In my periphery, the dart players stole glances my way, sizing me up. Beside me, my neighbor at the bar arched his head around my profile for a glimpse of my face.

 

THUD. THUD. THUD. The darts hit the board like a tell-tale heart behind me. 

 

I scanned around the room, at the blond wood paneling covered in street signs and Saints stuff. In reality, I was scouting the dart players. A pickup game seemed the best way to ingratiate myself in a new bar, but three dozen trophies and plaques from the dart leagues gave me pause. 

 

“I need to trade these ones for a five!” Suddenly an old drunk was behind me, shoving dollar bills over my shoulder at the bartender.

 

“What for?” she asked, curious.

 

“The cigarette machine says to put the five in first.”

 

“That’s just if you have a five.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Nevermind. Here,” the bartender grinned sideways at me as she exchanged bills with the unsteady fellow.

 

THUD. THUD. THUD. The young men laughed low in the corner.

 

A new drink was prompt after the first. I shook my ice-filled glass on the old bartop composed of a pair of long wooden planks cut out of time. Everything was uncommonly neat, I noticed. The backbar was perfectly ordered in all the normal fair. The stainless steel was spotless. The planks of the bar were rubbed smooth with years of cleaning. Even the air smelled noticeably clean.

 

I looked up to see two huge air-filtration boxes anchored in the ceiling. Dark and industrial. Vestigial organs from our bygone days of smoking indoors, the square boxes still hummed about their business.   

 

“Hey!” yelled the bartender. “Hey! You can’t do that in here!”

 

The old drunk was sitting at one of the video poker machines along the wall. A thin stream of blue smoke twisted into the air from his dangling cigarette. The old man blinked, looked over curiously from his comfortable slant in the stool.

 

“Oh yeah,” the drunk replied, seeming to discover his folly. “You got an ashtray?”

 

“No. No ashtray. You can’t smoke inside anymore.”

 

“Oh yeah. Forgot,” he said, and stumbled out toward the door.

 

He was done for, I was sure. Some rabid and unnatural beast come on the wings of the impending storm was sure to gobble the old sod up, if horror films are any guide at all, my friends. 

 

THUD. THUD. THUD. 

 

“Stay off the moors!” I wanted to call after him. “Stick to the road!” But instead I went to the back patio to have a smoke.

 

A narrow hall lead back into the building. Past a kitchenette, a door opened onto a wooden patio. Light wood decking, the front half was covered from the elements.  In back, the space opened to a porch that looked out over the neighbors’ yards. A frontend loader sat silent in a side driveway. The windows of the houses were darkened.

 

Beneath another dartboard anchored on the patio, an old cat lay prone in a pet bed. Giant body like a canned ham. Spindly legs. The feline lay motionless. I bent over hesitantly, reaching out a finger to check if the creature yet lived.

 

“Oh that’s just Australia!” came a burst of levity through the door. My neighbor at the bar was coming through with the dark-haired bartender, laughing.

 

“At least that’s what we call her,” the man went on. Thin, youngish guy with dark hair. “The owners a few door down keep coming over to get her but she keeps coming back here. She’s old.”

 

“Like seventeen,” bartender Jen put in. “She’s a great cat.”

 

Soon we were all talking merrily and smoking as we sat upon the wooden picnic table. Bret was an old service industry guy from an old bar-owning family and we knew some of the same folks.

 

A new gentleman was at work behind the bar when we got back inside. The dart players had packed off. One man was left sitting at the bar. Bret and I took stools and he bought me a drink.  

 

“This is Phil,” Jen introduced me to the second bartender. An ex-Marine and helicopter pilot, Phil said he came in to help out once and a while and one day found himself on the schedule.

 

“I guess I’m here anyway, so…” Phil laughed and shrugged. He asked me a few questions about myself.

 

“It was nice seeing new faces in here tonight. Those three guys playing darts were new,” Phil was saying.

 

“Yup,” Jen nodded.

 

“It’s good,” Phil added.

 

I told him I had considered playing with them, but the volume of dart league awards had given me pause. It’s no fun being outclassed.

 

“Bah! We’ve got six dart teams playing out of here now. There are six teams to a league and the top three get a plaque. So, you know, lots of plaques. I’m thinking of getting one myself.” 

 

Soon the laughter came easily. My new friends spoke fondly of their bar, of their patrons. The darkness and the approaching storm seemed trivial.

 

“We do a steak night on Thursday,” someone said in encouragement to return. “Twelve bucks. They got the sides and everything.”

 

Someone had a smartphone out at the bar and all we patrons gathered around the screen. A great swath of red and yellow crept toward Louisiana on the radar screen.

 

“Whoo!” someone said. “Looks like a bad one!”

 

And the front door opened and all our heads turned. 

 

“Hello…” said the new gentlemen uncertainly. And the door closed behind him, against the gathering dark.

 

Previous Drinking Culture Columns

The text above is a column and expresses only the opinion of the author, not NOLA Defender or NOLA Defender's Editorial Board.

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