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Drinking Culture

Dropping A Dime On Barcadia



Gentle reader, as sojourners in this life we must take our entertainment where we find it. The dive bar and the neighborhood bar please us well. But let us indulge our curiosity and step inside an establishment that can be many places at once, brushing by geography and local culture like the broadcast of a syndicated television program. It’s time to take a peek into a chain bar – if only a regional chain bar. We’re off for a game or two, and perhaps a drink, at Barcadia.

 

By both chance and neglect, I found myself wandering in the Warehouse District with a low cellular telephone battery. Our old friend and favorite New Orleans bartender, Billy D, was back in town. And in a post-modern attempt to rendezvous, we’d both left home before deciding on a spot to meet.

 

BARCADIA. I texted as my phone died. 

 

Slick buildings confronted me on all sides at the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Lafayette. The red brick warehouse containing the wine bar, W.I.N.O. on my left, thwarted me with its cash-extraction machines dispensing dribbles of wine. Behind, the tall Loew’s Hotel loomed over its “Plaza d’ Italia.” The Romanesque amphitheater was lit by long neon bulbs so that the columned space seemed a ceremonial site in some original Star Trek episode. The Old No. 77 Hotel, once again quite new and shining with windows in warehouse brick, waited behind. 

 

And Barcadia awaited upon my right. Protruding from the bottom corner of a tall parking structure, the glass garage doors shimmered like dark oil in the night. I’d seen those rolling doors thrown up as I’d passed before, crowds thronging the open space. But September offers the final winks of a deep slumber in this city, and all was quiet but for a scampering family passing on the sidewalk.

 

I made my way past the giant Connect Four boards and wooden picnic tables painted fun colors adorning the front wall, and pushed inside the glass door.

 

A wooden podium greeted me just inside. Two giggling young hostesses slouched and hung about the stand like new brides about their husbands’ necks. The girls looked up from laughing into a cell phone screen for long enough to satisfy themselves that I was no one of consequence and then went back to their object of amusement. Quite astute, I must say.

 

The interior is much like a garage on some TLC program where some over-funded hipster turns sensible automobiles into garish monsters. Exposed brick and polished block work. Gleaming ducts and giant ceiling fan like a futuristic helicopter blade overhead. Sealed and polished concrete floor. All the perimeter walls were lined with ancient arcade games: Galaga, Ms. Pac Man, Mortal Kombat II. Shiny wooden tables and black cushioned chairs populated the center of the wide room, mostly empty.

 

I took at stool at the long bar before me. I rested my elbows upon concrete bartop, emblazoned with the Barcadia logo and waited. Two attractive young bartenders, both expert hands with the makeup, hustled around behind the bar as they changed over shifts.

 

“Welcome to Barcadia. What can get you?” beamed one of the girls with a wide, white smile.

 

The backbar seemed to contain every type of flavored vodka in production, and some that no longer were. Dozens of beer taps from all over the country and beyond stood waiting. But I required strong drink, and as I saw no Pernod, opted for whiskey.

 

“Make it a double for three dollars more?” the bartender asked by rote. 

 

Ah, the upsell… like at an airport, my friends. The chain bar survives and proliferates by making every contact with the customer a chance to extract funds. 

 

I nodded in shame, unable to think of a reason not to have double for a mere three dollars more. My mind drifted in the brown liquor…

 

“Good God!” I exclaimed reflexively as I turned to my right.

 

Two giant men had taken up stool beside me. Cartoon muscles bulged through expensive t-shirts, thin as guaze, as though the colossi had sprinted directly from the gym. 

 

“How’s it going?” I added, nervously diving back into my whiskey as the monsters no doubt considered squashing me. 

 

“Stoli and soda,” came the order from my left.

 

“Billy D!” I exclaimed.

 

“Make it a double for three dollars more?”

 

“Why not,” shrugged our man Billy.

 

“She upsold me,” Billy D admitted as the bartender hustled off to make his drink.

 

Billy and I caught up as I glanced over the food menu. Old standards with clever twists, the chain bar offerings are designed to keep food costs low and production streamlined. Fried pickles with jalapeno ranch. Nachos with cilantro crema. The fried PB&J with bacon, bananas and honey did admittedly sound delectable. But our stomachs were in no condition to handle food.

 

After two more doubles, we were ready for some games.

 

I was comforted to see more than a few of the arcade games around the perimeter had gone dark: reassuring proof that we were still in New Orleans.

 

“There’s a game room in the back,” Billy suggested, and we wove our way through a back hall and into an antechamber.

 

No fancy cards loaded with credits are used in these machines, my friends. Here the noble quarter again finds its employment as Billy and I fed handfuls of silver into the games. Basketball, skyball, Mortal Kombat and air-hockey. We avoided the beer pong game out of principle. 

 

But soon we tired of the contraptions. For no matter how well a game was played, the rewards were always a lighter pocket, and I could find no true satisfaction in them. The rows and rows of money extractions devices must make Barcadia a profitable venture indeed. 

 

“Come now, Billy D!” I said at last. “Let’s play a game that matters!”

 

We made our way back into the front room and found that the crowd had grown. 

 

Young men in medical scrubs leaned over blonde women at the bar. A disinterested thirty-something guy sat upon a one table – Run DMC Addidas jacket and pork pie hat cocked to one side – as his orange girlfriend fawned on his shoulder. The tables in the center had been infested with more tanned gentleman, bulging with muscles. They mocked me with their health.

 

I was a stranger in a strange land, kind reader. For here, in the Warehouse District, I had come across a population hitherto unknown. And I felt suddenly like some intrepid explorer, H.M. Stanley of the Dirty South, hacking through the deepest jungles to find my own Dr. Livingstone in the form of Billy D. 

 

And what oasis had swallowed Billy D? None other than the holy of holies. We stood before the door to a closed room beside the bar. Deep among the games of our youth was a place more adult— and more New orleans.

 

The video poker machines awaited us within, hiding the degenerate gamblers so that Barcadia might still allow minors in the bar and empty their pockets with pinball.  

 

Napoleon, it is said, counted luck as a skill, and promoted his Field Marshalls accordingly. And as I followed Billy D into the gambling room, I wondered which of us might have the deftness to pay our grossly inflated bar tab.

Previous Drinking Culture Columns

Follow Joseph Toman on Twitter @TomanJoseph

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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