Ed Diaz knows how to properly open a bar.
In late 2009 Mr Diaz brought craft cocktails to the then-seedy North Rampart when he flung the doors open at Bar Tonique and ushered in the modern fine drink renaissance in New Orleans.
Now Diaz has turned his attention to the craft beer lovers of the Crescent City with his newest storefront: the Black Penny. Walking in, you can feel the history of the ancient building (constructed in 1831) as the renovators had an appropriately light touch; shiplap and old plaster walls bring to mind the Napoleon House while white leather banquettes pull the bar firmly into the 21st century.
The beer list runs towards 50 cans with a handful of nominal beers like Bud Lite taking up a bit of menu space for the cargo shorts and flip flops crowd but, as one scrolls down, the list grows more interesting with beers from Southern Prohibition, Wasatch, Evil Twin, Mikkeler and even Yo Ho Brewing out of Japan. At $10 per can this Japanese brew is too dear for me but it’s heartening to see it on a New Orleans beer menu.
Service is amiable. The barkeeps routinely circle through the two adjoining bars asking after their patrons needs. The girl next to me is babbling drunk and cursing softly into her Bud Lite and I note one of the bartenders casting a weather eye toward her to see if she will be allowed to stay or must be put out before her behavior becomes untenable.
In the old days on Rampart she would’ve been whisked outside, relieved of her purse and sold to the white slavers.
The soundtrack is killer with plenty Wipers, Saints and Gang Of Four fueling the revelers. The crowd is sparse but the bar hasn’t even been open a week and we can see big crowds shoehorning into the space once the word gets out that there’s good craft here and the average price is roughly $4 per can.
Don’t go to Black Penny expecting fancy cocktails. This is a whiskey on the rocks-cold can of beer joint, a style of bar that’s slowly dying out as hyper-specialization has been the drinkery trend in New Orleans for the past few years.
Do go to Black Penny if you like sitting in a dark bar with a cold, well made beer, candles flickering about and an old school punk soundtrack driving the beat while the ambulances and police cars race by right outside the door.
This is the former Sandy’s Hi Da Way for New Orleanians of a certain age.
The Black Penny is located at 700 North Rampart
Operating hours are 4pm to 4am daily