I know I’ve bee touting my neighborhood a lot lately, but what the hell, I’m biased. I’ve actually avoided mentioning some hang-outs in my area because, well, they get enough attention. But I would be totally remiss in my bar-jaunting duties if I didn’t highlight a cool club that happens to be right around the corner from my apartment, the Maple Leaf Bar.
The “Leaf” is in fact so close to me, that if I open my back door around 11:00 p.m. on any given night, I’ll hear local legends like Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Rebirth Brass Band, Papa Gros Funk, George Porter Jr., and Johnny Vidacovich. Some people might think living behind a music club would be irritating or distracting, causing many sleepless nights…but not me. I drift into dreamland each night immersed in the rhythms of New Orleans and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Although the Maple Leaf has cool features like high tin ceilings and walls, old hardwood floors and a large backyard patio, this bar is all about the music. It’s a place where you drink cold beers just to cool down before dancing your ass off during the next set, where legends come to life in an intimate, sweaty setting, where the music carries you through a warm evening and never really lets go till dawn.
Mid-Summer Mardi Gras parades both begin and end at the Maple Leaf, where over the past twenty-plus years the Krewe of Oak has grown a neighborhood celebration into a mass blowout. Masked revelers overflow from the confines of the bar and pour out onto Oak Street, sweating in bright plastic beads, feather boas and thick make-up. I am privileged enough to know three fabulous ladies from the Bearded Oysters, an all-female dance troupe who dance, flirt, sport beards and lift their skirts to flash their merkins to parade-goers.
A few days ago, I went to visit the Maple Leaf during happy hour. The bar was empty and quiet with only a few employees around getting ready for the evening rush. I shared quality time with a good friend over beers in the deserted backyard patio, but everything felt kind of strange. Without the heartbeat of music and the energy coming off of the crowd, I felt like I was in a different place altogether. I realized that this was a symbiotic existence living on the 800 block of Oak Street. Without the music, there is no Maple Leaf…but without the Maple Leaf, there is no music…at least not in my back yard.