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Lloyd Miller Talks Junction, "A Beer Bar With a Really Great Little Boutique Kitchen"

Lloyd Miller, co-owner of the Bywater's newest watering hole and eatery, the art deco-inspired Junction, has much to say about beer, burgers, and bringing his neighbors together.

Lloyd Miller at Junction
Lloyd Miller at Junction

Lloyd Miller has been working to bring beer bar and burger hub to the Bywater for a year and a half, after he and the Monaghans, his business partners (who also own Molly's at the Market and 13 Monaghan on Frenchmen Street), purchased the former convenience store on St. Claude back in July of 2013.

Miller is a longtime Monaghan family associate, having worked at Molly's at the Market, as well as the former production manager of local musical act/performance art group The New Orleans Bingo! Show and the venue manager at Preservation Hall. He's also, by his own account, "a frustrated fiction writer, frustrated primarily by the fact that haven't had time to do it for a couple of years now, with getting this place going."

The place he's finally gotten going is a bar called Junction, which sits in the Bywater just a couple blocks up from the Press Street railroad tracks. Junction serves well-crafted hamburgers as well veggie burgers, salads (their Caesar dressing is the real stuff with anchovies and raw eggs), and wings. They have Abe Lemoine in the kitchen, a a New Orleans lifer, who has worked at Ralph's on the Park, Muriel's, and the Den at the Howling Wolf. Everything is prepared fresh.

But Miller wants everyone to know that while the food is great, Junction is first and foremost a beer bar.

What was your inspiration for opening a beer and burger place?

I'm a simple man. I like simple things done well. Personally, I like to work with basic elements to which you can bring creativity, and make things cool that way. For me, this place was very much dictated by the location, and the structure.

The original concept of Junction is twofold: number one, we're right by the Press Street tracks, obviously, so we tapped into that train line idea to pull the bar's aesthetics from; and number two, the literal definition of "junction" is a meeting place. What's just as important to us as anything else is the idea that the two sides of St. Claude can get together in a room and hang. We got the Bywater on one side, we got the St. Claude neighborhood on the other. St. Claude is an older neighborhood with great people. To me, it's like what the Bywater used to be, back in the day. So, you know, getting the new school and old school to hang together. That's important to us. People meeting people, having experiences, enjoying themselves, making friends.

We're not trying to be the New Orleans bar with the most beer cred. That's not our angle. Our goal is to be the most accessible beer bar in New Orleans. We're a great place to start. A place where you can learn a lot about a wide variety of beers at a reasonable price and without judgement.

We want to make more beer nerds, you know. I figure, let's teach everybody and bring them along. Lord knows I'm learning. I love beer, but I don't have any pedigrees to claim except for having hit the bars in this town for a long time.

You're still learning about beer?

Always, there's always more to learn. That's why we have these lovely beer description bibles here. We do a rail, where you can do three beers for $7.

It's a funny thing, the product that we're serving, and this really goes for the beer and the burgers both, I don't have a beer on tap currently that I'm charging more than six dollars for. Everything I have on there from Louisiana is five dollars. There will come a time when I throw on a fancy beer that's gonna be a higher price, eventually, but right now we're very intent on keeping it neighborhood prices.

So we have some crowd pleaser tap lines that aren't. You know, your nerdiest beers, but that helps me keep things so that it's only $6 for the most expensive beer. We want to be accessible to everybody. That's the most important thing.

What about the burger/food aspect?

One of the really interesting challenges so far is, we've brought such an aesthetic to this, and made the bar nonsmoking, so everybody thinks it's a restaurant. When in fact, we're a beer bar with a really great little boutique kitchen. But it's a bar kitchen that's turning out a HUGE number of burgers right now. So if there's any learning curves and things like that, it's been largely in dealing with the fact that people are not exactly sure what to expect from us. Some people are coming in looking for a table-waiting dining experience, so trying to learn how to modify everybody's expectations. But as long as everybody's smiling and having a good time, it's cool, but I got one guy in that little room in there a lot of the time, and they're doing an amazing job of turning out these burgers.

And we've had to turn away a lot of people with children and babies, and it's heartbreaking a little bit, because apparently the neighborhood was starved for good, simple, creative food. People are really excited for new food around here, Red's Chinese across the street is doing great. But we are a bar, so we can't have the children. And we've got a great jukebox.

But I'm not going to be the guy who's like "I'm so upset that we're selling so many burgers!" I'm super thrilled that anybody wants to buy a lot of anything I have. We're still new. It's not our first rodeo, but it is a different horse.

This is a narrow menu, it's a bar menu, you know what I mean? Yeah, there's like 8 different kinds of specialty burgers, but it's burgers. Some fried stuff, which is also really good, and some salads, because you can't eat a burger every day.

The other thing about the burger - it's not only a single animal grind, it's the entire animal. So the coolest thing is, it's not just the chuck. It's the chuck plus all the leaner bits and all the choice tasty bits. So it's a pretty dense burger. Still very juicy, but it's not as fatty. We cook them on the flattop under the hat, so they stay nice and juicy. So it took a minute to learn how this stuff acts. Cooking it to temperature is different with this, because it doesn't have that fat content running through it to convey the heat quite the same way. So that was another learning curve. But they're really ridiculously good.

These burgers are $9, and while it kills me to think about charging any more than that, that's the same price you're paying for like a frozen patty in a lot of places. Whereas here, we are very proud of our food. We're using our own animals from the Monaghan's Monala Farms in St. Amant, LA. It's one animal at a time, it's a single animal grind, and it comes straight from there to here, 100% grass fed, hormone free, and um, yeah. Nine dollars. Just like you'd get for a frozen patty.

For $20, you've got a beer, you've got a burger, you've got a side of fries, and enough left over to leave a good tip.

So what was your process for selecting the beer that you're serving?

The process was largely meeting with our distributors, doing tastings, and really learning about the broad swath of types of beers available these days. It's such a new game, it's such a great time for beer right now, it's so exciting that there are so many Louisiana beers, craft beers available, all of a sudden. And also just in the tri-state region area, there's so many new breweries and distilleries. It's just super exciting. So it's really just a question of, as with all things, absorbing everything that's out there, and then picking through it for the best variety. I think that's what we've got here - we don't have a crazy number of IPAs, we've got a decent spread between your classic imports and then as far as crafts go, I like to have something from everywhere, and I don't think that we're doubling up too much. We've got a couple of porters, a couple of stouts, a couple of IPAs, a couple of Americans. Our first keg to blow was the Scrimshaw Pilsner. And then the second was Gnarly Barley's Catahoula Common.

We've got some cool bottles, though, we've got the Lenny's RIPA, we've got Brother Thelonius. So it doesn't stop at the taps, we've got about 30 more brands in bottles and cans.

We're going to start doing events for the beer folk. We're really getting hammered at meal times, people are really coming in at meal times to eat, so we gotta make sure we're getting the beer crowd in when they're done.  The key challenge is, we are trying to get the word out that we are a bar, in fact.

What are your thoughts on the local craft scene?

I wouldn't say I'm the best one to forecast on this sort of thing, though I'm very excited to start taking a part more actively in it. I'm really looking forward to American Craft Beer Week, believe me, we watched these events tick by last year, just dying, like "man, we wanted to be open by now!" Something that's been so taken for granted for so long, so people are finally realizing it, and mastering all the elements of the alchemy that really goes into these things.

I'd say that there's a danger in taking all of this too seriously. Yes, there's a near miraculous alchemy that happens when you balance your brew elements just the right way, but let's not forget why we drink the stuff in the first place. What we have today is a better vehicle by which to arrive at our good times. But a perfect beer without good company is worthless. Let's talk about beer, but let's drink the beer, meet new people, and learn a bit about the world around us while we're at it.

What are your favorite beers on now?

I'd say that my favorite beer of the moment is the Courir de Mardi Gras. I'm really excited about Great Raft beer, and I really like the Ommegang Hennepin right now. I really like the local beers so much - that NOLA Rebirth is so good, the Chafunkta Kingfish cream ale. Really, though, there's not a beer up there that's not exciting to me. They're all my babies.

You know what people really like though? The Green Flash West Coast IPA, that's really good. I love having a rotating seasonal from Brooklyn, a rotating seasonal New Belgium, they're just such great, solid companies that you can almost forget about them, because they're so reliable. The Brooklyn right now is their ½ Ale. It's a farmhouse/saison style and it's got 3.4% ABV, and we recommend that for, like, lunchtime. The 40 Arpent Milk Stout has been flying out of here.

We're hope to get together with everyone to do really great events. Southern Prohibition is great, we've got their Jack the Sipper on draft and their Devil's Harvest in cans, Though we're probably going to switch the Devil's Harvest for Suzy B, just to have a bit more of a berth between the two. Founder's Porter is one of the highest rated beers out there.

There's just so much work to do, and I'm still trying to figure it out. Like, I really need to make table tents listing everything, all our seasonal beer, our seasonal bottles and cans. And Lagunitas, that's super exciting to have, but I only have them in the bottle right now. Part of that is, I made these selections a while ago. So we've adapted some of them as we've gone along, and they're going to rotate, for sure.

We've gotta have the most taps this side of Canal Street. Markey's is up to 26 or 27. You don't want to kill yourself, we don't play that tap game. I think 40 is a good, solid number. You got some crowd pleasers and some that are more narrow focused. You know, I put Bass on tap, because when was the last time you saw Bass on tap? That was another one of my first loves.

What else do you want people to know about Junction?

We're basically sitting under a pile of good product. We said that from the beginning, "that'd be a good problem to have." We have the good problem. It's been busy. And we're really looking forward to people getting to know us as a late night destination. And this block has a great, well lit perimeter, and people smoke outside so there are eyes on the street, this is a block of St. Claude that's really turning over, though times of change can be tumultuous.

It's really felt like the right thing in the right place at the right time. And I think we're seeing that proven, and nothing could be more exciting. It's fun to have to run. As long as people realize that we're still newborns, but we're learning fast.  It's all about the basic elements, creatively presented. That's what the best stuff always is, I think.

When you walk into an environment that's thought out and comfortable, you leave the outside behind. You feel taken care of. This is my happy place. Which is good, especially the days I have to spend 15 hours a day here. I'm just looking forward to a month from now, when everything's really organized, because that stuff just takes time. One thing at a time.


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