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The Avenue Pub's Polly Watts Talks Craft Beer and Mardi Gras Madness

The owner of a bar on the parade route discusses the fine art of potty passes.

The hard working staff of the Avenue Pub slings craft beer (and Bud Lite, only served for parade season) and Jell-O shots under the management of owner Polly Watts, for the best tasting parade libations along the route. She took a few minutes out of her crazy week to answer some questions about her perspective of Mardi Gras madness.

So, how does Mardi Gras affect your daily operations?

(Laughs) Well, we all work 16 hour days for two weeks straight. The thing about Mardi Gras is that your staffing needs go way up, and while some bars can bring in temporary help from out of town or wherever, we can't do that. We can't put someone new behind our bar, all our bartenders need to know the beer, the styles, the breweries. Even with the crazy crowds, we'll still get people in asking what interesting stouts we have on. So we need our people, who can explain the options quickly, serve the beer quickly, and move on to the next customer quickly. So basically, we all work. A lot.

How does Mardi Gras affect your menu? Beer and/or food?

All of our beers have to be served in plastic, so what we're thinking about is, what kind of beer can be poured easily into a plastic pint cup. Also, we don't serve anything above 9% ABV, because that's just a bad decision during a long day of drinking. For food, we de-emphasize fryer food, since we can't really be running the fryer in our small kitchen nonstop. We offer comfort food that can be prepped ahead of time, like cheese grits topped with pulled pork, or mashed potatoes with smoked sausage. Those dishes are good for coating the stomach and absorbing alcohol as well.

Are you absolutely slammed all Mardi Gras long?

No. What happens during Mardi Gras is that a lot of our regulars don't come in even during the off-times - we remove all the seating and serve in plastic, so it's not as comfortable. Our day and late night business almost collapses this time of year. I mean, it's really busy for that 4, 5, 6 hour period, and it's brutal. Later in the season, the drop off is a little less, because of more tourists in town.

Has it become easier for you to plan for Mardi Gras though the years?

Definitely, we've gotten much better about what we need to do in advance, like clearing out all the glasses behind the bar to have more liquor back there, stuff like that.

What are some policies that you've instituted that have helped?

Well, our ticket system (Ed: one ticket would be given with each drink purchased) went into effect a few years ago when we realized that we had to limit bathroom use to our customers. For a long time, we just operated as a neighborhood bar, let everyone use the bathroom without having to make a purchase. But it just got out of hand - the facilities suffered, we'd always have broken toilets, I'd spend thousands of dollars every year on repairs. Also, our regular customers, customers that were spending money here, would get frustrated when they had to wait in line behind 15 people who just came off the street. We try to be as accommodating as we can, but the system was designed to catch people who either don't want to spend any money, or think that since they buy one drink, they can use the bathroom all day long. We just don't have the capacity, so when we realized we'd need to limit the access, we asked ourselves, "who do we want to be able to serve here?" and of course that was our paying customers. It's our third or fourth year into this system, and every year it's gotten a lot easier, mostly through more people understanding the system. And the bathrooms are clean - well, not sparkling, but looking pretty good for Mardi Gras - and functional, which enhances the experience for all our customers and our staff.

What's your impression about this year's crown as compared to recent years?

The crowd's been really great this year. I don't know if it's because we've weeded out the freeloaders for the most part, or because it's an early Mardi Gras. With an early Mardi Gras, you get more locals and experienced Mardi Gras tourists, like from Baton Rouge or Houston - people we see every year. Later on in the year, you tend to get huge groups of frat guys who hit town to get wasted for two weeks with no other plan beyond that. But overall, people have been really fabulous this year - happy, in a good mood, having fun. They're taking care of the staff too, which makes everyone here happy. The tip ratio this year is the best it's been for years.

I'll say that Muses was a little scary. Not inside the bar, but outside on the street - people are so crazy for those shoes, it's like a mob mentality. We had someone trying to scale one of the balcony poles to get a shoe caught in one of the hanging balls outside, it was scary.

It could be because the doormen are doing their job very well, but I haven't seen as many falling down drunk people in the bar - Lots of people drunk and having fun, but able to maintain themselves. I mean, we always have people falling down - last week someone fell and we had to send them to the hospital in a pedicab. He's fine now, though. But when you worry about a customer's safety, it gets very tense. When you have customers that are able to take care of themselves and the people they're with, it makes for a much better experience for everyone.

How do you celebrate the end of Mardi Gras?

Um, by going to sleep? Well, EMS spends a lot of time here, and they come out every Ash Wednesday to unwind after another season ends. I'll have a couple beers with the NOPD, we always have folks from the 6th District coming in. This year, the TV show Night Watch [Ed: which documents EMS workers in New Orleans] will be filming the EMS and NOPD hanging out on Wednesday night. That'll be closed to the public, though. Actually, all of Wednesday and Thursday during the day will be closed. We are going to power wash everything inside and out during the day on Wednesday.

Oh, we'll be doing our usual annual Blow the Kegs discount on beers on Tuesday night before we close for the day and a half, and we'll open back up on Thursday night. We'll be bringing out the glassware and enjoying our beer.

Avenue Pub

1732 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 (504) 586-9243 Visit Website