Basement Bars and Smartphone Tabs
New downtown pub enables drinking in the 21st century
By Mark RedmondPosted Jun 13, 2012
A recent trend in city planning, in Baton Rouge and elsewhere, has been the implementation and promotion of imitation town squares and false “downtowns.” Through architectural sleight-of-hand, entrepreneurs attempt to create the aesthetic of an idealized downtown, with brick sidewalks, fountains, and corporate businesses disguised to look like more intimate mom-and-pop stores. In November of last year, Jason Heid of Dallas’s Front Burner blog noted that Dallas now had over five such places. Baton Rouge currently has three: Towne Center, Perkins Rowe, and the “Boulevard” expansion at the Mall of Louisiana.
There are many issues implicit and explicit in this kind of urban growth. For instance, local businesses cannot pay the same high rent that a corporate franchise can, and thus they lose business to more conveniently located megastores.
Current Baton Rouge mayor Kip Holden has unsuccessfully attempted to renew interest and investment in the city’s real downtown area. Aside from a very small number of restaurants and bars, Baton Rouge’s downtown riverfront business district completely shuts down at night, becoming a desolate ghost town.
With all of this on my mind, I was pleased to learn about the opening of the Bald Eagle Pub, technically located at 140 Main Street, but more easily discovered as “the place under Azteca’s, on the corner of Main and Lafayette.” Located in the space that was formerly The Vault, which was itself formerly the Thirsty Tiger, the Bald Eagle bills itself on its Facebook page as Baton Rouge’s first entirely “smart bar.”
The “smart bar” is a rising phenomenon among fans of electronically assisted imbibing. The Radio Bar was at the forefront of this movement in Baton Rouge, as its primary lure for drinkers was the novelty of using one’s smart phone to make choices about the music being played. The Bald Eagle takes this a bit further, using a program called “Tabbedout,” a smart phone application that patrons can use to open, check, and close their tabs without having to give bartenders a credit card. According to the extremely well-informed and polite bartender I spoke to Friday night, this also means that, if you forget to close your tab, you don’t have to come back and collect your card before the bar closes or the next day. You can simply close your tab from your phone while halfway down the street, or from your cab (because, seriously folks, if you get too drunk to remember to close your tab, let someone else drive).
The bar itself is cozily tucked away. Its location is nondescript and, as of this writing, still unmarked by a sign with the bar’s name. Only a small A-frame sandwich board marks the entrance, a large wooden door with no markings. The interior is a bit more dynamic and is marked by shelves of dark, rich wood behind the bar, snazzy bartender outfits, and bright lighting – the kind that, in a bar, reminds you that you’ve come to a place to drink for fun, not to drown your problems. Most notably, despite being a new bar, the Bald Eagle manages to avoid that “beige box” aesthetic – tan walls, tan tiles, tan everything – that so frequently epitomizes a newly opened location.
There are kinks waiting to be worked out, of course, as there always are. As the pub has been open for less than two weeks, there are still gaps in the beer selection menu. The jukebox, which is also enabled with software to connect to patrons’ smartphones, seems a little on the pricey side, but that could be because I’ve been spoiled by cheap New Orleans dives. And, until a certain air filtration system is installed, the bar is smoke-free. A back door leads to an alley for smokers to get their fix for the time being, and anti-smoking advocates can give the pub their patronage before being driven back into their hermetically-sealed hypoallergenic homes. None of these things spoils the friendly service and cozy “just-us-cool-kids” vibe that I’m convinced will be a big draw for the Bald Eagle.
Plus, it’s never a bad thing to patronize a downtown local business.
• (Temporary) Lack of Beer Selection
• No Billiards
The Bald Eagle Pub is located at the corner of Lafayette and Main Street downtown. Its hours are 2 p.m.-2 a.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, visit www.Facebook.com/BaldEaglePub.