Need a little zest in your life? Craving some pep in your step? Want to add a little "zip" to your daily "a-dee-do-dah?" Here's a hint: Take the parts of your daily routine that bug you and spice them up, Cajun-style. Boring commute? Cajun-style. Unfulfilling relationships with your step-children? Cajun-style. Happy hour? Cajun-style. Yes, our friends to the south have a special blend of spices and sass that can solve just about any problem (just ask James Carville). But to answer the question as to whether Louisiana flavors can make for a good happy hour, I took on Bayou Bob's, the downtown institution alongside the Paramount Theatre that's been a reliable fish fry since 1986 but hasn't bothered to make much of a splash in the city's culinary conversations.
A proudly unfashionable spot inside the historic, Temple Buell-designed theater, Bayou Bob's owes its longevity either to it's dependable comfort food or its perfect location off the mall — or both. They just don't make 'em like Bob's anymore, a memento of a time where the fried alligator tail special (market price) was a fun thrill — now forgotten in the foodie race to eat the creepiest and crawliest. One modern trend you'll find here is a full fledged happy hour, served in the lounge Monday to Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. (Happy hour appetizers are available weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m.) It's a fun-house mirror of every Nawlins stereotype there is, but there are enough Gulf accents on either side of the bar to overcome the kitsch.
In the Bourbon Street fashion, I ordered a Hurricane ($4), made with light and dark rum, plus the traditional blend of fruit juices. Bright red, tangy, and super sweet — I couldn't ask for more. For the same price you can also grab a margarita or Louisiana Lemonade, and make it a double. There's also a respectable selection of bottled Louisiana beers from Abita and Dixie. Live music accompanies happy hour on Tuesdays, and the stripped down blues of the Delta Sonics Duo provided the atmosphere that was lacking between Bob's walls. Every Tuesday is Fat Tuesday here: don't just take my word on it, take a look at the menu and its many deep-fried delights.
The evening's bartender tells me his mother makes a mean crawfish pie. The kind served at Bayou Bob's ($5) is not your mamma's pie, but it contains a mysteriously tasty goop studded with crawfish chunks and stuffed into a pastry pocket before being fried. If crustaceans are your thing, these pies are more fun than wearing Lycra — and extremely filling. Douse with some Cajun Chef hot sauce and you've got yourself a whole meal.
I have some doubts, though, that Bob's Cajun nachos ($4) are a traditional recipe dredged from the soul kitchens in the deepest Louisiana swamps. Bob's takes a basket of Cajun-style fries, melts some Jack cheese over 'em and smothers them in étoufée — call it bayou poutine. The house's cajun seasoning blend is mighty addictive, even buried beneath a homely slop. If you can look past appearances, this is another dish that you'll find sinfully satisfying. But I also tried some buffalo wings — sorry, Chicken Wangs ($6) — which were plenty unremarkable. Let us not speak of them.
Everyone needs a little Cajun in their life, and there aren't enough options downtown. If you visit Bayou Bob's with expectations in check, and authenticity and health aren't your primary concerns, then good times will roll.
Perfect for: The Paramount Theatre is pulling in more and more great comics and performers, and considering the dearth of interesting restaurants on the 16th Street Mall, Bayou Bob's happy hour is a natural choice for pre-show pre-gaming.
Don't Miss: The petite combeaux ($12, not on happy hour) piles on gumbo, étoufée, red beans and rice, jambalaya and shrimp for a tourist-friendly tour of Louisiana cooking.