The word “oasis” gets tossed around quite a bit when talking about bars and restaurants, with most of the spots necklaced with the label failing to live up to such a magical, conjuring term.
In New Orleans, though, Bacchanal—a decidedly dreamlike wine bar—wears it well.
Located in the crook of a road a stone’s throw away from the Mississippi River, Bacchanal is the kind of place that will make a person rub their eyes in disbelief upon entering. Frothy crepe myrtles sway, shaking their petals to the ground like out of a swirling fever dream, while the sounds of that night’s jazz band drift through the lush courtyard like the ultimate siren song.
“Sit, listen and drink,” it whispers, and a person can’t help but obey.
Guests enter through a cellar-like wine and cheese shop, picking out a bottle and a few bites before stepping out into the expansive backyard covered in charmingly mismatched chairs and dripping in waves of white Christmas lights. Buzzing groups of friends steady themselves against the melt of a New Orleans summer, dipping into small plates and bottles of chilled rosé plunked in industrial buckets full of ice, while an indoor upstairs space offers a splay of herbal cocktails and more conventional means of cooling down (read: air conditioning). The Hibiscus Old Fashioned—a perennial favorite—might be off the menu for now, but drinks like the BR-549 (which features a shrub made from the berries of the Louisiana-native Mayhaw bush) are sure to satisfy those with a thirst for the colorful and tart.
From the sumptuous environs to the luxuriously plated trays of cheese (which arrive paired with jewel-toned jams, crusty bread and other swoon-worthy accoutrements), Bacchanal manages an elusive balance of whimsical and laid-back. The wine bar has served as an anchor for the Bywater neighborhood since its founding in 2002 by Chris Rudge (who tragically passed away earlier this year), and is the sort of place often cited by transplants to the city—myself included—as the bar that convinced them to move to New Orleans.