Inside NOLA’s Secret Garden of Wine

In his "Bar Tripping" column, photographer Daniel Krieger travels the world to capture its most photogenic bars. This week he hits Bacchanal, the magical backyard party of a wine bar that's become a New Orleans institution.

Bacchanal anchors a crook in the road at the edge of the Mississippi River, where ships can be seen passing by from the bar’s front door.

There’s something otherworldly about the light at Bacchanal, a wine bar that has reigned as New Orleans’ dreamiest since opening in 2002. A canopy of trees shades the always-bustling courtyard, giving visitors the feeling that they’ve stumbled into a boozy secret garden.

Late nights at Bacchanal have a sense of buzzy raucousness about them, but midday drinking is for those seeking a more relaxed pace.

Ralph Shumaker is co-owner of Bacchanal. Earlier this year, the New Orleans community was rocked by the loss of Bacchanal founder and co-owner Chris Rudge, who passed away unexpectedly in March.

The Magnum P.I.napple: a decidedly tropical blend of roasted pineapple-infused Cachaça, vanilla, lime and cinnamon (left). The upstairs bar just before the early-evening rush (right).

The upstairs balcony at Bacchanal—a fairly recent addition—provides the perfect perch for feeling like a treetop flyer while looking out over the throngs of people below.

The wine shop has an extensive selection of pre-chilled whites and roses that are ready and waiting to be knocked back while catching the sunset.

Helter-skelter Tiki torches, glimmering white Christmas light bunting and mix-and-match seating lend Bacchanal its backyard party feel. (Dudes carrying bottles of rosé don't hurt, either.)

That otherworldly light.

Live music is central to the heart of the Bacchanal experience, with jazz musicians showing off their unique stylings seven days a week. The hottest seat in the house is often the upstairs balcony, which overlooks the hubbub of the courtyard from a relaxed distance.

Trains rumble along the track directly outside the gates of Bacchanal, chugging into the night and blowing their whistles in approval of the music drifting from the courtyard.

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.

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  • Quintin

    Of any wine shop I’ve had the pleasure of wandering in and enjoying their delicacies, Bacchanal was by far the best. Chris was one of those people you just fell in love with. He was warm, kind, and helped me gain knowledge of wines from all all over the world. I miss Bacchanal terribly.