Opened in 2002, Mimi's in the Marigny (2601 Royal St., 504-872-9868; www.mimismarigny.com) is hard to miss at the intersection of Franklin and Royal streets, where the 19th-century, two-story building's exposed brick walls, colorful arching windows and traditional iron galleries give the building a distinct character.
"We found the building in 2002," says general manager Brooke Whitcomb. "It used to be an old Navy bank. You can still see the outline of the vaults on the floor. ... The location lent itself really well to the idea we had: a dive bar but not a dive bar, with warmth and lots of open space."
The downstairs has a lively atmosphere with raised cafe tables, eclectic artwork, a pool table and jukebox. Upstairs has a different feel, with table seating for dining on tapas, and work by local artists on display.
"We just remodeled the upstairs," Whitcomb says. "It's a changed space, but it's also still the same. There's a more chill and intimate vibe."
The upstairs level used to host live music every week, but now there will be live music only on special occasions. For the past two years, Mimi's has been involved in a lawsuit with five neighbors who sued for alleged violations of the city's noise ordinance. On July 1, the lawsuit was settled. Whitcomb says Mimi's can host nine live shows per year, as long as the bar aquires a special events permit from the city and gives the neighbors written notice three weeks before an event.
"So far we'll be doing Halloween, New Year's, Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest," Whitcomb says. "We're happy and have enjoyed all of our neighborhood support."
Mimi's is known for its Portuguese- and Spanish-inspired tapas menu created by chef Heathcliffe Hailey. "Hailey has been with us since the beginning," Whitcomb says. "He buys through local farmers and is always experimenting. It's not what you would expect as your typical bar food, which sets us apart."
There are cold tapas such as crab gazpacho and figs, and dates with blue cheese. Hot tapas include mushroom goat cheese empanadas and coffee Kahlua-glazed salmon. The most popular item on the menu, Whitcomb says, is called Trust Me. The chef makes whatever he wants with the ingredients he has on hand.
Whitcomb says the bar's success comes from its patrons.
"There is a really nice mix of newcomers and neighborhood regulars — and the staff is incredible; they love this place," Whitcomb says. "Mimi's is my baby, my heart. We worked so hard, and it's been so successful. It's really a family member."