With its big outdoor patio, pool table, jukebox and rotating cast of characters, Nick's Original Big Train Bar was a rare neighborhood institution before an era of self-aware "new" dive bars, craft cocktails and smoke-free beer halls. The bar's sense of humor was on display with its long, infamous list of cocktails and shots like the 1-800 Fu— Me Up and A Wild Night at the Capri Motel. There were bumper stickers — "Don't Follow Me, I Just Left's Nick's Bar" — and it sat across the street from a then-functioning Dixie Brewery, so beer flowed for cheap. Bar staff closed Nick's doors before Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods, and several years later, the flood-damaged building — with its painted logo of a train circling the globe —was leveled.
Albert Kattine, the grandson of original owner Nick Castrogiovanni, plans to rebuild the bar with a restaurant, beer garden and drive-through coffee shop. Plans for the site, which comprises four vacant lots at the corner of Tulane Avenue and S. Tonti Street near the University Medical Center, were filed with the city last week and the the City Planning Commission is scheduled to hear the proposal at its March 22 meeting.
Castrogiovanni opened Nick's in 1918 and operated it as a grocery store through Prohibition. When Prohibition ended, he added package liquor to his offerings and began serving drinks. Over the years, the bar became a popular watering hole for college students, twentysomethings and professionals, and Castrogiovanni's family rebuilt the bar after it was damaged during Hurricane Betsy in 1965, but not after Katrina.
The bar's website, www.nicksbar.com, still carries a note on the homepage, "Returning 2012." Kattine began taking ideas and comments on his plans to replace the bar in 2014 via Nick's Original Big Train Bar's Facebook page.
Project architect Corey Newell of Montgomery Roth Architecture & Interior Design discussed the project with neighbors and others at a Neighborhood Participation Program meeting Jan. 11. The plans he outlined call for a new structure with three floors. The first will include the bar, dining and a drive-through coffee shop with 24-hour service.
Kattine and Newell couldn't be reached for comment, but a post Kattine wrote on the bar's Facebook page confirms those plans: "The very front will have a coffee shop and small dining/lounging area. The middle portion will be the bar area. It is designed like the long bar that used to be in the old Nick's. The back will have a beer garden with a lot of outdoor space and a stage for a little live music. ... The second story will be private dining and area to look down on the areas below. There may be a small third story with a use tbd at a later time," the post reads.