Housed in a ramshackle, century-old building, Rivershack Tavern (3449 River Road, Jefferson, 504-834-4938; www.therivershacktavern.com) smacks of authentic roadside dive. The bar stools, made in 1992 by former owner Jimmy Collins, add to its offbeat look. Each stool resembles a person from the waist down. "He did several walks of life, from a shrimper to a scuba diver to the girl with her pants down to her ankles," owner Donnie Thomas says.
To celebrate its recent 25th anniversary, the restaurant booked live music and invited guest bartenders.
Rivershack Tavern's website bills it as "home of the tacky ashtray," but the bar has been smoke-free for three years. Thanks in part to its 2008 feature on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Rivershack Tavern has become a dining destination. Thomas wanted to create an atmosphere where customers could appreciate the scents and flavors of chef Mike Baskind's menu. "I chose to go non-smoking about three years ago," Thomas says. "Why take away from the food we're trying to sell?"
Thomas says that although Rivershack Tavern has evolved into a restaurant, he still considers it primarily a place to drink. "I run it as a bar, but we sell a lot of food," Thomas says. The menu offers "Shack-A-Tizers" such as meat pies and alligator sausage as well as typical pub grub like burgers, cheese fries, po-boys and deli sandwiches. The bar also has an extensive selection of local and imported draft beer.
Baskind, who has run the kitchen for 12 years, offers rotating daily specials, which recently included Vietnamese shrimp and lemon grass soup, a ginger-brined double-cut pork chop loin served with a sweet chili glaze, jasmine rice congee and baby bok choy, and pan seared Cuban-style redfish served with black beans, fried plantains, grilled asparagus and a lime-garlic mojo sauce. Monday's special is always red beans and rice.
These weekday lunch specials attract diners from across New Orleans. "You could have everyone from college students to retired insurance people, doctors, nurses, boat workers," Thomas says. "We draw people from all over the city for lunch, especially in the spring when we do crawfish boils."
Weekends have a festive vibe. "We have live music three or four nights a week, usually Thursday through Saturday, and charge a small cover on Friday and Saturday nights," Thomas says. Rivershack Tavern can accommodate groups, including bachelor parties.
"It's a great hangout for people from all over the country," Thomas says.