Pal’s Lounge in New Orleans Defies Isaac With Beer, Smokes, Talk

Scot Middleton, a regular at Pal’s Lounge in New Orleans’s Mid-City district, faced down Isaac with Camel Blues and conversation.

Louisianans like him grow up with hurricanes; Betsy ripped the roof off the family home when he was just a toddler, he said last night.

“It’s an inconvenience,” Middleton, 47, said of the impending storm between swigs of Miller Lite. “I don’t want to be without power for three days, but I’ve got things to do.”

Isaac’s center was about 125 miles (201 kilometers) southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River with top winds of 70 miles per hour at 5 a.m. New York time. That’s 4 mph less than hurricane strength. It’s set to strike south of the city on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,800 people after levees surrounding New Orleans failed.

Supplies were dwindling at stores and officials began to close roads and ask people to evacuate. Residents were weighing whether to leave the lives they’ve built behind or to remain, and ride out the storm’s consequences.

At Pal’s, a neighborhood institution in the Bayou-St. John section of Mid City, the beer was cold, cigarette smoke thick and rock music loud. The crowd may have been bigger than most Monday nights, said Middleton, as many locals would be forgoing work today to prepare for the storm.

“Happy hurricane!” was one friend’s greeting to him.

Good Juju

The bar is on higher ground than some areas in the city. Suzanne Accorsi, the bar’s general manager, planned to keep Pal’s doors open as long as she can ensure customers will remain safe from the dangers both natural and man-made, like looting and violence.

“It can’t possibly be another Katrina, but it could -- people get struck by lightning twice,” Accorsi, 45, said as she repeatedly knocked on a wood table beside arcade games. “People like to have somewhere to go. So if we can stay open, we will.”

Pal’s was one of the first joints in the neighborhood to revive itself after Hurricane Katrina reduced city’s homes to piles of rubble and mold. Even grocery stores remained shut, so Pal’s served meals like rice and beans from a communal pot to the area’s recovering residents.

Home at Pal’s

That effort reinforced the pride and loyalty for their community among the bar’s regulars, almost all of whom are local, said Rob Willbanks, 45, who lives six blocks down the street. Whatever hits the city in the next few days, those who stay behind will endure it together, he said.

Memories are fresh of how Katrina’s breached levees tried to sweep away not just possessions, but communities. Makeshift repairs at Pal’s, like chunks of plaster patching a wall, remain.

“A lot of people evacuated for Katrina and couldn’t come back for weeks, months, even years,” said Willbanks. “There’s a great sense of loss if we’re not together.”

Not all was status quo: Pal’s typical Monday fare of red beans and rice was supplanted by chips and queso, which Accorsi was serving first in case of power loss.

Her boyfriend, David Poretto, 39, surveyed the scene from his standard station at the end of the bar, sipping an Abita Amber.

“Why?” was the one-word rejoinder he gave when asked whether he planned to leave behind the bottled water, booze, canned goods and generator the couple has stockpiled at their house two blocks down the street.

“If you left, you’d miss all of this,” he said.

(For more on Isaac, see EXT5)
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