Nestled on an unassuming block in East Carrollton, Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge is a dive bar which has managed to withstand the impact of storms, gentrification and craft beer. Juan Parke has been working the door or tending the bar there since 2011, nearly eight years after he first began to patronize the joint. He’s been living in what he calls the Carrollton Square (an area bordered by St. Charles, Claiborne, Carrollton and Broadway) since the 1990s and has watched the neighborhood endure its growing pains. But what remains constant at Snake’s is the faint glow of red Christmas lights and the aroma of 20 years’ worth of spilled Schlitz.
Juan credits much of Snake and Jake’s longevity to its owner, Dave Clements [bass player and brother of guitar player Cranston Clements] who is steadfastly uninterested in caving to the demands of entitled customers. “What you see with gentrification is that it’s driven by a demographic that says ‘I’m the patron, I’m right.’ You know, the ‘customer’s always right’ mentality. We live in a bubble here where, no, you’re not. And odds are not only are you not right, you’re drunk,” he says. “We don’t have to serve $10 drinks. We have $2 beers, and I think that really helps. That allows us to keep a socioeconomic demographic mixture a lot of places can’t afford to do.”
Boasting that he sells more Schlitz beer per square foot than any other bar in the country, Juan tells me there have been times when uninformed Downtowners or curious tourists (whom he calls “enlightened travelers” because there is a certain amount of digging around one has to do to find this dive in the first place) make the grave mistake of ordering a cocktail. “I had one come in and order six grasshoppers, and so I proceeded to take out six cans of Schlitz. He started saying ‘No, no, no…’ and I told him ‘Yes, I understand a grasshopper has crème de menthe. Look around you. What part of dive bar did you miss?’ As if I could even bring out a blender in here. I’m pretty sure time would stop. God would look down and say ‘Really, motherfucker?’” Every once in a while, a customer will ask what kind of wine they have. Juan’s answer is, invariably, “red and white.”
Snake and Jake’s caters to everyone. Despite being stumbling distance from Loyola and Tulane, it’s not a college bar. Nor is it a primarily tourist destination, nor a hole-in-the-wall escape for service-industry workers and locals. Rather, it’s all of those and more simultaneously. “I think what our strength is, is that we don’t have a demographic,” Juan says as he gives his beloved dog (and unofficial bar mascot) Peeve a shot glass filled with treats. Another bartender chimes in, adding “I think a big part of it too is that there’s still a huge portion of the black population that’s been in this neighborhood their entire life. And those people have all been coming here before Katrina.”
Though Clements would be well within his right to keep Snake’s doors open 24 hours, he made the executive decision to keep its doors closed for much of the daytime. “Our official hours are 7 to 7, but I say we close when you start to get cheap or not cute,” says Juan. Sometimes, folks will get there early and stand around outside until the bar opens, a trend resulting from exposure on the Travel Channel and various Anthony Bourdain programs.
“He referred to us as a national treasure,” says Juan of the late Bourdain. “That seems like a throwaway line, but I realize now he was right. Dive bars are disappearing, and they’re needed. We’re living in an age of social media where there’s lots of interaction but no contact. Being able to talk to somebody next to you is different than talking to someone 20,000 away via IP. As much as we like to think we see the worst of people in bars, I’ve come to disagree with that.
“I see a tremendous amount of humor and kindness. It’s not uncommon that you’ll find somebody that has drank too much and everybody around them, even if they don’t know them at all, a perfect stranger, will rally around and take care of them. I’ve seen that time and again. And then of course you see the dickhead that drinks and becomes belligerent, but that’s far more the unusual case. The more likely case is what Lincoln refers to as the ‘angels of our better nature.’ I tell folks that one of the real strengths of Snake’s and dive bars in particular is that, no matter how odd, or out-of-place, or weird you feel you are, you come in here and I can promise you you’re not the most odd, out-of-place or weird person in here. Odds are that person is behind the bar working for you. You’re not alone.”
Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge is located at 7612 Oak Street.