How clean is your college bar?


A patron sits at a college bar. Many college bars have a series of health code violations. Photo credit: Hannah Renton

Erin Snodgrass

A college student walks into a bar. She orders a drink or two or three. She eats some chicken fingers and uses the restroom. She dances the night away, never once granting thought to the various health code violations plaguing the institution. Fruit flies hovering around the kitchen, dirty silverware and improperly labeled chemicals lurk somewhere far from her mind. The bar’s patron out for a night of drinks has no reason to ponder such contaminations or even contemplate their existence. But exist they do.

We combed through the Louisiana Department of Health’s most recent health inspections for ten of New Orleans’ bars most frequented by Loyola students and learned more than we maybe wanted to about our favorite late-night hangouts.

The Department of Health docks restaurants and bars in two different categories: critical and non-critical. Critical violations are those that are likely to directly contribute to food contamination or illness, according the department. Non-critical violations are those not directly related to food borne illness, but if left uncorrected, could become critical.

According to the Department of Health website, establishments are inspected on a risk category base, meaning that frequency of inspections depends on the type of establishment and inspections are performed one to four times a year depending on that classification. We looked at the three most recent inspections for each bar. For some, all three inspections took place this year. Others have inspection records dating back to 2017. Thus, the Department adds a disclaimer to their website, noting, “inspections are a ‘snapshot’ in time and are not always reflective of the day-to-day operations and overall condition of an establishment.”

Final Count of Violations graph.jpg

Bruno’s Tavern

Inspection Dates: Jan. 10, 2019, Sept. 21, 2018, Sept. 20, 2018

Loyola’s favorite spot for cheap wine and pool had the most critical and non-critical violations of the ten bars we looked at. In their Sept. 21 inspection, the bar was knocked with four critical violations including toxic labeling and storage; date marking; and time control. According to the inspection report, there was “ready to eat, potentially hazardous food prepared on premises and held for more than 24 hours,” that was not date marked. Flour batter used for raw meat was also “not served or discarded within 4 hours from when the food was removed from temperature control.

Of their seven non-critical violations, Bruno’s was cited for improper food protection measures, like a lack of cover for an ice bin and food scoop handled without a handle. The hand wash lavatory was also noted as being used for a purpose other than hand washing, and a current state food safety certification was not “conspicuously” posted.

Three months later, when the inspector came knocking once more, Bruno’s was better prepared. This time, there were only four non-critical violations and just one critical violation for toxic labeling which was corrected on site.

The Boot Bar

Inspection Dates: July 11, 2018, July 18, 2018, July 6, 2017

The former no. 1 college bar in the country and a favorite pitcher spot for Tulaners and Loyola students alike had no violations, critical or non-critical, for two of its three most recent inspections. In July of 2018, both the Boot Bar and the Boot Grocery Store were inspected. The grocery store was completely clean. The bar however, was slapped with three non-critical violations and two critical. For the non-critical violations, inspectors noted that “soap and/or paper towels are not provided for use at the hand wash lavatory,” and “the hand wash lavatory is used for purpose other than hand washing.” Dirty contact surfaces and improper insect control devices round up the non-critical violations.

The two critical violations the Boot was cited for were toxic labeling and improper sanitization of utensils, the category in which the report describes the soda spigot as, “not clean to sight and touch.”

Grits Bar

Inspection Dates: Sept. 27 2018 (restaurant), Sept. 27, 2018 (bar), March 26, 2018

F&M’s quieter next-door neighbor had only one critical violation, for toxic labeling, in the last three inspections that included both the bar and restaurant sections of the establishment. Only one non-critical violation – infrequent contact surface cleaning – was found for the bar.

The restaurant however, racked up six non-critical violations over the last two inspections. Two of those violations fall under the categories of “lighting” and “walls/ceilings,” meaning uncovered lights were present near exposed food and the walls and ceilings were “not in good repair,” and stained. Improper utensil storing practices and infrequent contact surface cleaning round out the non-critical violations.

F & M Patio Bar

Inspection Dates: July 12, 2018 (patio bar), July 12, 2018 (main bar), March 28, 2018

Loyola students’ favorite spot for cheese fries and bad decisions does relatively well in terms of violations compared to its compatriots. The three most recent inspections all cover a different area of the establishment: the bar, the main bar and the restaurant.

The main bar was cited for four non-critical violations – dirty contact surfaces, walls and ceilings not in good repair, unnecessary items on the premises – a cooler in disrepair – and a lack of soap and/or paper towels at the hand washing station. At the other bar, the only citation, critical or non-critical was again, a lack of soap and/or paper towels at the hand washing station.

The restaurant portion was hit with two violations – one critical and one non-critical. A dirty can opener earned the bar its one critical violation, while an employee’s umbrella on a prep table resulted in the non-critical violation.

Snake and Jake’s

Inspection Dates: July 5, 2018, June 27, 2018, June 26, 2017,

This hidden gem of a dive bar has had almost no violations at all over the past few inspections. But the one critical violation it was cited for in June of 2018 was for insect/rodent control, due to fruit flies present in the establishment.

When inspectors returned a few weeks later, the issue had been corrected and no additional violations were found.

T.J. Quill’s

Inspection Dates: June 14, 2018, June 6,2017

This Maple Street bar has had a bit of a troubled past dealing with issues with the alcohol control board. But, take a look at their kitchen, and things are looking up. The June 2018 report cites no violations whatsoever, and the June 2017 report found only one critical violation and two non-critical. The report notes that “multiple of things were stored in the handsink,” which earned one violation while a dirty paper towel dispenser and/or hand wash station earned the second. The bar’s critical violation came thanks to “all soda spigots” being “not clean to sight and touch.”

Redd’s Uptilly Tavern

Inspection Dates: Aug. 9, 2018, June 26, 2017, June 20, 2016

Across the street from T.J.’s and kitty corner to Bruno’s this Uptown tavern completes the Maple Street drinking trifecta. After two years of perfect reports with no violations at all, the most recent inspection found three non-critical violations and two critical.

Two food protection citations included ice dispensing utensils improperly stored as well as “ice stored in ice bins aren’t covered when not in use.” The women’s restroom’s sink rounded out the non-critical violations which was cited for being dirty. The bar’s critical violations came thanks to soda spigots deemed dirty and improperly labeled chemicals.

Lucy’s Retired Surfer Bar

Inspection Dates: March 21, 2019 (bar), March 21, 2019 (restaurant), March 19, 2019

Moving out of the Uptown bubble, Lucy’s is a downtown bar growing in popularity among Loyola upperclassmen. While the restaurant section of the establishment passed its March 21 inspection with no violations, the bar section didn’t fare quite as well with four non-critical and three critical violations.

The non-critical violations included standing water on the upstairs floor, a lack of soap and/or paper towels at a sink, a soaking wet soda gun and “ice that is used as cooling medium for foods is being used for consumer use.” The critical violations came from a lack of hot water by which the “establishment [was] temporarily correcting by using two buckets for handwashing with clean water and sanitizer water,” as well as soda guns deemed dirty and flies found in the upstairs bar area.

When inspectors followed up two days later, the bar was once again cited for flies present in the establishment, although the inspector noted, “there was a significant reduction in fruit flies and a pest control plan has been implemented and fruit fly traps have been purchased.”

Bourbon Heat

Inspection Dates: March 20, 2019, March 14, 2019, March 15, 2019

This Bourbon Street club and grill combination draws tourists and underclassmen, thanks to its 18-and-up age limit most nights. The March 14 inspection of the bar area found only one critical violation – soda gun spigots and soda machine wires cited as dirty. The two subsequent follow-ups for both the bar and restaurant resulted in no cited violations.

Pat O’Brien’s

Inspection Dates: October 2, 2018, June 7, 2018 (piano bar), June 7, 2018 (patio bar)

Not a single violation for this popular tourist destination and home of the hurricane.

Some of these violations are, well, undeniably kind of gross while some are to be expected at your busy, college bar. And some of Loyola’s favorite late-night spots actually come out looking cleaner than their word-of-mouth reputation might suggest – if you know, you know.

And of course, as the Department of Health emphasizes, this data is merely a snapshot of a few days in the life of these bars. Just because your favorite dive had some dirty soda spigots or a slight fruit fly disturbance doesn’t mean they deserve to be classified as “gross” or “dirty.” But even if they truly are gross or dirty, something tells me you’d still be found there on a Saturday night.