Food Feature: Dungeons and drag-ons

New Orleans' Original Dungeon provides sanctuary for those who feel dawn comes too soon

In New Orleans' French Quarter, endless storefronts advertise drink and kink. Offering hurricanes to hand grenades, any bar in New Orleans will leave you with a hangover, but only a select few leave you with a lasting impression. Ye Olde Original Dungeon is unquestionably one of the latter.

Not even a block off Bourbon Street, and marked only by an overhanging hatchet for its shingle, the Dungeon's solitary doorway is easily overlooked even sober — a state few people arrive in considering the operating policy. You see, you'll have to wait until the witching hour to find out what lurks down the narrow alleyway as the Dungeon doesn't open until midnight (and doesn't close until dawn).

Once into the wee hours and wee corridor, you're greeted by a small courtyard, and the first of a surprising number of security guards for such a small space. With entrance negotiated, you're ushered into a room of red lanterns and low exposed beams, and immediately crushed against a bar in the glare of gargoyles.

Like the murky bowels of a ghost ship, there's barely single-file room to pass, so pick up a Witch's Brew or Dragon's Blood to build up your courage to wade through the rest of the bar. Friday mornings (1-4 a.m.) grab three-for-the-price-of-one. Kid Rock to the Cult blares from the jukebox as roughly hewn cobweb-strewn enclosures of little maimed mannequin scenes remind you of what could happen if you don't tip well.

If you can squeeze your way toward the stairs — the only true torture found in the Dungeon — to the right you'll find the Library, which takes bathroom reading to a new level. Hidden behind false bookshelves are the toilets. Yet another security guard quickly indicates which one is open to be occupied by one person. On exiting, ascend further into the Dungeon's depths.

At the top of the stairs lies a mirror-walled dancefloor and a small bar. To call it tightly packed is to call Anna Nicole Smith big-boned. Women writhe devilishly as men ogle from an alcove of skulls. The entire wall of empty skull sockets (including those of one more security guard) laughs and sneers as goths and grad students, leather and lace, "vampires" and just vamps drink in the Venus Bar. If you're lucky you can grab a seat in the Cage, or maybe latch onto someone who'll lead you home to some type of private dungeon.


Ye Olde Original Dungeon. 738 Toulouse St. Open midnight-'til except Mardi Gras (Feb. 28-March 3, 10:30 p.m.-'til; March 4, 8 p.m.-'til). Weekends $3; holidays $5. 504-523-5530. www.originaldungeon.com.

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