Bart’s Lighthouse Inn
Lakefront: 8000 Lakeshore Dr.
As casual seafood restaurants go, Bart’s was literally set apart. By the New Basin Canal, to be exact, which separated Bart’s from the concentration of seafood restaurants in West End Park. But in every other way dining there was the same experience as in West End. It had a view not only of the lake, but of the century-old lighthouse that stood next door until Katrina knocked it over.
The original Bart’s was a big, rambling frame building with beacon-like neon signs on its facade. Its prices were low and its portions were large. That combination alone kept it full most of the time. The main limitation on its business was parking, but its regulars were happy to park in the bays along Lakeshore Drive and hoof it a block or two. Especially during the summer, this added an after-dinner interlude on the seawall, where you could watch the sun go down.
My recollection of Bart’s food is that it was pretty good, but that it wasn’t so good that anyone accused it of having the best in town of anything. People went there mostly for the view and the family-style dining.
The place burned to the ground in 1976. A few years later, a new Bart’s with new owners and a new menu went up on the site. The setting was even more atmospheric: a second-floor dining room and a balcony gave even better views of Lake Pontchartrain than the old place. (Of course, customers of the old Bart’s claimed to like it better.) Tapping into a long-established tradition of romance in nearby waterside bars like the Port Hole and the Hong Kong, the lounge at the new Bart’s was almost as large as the dining room. On most nights a lively young singles scene swung deep into the night.
The new Bart’s menu was more ambitious than that of the old one. Indeed, it seemed gourmet compared with the simple food at the West End Park restaurants. They were grilling fish here before any other lakeshore restaurant, for example. Dishes like shrimp Clemenceau and seafood with hollandaise tried to head upscale. But for most customers, the thing was a fried seafood platters.
The second Bart’s closed in 1994. The new place was torn down and replaced in the early 2000s by Joe’s Crab Shack, a chain out of Houston.