Perhaps calling Voodoo Queen a dive bar is unfair. The drinks are carefully crafted and well thought out, and the food I've tried so far has been fantastic. The bartenders are cordial and helpful.The jukebox still works. Yet there's something very dive-y about the newly opened Voodoo Queen that makes me love it even more.
The bar occupies a space that was once Joe's Bar and Grill/Milby Washateria on a corner lot in a neighborhood that is neither overly sketchy nor the type of place I'd walk around alone at night without my pepper spray grasped firmly in my hand. A mural of the Voodoo Queen herself now covers one long outside wall, beckoning guests with the promise of booze and perhaps a little mystery.
There's no patio outside, save for a small smoking deck. On my first visit to Voodoo Queen, a young, disheveled guy stepped out from a cloud of smoke and stopped me at the door to ask for my ID. While he was examining it, his slightly less disheveled buddy called over to him.
"Hey, man, what are you doing, checking IDs?" the less disheveled fellow asked.
"Don't worry about it, dude," said the guy holding my ID.
"Do you even work here?" I asked him, snatching back my license.
Then he opened the door and ushered me in.
It's pretty dark inside Voodoo Queen, but if all the lights were on, you wouldn't be able to see the glowing mermaid garnishes hanging lustily from your drinks, all illuminated by rows of black lights hanging from the ceiling. There's enough light at the pool table and dart boards to play the games without the risk of injury, but the bar area is all bright blue menus and neon drink umbrellas.
The menu is divided into three sections: "Voodoo Queen Holy Water," "Boat Drinks" and "151 Daiquiris and Supreme Coladas." The Holy Water selections include mixed drinks and items such as "The Broke Hipster," which is either a Schlitz tall boy and a shot of whiskey or a Tecate tall boy and a shot of tequila. The boat drinks will eventually be served in tiki mugs that can be kept and refilled for discounted prices on return trips, but the tiki mugs haven't come in yet. The most popular menu items seem to be the supreme coladas, which come in tall tulip glasses with every garnish the bartender can fit (plastic mermaids, pineapple slices, lime wedges, maraschino cherries, fleur-de-lis skewers...the list goes on).
At $10 a pop, those supreme coladas will make you feel good in a hurry. They're blended with fresh fruit and a more than generous serving of Bacardi 151, which packs quite the punch. So far, my favorites are the Penus Colada, a blend of pineapple juice, coconut cream, light rum, 151 and fireball whiskey (because we can, that's why!), and the East Side Witch Doctor, composed of mango, pineapple juice, dark rum, light rum and chamoy. Surprisingly, or at least to me, Voodoo Queen also makes a badass (read: strong as hell) frozen margarita.
The food ain't too shabby, either. I've tried the Voodoo Queen iteration of chicken and waffles, and the sweet, slightly spicy, raisin-infused maple syrup it's served with nearly blew my mind. The fried chicken is coated in a crispy corn-flake batter for an extra dose of nostalgia (remember when corn flakes were cereal, not an ingredient?).
The best and worst thing that Voodoo Queen has going for it seems to be the customers. The crowd is as eclectic as they come, with local industry folks, semi-homeless drunks, curious drinkers, tatted-up hipsters and a few ladies who kind of looked like my mom. I say it's the best thing about Voodoo queen because the people who drink there are so unique and interesting. But they also seem to be a little rough on the place.
In the women's restroom, there's a neon sign on the ceiling that flashes "GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS" and bathes the room in bright red light. Or at least, that's how it looked when the place first opened. A few weeks after opening, the sign now reads "GIRLS GIRLS." It seems a rowdy customer broke one-third of the swanky sign. The handles are also missing from the sink in the women's restroom, and the paper towel dispenser is no longer functional. Voodoo Queen lives a tough life.
Somehow, the broken sinks, sketchy crowd and mismatched furniture all add to the allure of the place for me. It's a spot to see and be seen, but it's also quite easy to blend into the crowd, hunched over a mai tai fishbowl made for four, planning your next selections on the free jukebox.
In keeping with the alternative, devil-may-care attitude of Voodoo Queen, the owner, Brandon Young, caused a bit of a stir with what he posted on the bar's Facebook page shortly after it opened: "We will be open tonight at 10 p.m., serving everything Anvil and Pastry War do not."
Uncalled for? Perhaps. Stirring the pot? A little. True? Hell yeah. And I love 'em for it.