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How I Run the Only Non-Christmas Christmas Bar in America

Owning a dive bar is not for everybody. Some people in New Orleans would probably love to get rid of Snake and Jakes Christmas Club Lounge, but I keep it going because there’s nothing else like it.

Owning a dive bar is not for everybody.

You really have to have a certain sense of humor about life to put up with some of the stuff that goes on in here. I keep Snake and Jakes Christmas Club Lounge going not only for business purposes, but just because it's such an unusual bar. Some people would probably love to get rid of it—people in the neighborhood—but there's just nothing else like it.

It originally started out, not as a lark, exactly, but I would drunkenly talk with a buddy of mine when we were out and say, "Oh, we should open up a late-night dive!" Years later, the building [Snake and Jake's] was for sale, so I bought it, but my buddy had a dream that he was shot out back of the bar so he backed out of going in on it with me. Eventually, I got my first partner, and he and I didn't know anything. I was a musician and carpenter around town, and we each put up a couple of grand. It kind of caught on. I bought him out after a while, and now I'm the sole owner. It's doing better than ever now and has achieved legendary dive bar status.

Early on, I was in the bar one day, and one of the regulars who grew up in the neighborhood was there with me, and he said, "Look, there goes Sam Christmas!" I said, "Who?" He said, "That's the guy who used to have this bar when it was The Christmas Lounge."

Because we like it dark in here, we started putting Christmas lights up. Eventually, a big plastic Santa showed up. My bar manager Elaine calls it "Santanista."

That's where the name originally came from.

Other than the guy's last name being Christmas, it wasn't really a Christmas-themed bar. When we got it, after it was The Christmas Lounge, it was the S&J Lounge, and both signs were still up outside. We weren't coming up with any good names, and combining it into "Snake and Jake's Christmas Club Lounge" rolled off the tongue, so we went with it. I guess because of that name—and because we like it dark in here with some red lighting—we started putting Christmas lights up. Eventually, a big plastic Santa showed up.

My bar manager Elaine calls it "Santanista."

We don't play it up too much, but we are open on Christmas. We're not closed any day of the year, unless the city of New Orleans tells me I have to do it.

People have said, "Dave, why don't you franchise Snake and Jake's?"And I always tell them, "No other place in the world would let it exist." It's true. Maybe Las Vegas or somewhere down in Mexico, but I'm not sure who else would put up with a Snake and Jake's. That's why it's so worth keeping going.

Every night you come in here, there's something going on. My friend Barbecue Dave told a story—I wasn't there—but the garbage men would come by and get the trash, and in turn we'd throw them a couple of drinks later on or something. Barbecue Dave had been cooking out front all night and finally packed it up and came in at about 6:30 or 7 AM in the morning, and a guy he knew had taken a bunch of plastic garbage bags and made a bean bag bed out of them. The guy had passed out, so when the garbage men came by he was still there. They came inside and yelled, "Hey, somebody's throwing out a perfectly good white dude!" They went out and woke the guy up and told him he'd been saved from being thrown in a garbage truck.

That could be seen as a Christmas miracle to some, but it's just another day at Snake N' Jakes Christmas Club Lounge.

This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in December 2014.

As told to Sarah Baird