One Of America's Oldest Bars Has Swashbuckling Origins

New Orleans proudly bares its history for all to see. This is evident in the city's architecture, food, and music, which can be traced back to New Orleans' time under French and Spanish rule before the United States swooped it up with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 (via History). While New Orleans' culinary culture is most associated with creole and cajun cuisine today, it also holds a special place in the history of American bar culture. City lore states that New Orleans is home to the oldest operating bar (or at least the oldest building to house a bar) in the nation: Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop.

The legend of Lafitte's, as displayed on its website and profiled by Food & Wine Magazine, states that the building, fittingly located on Bourbon Street, was built between 1722 and 1732, making it one of the oldest buildings in the city. It is said that between 1772 and 1791, the pirate Jean Lafitte and his brother Pierre used the building as the base for their smuggling operation. Per Food & Wine, the building served as a blacksmith shop by day (hence the bar's name), but as soon as the sun went down, a plethora of stolen goods passed through its doors. Some even say that the ghost of Jean Lafitte haunts the bar to this day. It's an incredible story, but here's the thing: Almost every detail in that lore is an outright lie.

The truth about Lafitte's

While the bar's website claims that the building was constructed between 1722 and 1732, the Times-Picayune newspaper (via reports that legal documents date the building to 1772. While that is old, it is a full 50 years newer than the bar claims. The Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans offers further details stating that the building was erected as a home for Bartholomie Robert, a carpenter who lived there from 1773 to 1833. But, per Forbes, the bar didn't open until 1933, immediately following the repeal of Prohibition. As for the Lafitte brothers, the bar claims their smuggling operation ran from 1772 to 1791, which is tough to believe, considering Jean Lafitte wasn't born until 1780, according to Britannica.

So how did this bar become shrouded in falsehoods? The theory, as detailed in the Times-Picayune, is that it was once owned by Renato Beluche, an associate of the Lafittes that fought alongside him at the Battle of New Orleans. As Britannica notes, this was the final major battle in the War of 1812 and key to Lafitte's notoriety. The Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans further reveals that, in 1813, a license was issued to Pierre Lafitte for a butcher shop on Bourbon Street near the current bar. So while the legend persists, it's almost certain that Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop was never a base for smugglers. However, grabbing a drink in a 250-year-old building and listening to its folklore is still entertaining.