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CityWalk – Pat O'Brien's

What: The original dueling pianos, plus New Orleans cuisine
Where: On the Promenade
Hours: 4:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
(407) 224-3663 or OpenTable.com

Step into Pat O’Brien’s and you’ll believe that you’ve been magically transported to the Big Easy. At least you will if you’ve ever visited the original Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans’ French Quarter, because CityWalk’s version is virtually a photographic reproduction. This is the first attempt to transplant the O’Brien’s experience and word is that when O’Brien’s owner visited CityWalk he marveled that Universal’s design wizards had captured the place “right down to the cracks in the walls.”

There are three main rooms at Pat O’Brien’s. The Piano Bar houses the famed copper-clad twin baby grand pianos that are an O’Brien’s trademark. This is strictly a bar, its brick walls and wooden beams hung with dozens of gaudy German beer steins that let you know this is a place for serious drinkers. Here a steady stream of talented pianists keeps the ivories tickled almost constantly as patrons sing along, pound on the tables, and shout requests. In fact, Pat O’Brien’s is credited with inventing the “dueling pianos” format that has been copied so often. The word seems to have gotten around that this is a great place to bring a bunch of old friends (or new acquaintances from the latest convention to blow through town) to drink and blow off some steam.

O’Brien’s draws a somewhat older crowd than Marley’s or Buffett’s. If you’re old enough to remember when popular music meant songs with lyrics you could actually understand, you’ll probably have a good time here, especially if you can carry a tune and aren’t shy about singing along.

Across from the Piano Bar is a smaller version, called the Local’s Bar, minus the pianos but with a jukebox and large-screen projection TV that always seems to be tuned to some sporting event. Out back is a delightful open-air patio dining area. Here, at night, the ambiance is highlighted by yet another O’Brien’s trademark — flaming fountains.

Upstairs is given over to private party rooms, but you can mount the stairs and find your way to a narrow balcony overlooking the Promenade. It’s a great place to sip a drink and survey the passing scene.

And speaking of drinks, Pat O’Brien’s (for those who don’t know) is the home of the Hurricane ($10), a lethal and lovely concoction of rum and lord knows what all else that has made the place famous worldwide. In fact, the original New Orleans location pulls in more money than any other bar its size in the world.

Pat O’Brien’s hasn’t skimped on the food side of the equation. Devotees of New Orleans’ spicy Creole- and French-influenced cuisine won’t be disappointed even though the presentation and service are decidedly casual. Your meal arrives in little fake skillets lined with shamrock-dotted wax paper. Plates and utensils are black plastic. But the offhand presentation belies the sophistication of the cuisine. Prices are moderate, too, with nothing on the menu over $17 and many choices under $10.

The Jambalaya is a spicy medley of shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage, and rice flecked with vegetables. The blackened Louisiana redfish is a signature New Orleans dish and done well here. Perhaps best of all is the Cancun Shrimp, with its coconut-tinged frying batter and sweet, fresh fruit salsa. It’s served over Pat O’Brien’s signature French fries, dusted with paprika and ever-so-lightly spiced with cayenne before being fried to the perfect texture, and at $10 it’s a real bargain. The Shrimp Gumbo appetizer comes in a small portion just right for the lighter appetite.

The Po’ Boy sandwich is another Big Easy signature dish. It’s a Creole take on the heroes and hoagies from up north. Pat O’Brien’s version is a heaping portion of popcorn shrimp, fried oysters, or fried crawfish served on an open-faced baguette with a rich Cajun mayonnaise on the side. Eating it as a sandwich is a bit of a challenge, but worth it as the bread, veggies, seafood, and rich Cajun sauce play off each other very nicely indeed. It’s served with those magnificent spicy French fries.

The Crawfish Nachos sounds better than it tastes. The delicate flavor of crawfish etouffé (very nice on its own) doesn’t stand up well against the tortilla chips, melted cheese, and sour cream. For dessert ($4 to $6) choose from the Strawberry Hurricane Cheesecake or Pat O’s Bread Pudding, redolent of nutmeg and cinnamon and served with a whisky sauce that packs a 100 proof wallop. There is also a kids menu, featuring simple meals for about $5.

“2 For Tuesdays” specials include half-price appetizers and 2-for-1 drinks, including Hurricanes (souvenir glass not included).

Out front, facing the Promenade, you’ll find a small gift shop offering Pat O’Brien’s souvenir glassware and other gewgaws.he Promenade, you’ll find a small gift shop offering Pat O’Brien’s souvenir glassware and other gewgaws.

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Universal Orlando 2011


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