Rusty’s Pool Tavern closes permanently

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, June 10, 2020

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LAPLACE — After 33 years of great friends, late nights and incredible memories, Rusty’s Pool Tavern of LaPlace is closing its doors permanently.

The financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was too much to overcome, according to Tori Hawkins, manager at Rusty’s Pool Tavern for the past six years. March 16 was the last night Rusty’s was open. At the time, it was impossible to gauge what the virus would mean for a small bar in a small town.

“Of course at the time we didn’t know it was the last time. We had thought we would be reopening within a month,” Hawkins said. “Now, it’s almost three months later and the light at the end of the tunnel has been snuffed out for good. When the CARES Act came out, we had hoped it would be our God send, but it was not.”

Louisiana bars were recently allowed to resume operations when the Phase Two Reopening went into effect last week. However, occupancy restrictions are still in place, and it would have taken a long time for Rusty’s to see a profit.

“In a place like Rusty’s we have always been in close contact with our customers,” Hawkins said. “We had to think about what the current restrictions would mean for us. With all of our revenue dependent on customers coming inside the establishment, running at 25 to 50 percent capacity was just not in the cards for Rusty’s.”

Despite the sad news, Hawkins and longtime Rusty’s owner Greg Miller are asking the community to hold their heads high and “keep the memories alive.”

Rusty Neely opened Rusty’s Pool Tavern on Airline Highway in LaPlace back in 1987. Neely was a Jefferson Parish firefighter and had been living in LaPlace for five years. As a pool player himself, he missed visiting the pool halls of New Orleans, and he decided to bring the fun closer to home by opening his own business.

When Neely passed away in 1992, Gregory Miller, his manager at the time, took ownership of Rusty’s Pool Tavern.

“Miller has taken care of so many people over the last 27 years; many owe him their lives,” Hawkins said. “From countless hours of advice, to teaching them how to shoot pool and (offering) financial help, Miller has never turned anyone down that truly needed a helping hand.”

The Rusty’s crowd was always diverse. Anyone, from anywhere, could enter the doors as a stranger and leave as a friend. In social media comments, members of the St. John Parish community recounted Rusty’s being the first place where they would go out with friends as young adults. Many were looking forward to returning to the bar as soon as businesses reopened.

It was a place to stop on the way home from work. A place where friends could get together to compete in a Monday night pool tournament or slam a “Crash-n-Burn” at 1 a.m. on a Tuesday.

More than anything, it felt like home. Hawkins said it was ultimately the bartenders and the management that made the Rusty’s special. She will never forget when Hurricane Isaac struck in 2012, flooding the bar like so many other businesses and homes in LaPlace.

“The manager at the time had been there close to 20 years, and she rallied up our regulars, bartenders and others of the community to come help and dry us out,” Hawkins recalled. “It was wonderful to see how many people cared about this small bar, to see everyone come together and get the job done. It was hot, but we still had some great laughs.”

Rusty’s was located at 513 E. Airline Highway in LaPlace. To share memories, visit Rusty’s Pool Tavern on Facebook.