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NEW ORLEANS, United States (AFP) - The bars of the Big Easy prided themselves on staying open come rain or shine but only one kept serving through the Hurricane Katrina crisis.

"We don't have any locks on the door," said Julie Sprinkel, a server at Johnny White's Sports Bar on the normally raucous Bourbon Street.
Pitch dark but for a few candles, the laughter could be heard along the street, famed for its alcohol-fueled debauchery, which on a normal night would have been flooded with hordes of hedonists decked out in cheap Mardi Gras beads.

The warm beer did not bother the regulars who have stayed faithful since Hurricane Katrina hit the city on Monday which was followed by flooding, looting and widespread pillaging.

Bourbon Street largely escaped the floods that hit after New Orleans levees were breached. And in the first days, a few stranded tourists also wandered in to sample the warm beer that became the drink of the day after the power went off and the refrigerators stopped working.

"Whatcha need, darling, you're all right?" the gruff bartender called out to a sweaty customer as he squeezed into her line of sight.

"Something cool, like bourbon," he answered.

Johnny White's has been an island of normalcy in a city shattered by hurricane anarchy and the stench of death.

The tiny joint sits squarely on the corner of Bourbon and Orleans where alcoholics and derelicts mix with a steady stream of yuppies and tourists who play at slumming it.

The doors are wide open.

Nearly a week after the disaster there are not many people walking by to notice. Those that do have stories to tell.

Lisa Smith, 41, is slumped on a bar stool, nursing a rum and coke -- and a huge gash on her side.

"I was floating on a couch drinking Budweiser," she told a friend who walked in as she began to tell the tale of how she escaped the floodwaters and made it back to her home away from home in the French Quarter.

Smith's story was interrupted by cheers which broke out when a man walked in with a cooler of ice.

"Don't get too excited, I'm hoarding this for myself," Sprinkel joked as she lit another cigarette and leaned on a stool behind the bar.

Sprinkel's only reason for keeping the bar open was habit. She definitely did not seem to be doing it for the money. She was only charging four dollars for mixed drinks and two dollars for beer.

"I could be making 1,000 dollars in six hours easy," she said. "It's not right. I'm not going to gouge. Everybody here is local."



It's the spirit of the French Quarter, Smith explained. "We'll stop partying in a couple of days because everyone will run out of money."
 
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