First Look: Zippy’s reveals its expansion with double the bar space, trendy decor and refreshed menu

It’s been with equal parts excitement and fear that Perkins Road Overpass District passersby have regarded the expansion unfolding for the last several months at beloved local institution Zippy’s.

“When I told people that I was going to change Zippy’s, I almost started to get hate mail,” says founder and owner Neal Hendrick. “But then I’d break out the plans and win over almost every single one.”

Zippy’s owner Neal Hendrick

Nearly complete, Zippy’s 2.0, as Hendrick calls it, hopes to win over doubters with its airy, modern floor plan, expanded seating and new taco menu. The quick-service Tex-Mex bar and restaurant is now double the size, with hardwood floors, stained beadboard wainscoting and wood ceiling panels. Twenty-two large awning windows span the front and sides of the building, letting in light and fresh air and retaining the restaurant’s previous porch vibes. The new space seats about 200, and it features more than 30 TVs, including large screens that can be lowered for big sporting events.

The project represents a $1.7 million investment that Hendrick says was necessary to ensure Zippy’s has staying power.

“It was time to do it. We’ve been here 23 years, and we love the area, but we need to remain relevant and able to provide the kind of experience we want to,” he says.

Hendrick says he wanted a design that allowed both small and large groups to find comfortable, flexible seating. He also drew inspiration from two familiar concepts.

“I wanted it to look like an Irish pub and your favorite beach bar got together and had a baby,” Hendrick says. (One that also serves Tex-Mex.)

Some may lament the absence of Zippy’s well-earned dive bar patina, but probably not for long. The renovations also include double the bar space and improved restrooms with graphic wallpaper and decorative tiles.

“People say they don’t want change,” Hendrick says. “But when you start offering them better bathrooms and more bars, they say ‘that sounds pretty good.’”

Zippy’s legions of regulars will notice that ordering remains the same. Hit the line on the right side of the restaurant and select made-to-order tacos, enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, quesadillas and other straightforward Tex-Mex fare. While DIY ordering is commonplace today, Zippy’s was an early adapter when it opened in 2001, allowing customers to style their selections on the spot.

Since a permanent structure has replaced the patio, you can no longer bring dogs inside. But kids can still draw on a new chalk wall that now also includes a chalk floor. Zippy’s familiar buffalo mount and other kitschy wall hangings haven’t been re-installed yet, but they will soon, Hendrick says. And its well-known marquis with quippy messaging also won’t change.

The temporary porch structure on the right side of the property will be removed in the next couple of weeks and restored to parking, Hendrick adds.

New menu items include seven curated specialty tacos. The Spice Spice Baby, for example, is stuffed with Buffalo chicken, queso, lettuce, pickled jalapenos, house-made guac sauce and optional mango habanero salsa. The Love Shaq U features steak with bell peppers, onions, guac sauce and salsa. Zippy’s makes its own sauces, fries its own chips and pickles its own jalapeños, Hendrick says.

Look for a new brunch menu in the coming months, he adds, served on Saturdays and Sundays.

Hendrick earned a culinary arts degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and formerly worked at Emeril’s, Mike Anderson’s and TJ Ribs before opening Zippy’s shortly after 9/11 in 2001. The spot is a reference to his fraternity nickname while at LSU.

Some haters may grouse about the new look, but it hasn’t shown in sales. Taco Tuesday specials this week attracted overflow crowds with patrons parking up and down Perkins Road. And once again during this year’s Wearin’ of the Green St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Zippy’s was ground zero for scores of revelers who beeline there before, during and after the parade.

“I’ve just been incredibly grateful to people for hanging in there with us,” Hendrick says. “We have great customers.”

Zippy’s is located at 3155 Perkins Road. For more information, zippysburritos.com.