OCEAN SPRINGS -- People enjoying a cocktail or late-night nosh at The Juke Joint on Government Street for the first time may think it a little strange to see a raccoon hanging out on the bar's back porch, but regulars and employees alike say the furry creatures are friends, not foes.
"They are sort of part of our family here," said Guido Leone, manager of The Juke Joint.
Leone said the animals live in the woods just beyond the fence line of the bar. He thinks they set up camp there because there is a stream near the west side of the property that provides them with water. When the sun starts to set, the raccoons -- about four of five of them -- start to make their way to the Juke Joint's back patio.
"It's like they know when we open," he said. "Throughout the evening, you'll see them come out and 'party' with patrons."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
The creatures stay outside -- they do not venture into the bar and are kept away from the separate kitchen where food is prepared. But customers and patrons can often be found relaxing on the front porch or benches and tables out back, giving raccoons a taste of their order.
"They like to be hand fed," Leone said. "They'll come right up to you and take stuff out of your hands. They love cherries."
Because the animals are not welcome indoors, many guests have brought raccoony trinkets to decorate the interior of the bar. Leone said customers have brought in stuffed animals and raccoon cutouts.
Because their furry neighbors are so popular, Leone and staff changed the bar's mascot from a monkey to a raccoon. It was designed by bartender Brittney Coblentz.
The new branding can be seen on their menus and on their large chalkboard wall, which lists the bar's calendar of events.
Leone said the raccoons have never caused trouble. But one that had sneaked into the attic did make a surprise appearance, he said. Spencer Landry, who rents an apartment above The Juke Joint and works at the bar, said the adventurous raccoon fell into his bedroom, and it took quite a while to capture and release him back into the wild. The raccoons' access to the attic was fixed immediately.
"I've never witnessed (a raccoon) bite or aggressively go after a customer," he said. "It's just everyday life here."