Trip Start Jul 30, 2009
1Trip End Aug 02, 2009
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The last time either one of us was in New Orleans it was Mardi Gras and we were slumbering through the French Quarter exchanging favors for beads, though not with each other. That was pre-Challi, pre-Katrina, and pre- a lot of other things that have happened over the last 12 to 15 years. This time, we went to the Big Easy to celebrate Chad's 35th birthday and to attend the 2009 Satchmo Summer Fest, a series of free concerts to celebrate and honor the life, music, and birthday of Louis Armstrong.
We got into New Orleans early Friday evening after that day’s events had ended, but in New Orleans, the party and music never seem to end. We checked into the Hotel Monteleone, had a drink at the famous Carousel Bar overlooking Royal Street where many famous writers have imbibed, and then we headed for Bourbon Street
Another walk toward the river, past a cigar warehouse and factory where all their cigars were hand-rolled by the three guys sitting in front, and past this tiny airy bar on a pedestrian-only intersection under the nighttime shadows of the St. Louis Cathedral – America’s oldest – where we had an absinthe served French proper and the bartender knew New Orleans’ world-famous absinthe-maker, Ted Breaux. But at least you can see why we eventually got tired after dinner.
The next morning, after beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde (for Chad), we headed through the French Market and all it’s flea market stalls on the way to the old U.S. Mint and our first sounds of the festival. It was loud and brassy and pure New Orleans, and we enjoyed some traditional grub, Abita Beers, and margaritas to go with it. After a few hours at a café with yet another 4+ piece band due to a brief rainstorm, we slowly meandered back to the hotel past a world-famous antique shop where they were selling things like a $1.25 million dollar clock, books with Louis XV battle plans for the Seven Years War, and a very expensive chair that Alli sat in before Chad reprimanded her (my feet hurt!)
One truly great aspect of NOLA is that it always has a reason to celebrate. If they don’t, they make one up. The French Quarter even has an incorporated business group to help put these things together, and many are free. So when we learned about another festival going on, we were happy to join Saturday Night New Orleanians at something called the White Linen Nights – a massive block party on Julia Street complete with live bands on multiple stages, street food, and countless art galleries that line the street all having open houses. When you think of New Orleans you think music and food, but this town has an enormous art presence, as well. After some more char-grilled oysters at their birthplace – Dragos – the walk back to the hotel did us in after failing to find another establishment serving authentic appetizers within close proximity.
On Sunday morning, we woke up and settled on a little breakfast place down the street from our hotel called Café Beignet, where Chad ate beignets and Alli had eggs while we read the paper. The sports section wouldn’t shut up about LSU football. Then, we hopped on the St. Charles Ave streetcar for a ride through the Garden District and past some of the most amazing, old-time houses we had ever seen along with some of the city’s universities
Some of the great bands included ragtime orchestras, a guy the locals say can play like Louis named Kermit Ruffins, and a Japanese band led by Yoshio Toyama who probably turned out to be our favorite because he had amazing chops and actually sounded like Louis when he sang – West End Blues, Aint Misbehavin, Hello Dolly, What a Wonderful World, When the Saints Go Marching In, and finally a 30 minute trumpet tribute with horn players from all the days’ bands to end the show.
We ended the day at Mr. B’s Bistro – a famous Brennan family restaurant of NOLA – where the meal consisted of a Sazerac, a bottle of pinot noir rosé, three different kinds of soups including two different gumbos, scallops, amberjack, rabbit (ordered by Alli and most likely the reason for her upset stomach) (it came on the sampler plate!), their famous BBQ shrimp (not the grilled with KC Masterpiece kind) that had a sauce truly good enough to drink, an espresso, sorbet, and Banana Foster which was invented by the Brennans
Other thoughts about New Orleans:
- It’s really amazing how far below the water line this city really is. When taking the riverfront streetcar, you can look to your right and see the Mississippi River and then look back to the left over the tops of the levees that slide into place and see the first floors of the buildings are actually below you. In some cases, even the second floors are, too. The city is still recovering from Katrina and you can still feel the presence that event has left. Maybe they should hire the Dutch to build some canals here.
- The English pronunciations of French street names are funny and hard to get used to for someone who speaks French.
- People are interesting and like reasons to celebrate. We met: 1) a real estate broker who left his open house wide open to go buy some popcorn shrimp. We startled him walking OUT of his building because we were curious about NOLA real estate. Thirty minutes later, we had a list of places to go and a bunch of interesting stories in our heads. 2) A older, gay tour guide who was giving a mixed drink walking tour that included the absinthe bar next to the cathedral. He told us that when a bachelor party takes the walking tour, he takes them to the oldest gay bar in the country. He also kept touching Chad’s shoulder. 3) A Creole bartender at Dragos that had a heavy, thick Louisiana accent that couldn’t get over the fact that Chad was taking pictures of the oysters
- New Orleans is home to most of America’s truest art forms in terms of food and music. Jazz just might be the truest of them all, and even in the food, you can feel and taste the African and multicultural influences that make this city so special.
-There’s always a reason to go back including: more festivals, the absinthe museum, K-Pauls (a restaurant that doesn’t own a microwave or even a freezer), Sazeracs at the Sazerac bar, a tour of the 9th Ward, and to track down the statue of Ignatius Reilly.