So here we are channeling the spirits of Fats Domino and Marie Laveau.
The trip down was easy enough. Christopher dropped us off at the terminal. We got there early so we could have breakfast, but the McDonald’s mentality rules at Newark. One chain restaurant—Friday’s or Ruby Tuesday, or some other day of the week—refused to serve breakfast after 11, and another concession selling breakfast sandwiches couldn’t serve anything without American cheese.
We wound up having a Dixie-fried food festival at a seafood joint up the hall: Fried shrimp, fried squid, fried clams, hush puppies, and sweet potato bites (also fried). Having been frequently fried myself, I could identify.
Reasonably tasty, especially for airport food, but the kind of intake that could earn me concerned phone calls from my GP and the cardiologist.
It was not quite 12, but it wasn’t Sunday, so they could serve beer. I had Sam Adams or something else pretty much mainstream.
The flights were OK. The planes were jammed, as they always are, and there was a little bit of turbulence, but that was God’s doing, not the airlines’.
I bought the tickets through Expedia, and got one of those strange itineraries. You almost never get to fly straight through. This time we actually flew from Newark to Dallas, to connect with a plane that would carry us back eastward to New Orleans. That was on American Airlines. The trip home is on Delta, and that will go more sensibly through Atlanta. But then, maybe it’s company policy that all Delta planes have to stop at Atlanta.
Nancy and I flew Delta to Orlando when we took the kids to Disney World years ago. They were non-stop flights, but if I remember right, we were all supposed to wave as we flew over Georgia.
At Dallas, everything was cowboy. So we stopped in at the Cowtown Saloon or something, where I had to check my sixgun at the door. We split a cowboy cobb salad and I had a cowboy ale.
We got to the hotel around 8 and I had no idea what to expect. Would the city be buttoned up on Christmas night? Would there be anything to do?
Oh, he of little faith. There was stuff open everywhere, even one of the two Voodoo liquor stores in the neighborhood.
We stood in line to register. We haven’t been to the lobby at any hour without seeing a line of people waiting to register. I don’t know whether the place is just that popular or just that inefficient.
We learned that you have to ask to get your towels changed and the bed made. According to one maid, they only clean up when you check out. We’re here for nine days. I’m single, and I change the towels and sheets more often than that when I’m home.
So be warned. If you stay at the Crowne Plaza in the French Quarter, they cut corners.
We walked up and down Royal Street, which is next to the hotel. We found a bar called Ole Saint that was open. We asked about the oyster po’boy but found that the oysters on that one were fried. We had already met our recommended daily allowance for fried food at Newark, so we had gumbo and a surprisingly good hamburger. I had a couple of local brews, an Abita amber ale that was OK but a little thin, and a much better IPA made in Baton Rouge. It was sharp and hoppy. I forget the brewery’s name, but I can go back and get more.
We went into a few shops on the street, including one that bills itself as a praline shop and hot sauce bar. They also sell a variety of coffees, including one called Wake the Fuck Up.
We were out of the hotel around 10 or so on Boxing Day, and headed for Cafe du Monde. Good coffee and better beignets, we’ve been told.
We took Royal (so we could see it in daylight) to St. Louis Cathedral. There was a service in progress, so we didn’t stay there. We walked over to Cafe du Monde. The place was mobbed.
The takeout line stretched around the place. The line for tables was a block long. They stay open around the clock. Maybe if we can go back for an early breakfast—say, 3 a.m.—the wait will be shorter.
So we crossed the street to Jackson Square and found a place called Stanley on the corner of Ann Street. We had a 15-minute wait for a table, so we stood outside and watched a magician do tricks with coins and rings. He was all by himself when we went outside but by the time our table was called—literally by a shout out the door—the illusionist had a growing audience.
Joanna had eggs and toast with Creole home fries. They were made with red potatoes with the skin on.
I had a mimosa and a plate that combined eggs Benedict with fried oysters. Splashed with a bit of Louisiana hot sauce, it was delicious.
We walked a while on Decatur Street. One of the places we visited was a clothing store with strange stuff, including feathered vests and long black vampire gowns. Remember, this is Anne Rice country.
Bourbon Street was the next destination.
This is the honky tonk heart of the city. There isn’t one, but two clubs identified with Larry Flint’s Hustler magazine. There is one place that bills itself not only as topless but also as specifically bottomless. That term has always seemed unfortunate to me. OK in a bar: a drink that never empties. But a strip club? I know it means no pants on, but the only picture I can get in my head is some poor soul with no gluteals.
All along Bourbon Street, there are street musciians, bars, guys holding signs for “huge ass beers,” and little convenience counters that sell drinks to go. Drinks like a 32-ounce daiquiri for $13.
We came to the Jean Lafitte Absinthe House, which claims to date from 1807. Celebrities including Jean Lafitte himself, Andrew Jackson, Mark Twain, and William Howard Taft stopped here. So who am I to pass it by?
We went in and had an absinthe cocktail made with Pernod, mainly because that’s the only brand name I recognized. The bartender balanced a sugar cube on a slotted spoon resting on a rocks glass. She poured the liquor in and lit the sugar with a match. Then she dripped water from a pitcher. Oddly enough, the sugar kept burning.
I had done something like this at home. Kate and Brian bought me the whole setup—absinthe, spoon, glass, and sugar cubes. But I didn’t know about lighting the sugar.
When the absinthe had changed from its pure pee-yellow transparency to a foggy, almost white, it was ready to drink. It tastes like strong anisette.
We stopped in at a shop named for Marie Laveau, the voodoo priestess. It was a shop full of altars and “no’s”: Signs telling you no touching, no photos.
Several blocks farther we came to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Turns out, I had mistaken the absinthe house for this place, which I had read about. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop describes itself as the oldest bar in the United States. It dates to 1772. I think Fraunces tavern in New York may be a few years older.
Legend has it that Lafitte and his gang used the backsmith shop as a cover to fence stolen goods. The signature drink of this Lafitte’s is the hurricane, which is based on rum with 151 proof rum on top of that. The absinthe was still rolling around in my head, so I ordered (forgive me, Pirate Lafitte) Campari and soda, which is one of the drinks I take when I’m on the wagon. (The other, by the way, is dry vermouth in club soda. I can sober up on that.)
We walked up St. Philip St. toward St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, to see Marie Laveau’s tomb. We stood on a corner to look at the map. Kind of to one side and facing a fence so as not to be too obviously lost. A disembodied voice calls out “Where do you want to go?”
This is too funny, so I figure, hey, maybe it’s true that absinthe makes you crazy. But no, there is a real guy, who’s standing in the dark inside a garage across the street, and he is, indeed, talking to Joanna and me.
So we tell him we want to go to the cemetery. He directs us to a white wall that we can just make out, maybe a couple of hundred yards down the road on the other side of Basin Street.
We got there a few minutes late. The gate closes at three. It’s close enough, though, that we’ll go there again.
We took Bourbon Street back to the hotel. It was after three now, and along with the guys holding signs and menus in front of bars, there was more, and louder, music. There were girls standing in front of the strip clubs in their underwear.
We stopped at Remoulade Oyster House on Bourbon Street, mainly to use the rest room. We shared an oyster sampler, and I had a half dozen on the half shell besides. They didn’t have an IPA, which is what I prefer with raw oysters, so I settled for an Abita amber.
These may have been the tastiest oysters I’ve ever had. We were told they are Louisiana Gulf oysters and they are in season now. So if you like oysters, visit New Orleans at Christmas.
We changed into evening clothes to go to Antoine’s.
But this story runs too long already. A little about that next time.
The photo of the day is “Harry and the Pirates.”
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
He helped us and we did him wrong!
Here’s to honoring Jean LaFitte!!!
Glad you and Joanna are having a great time in New Orleans.
Is the opera company still functioning? It used to be excellent.
There's a bar on Bourbon Street called the Old Opera House. They were playing rap the other day.