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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Guide to Partying in New Orleans

My Guide to Partying in New Orleans
Copyright 2008, Jim Penny
Word count: 2450

Where to stay

If you’re staying at Bon Maison, this is going to be a lot easier. Mind you, I’ve never spent an evening at Bon Maison, though I have gazed longingly through the gates onto the courtyard. Most often, I stay in the hotel that the people paying the bill tell me to stay in. Occasionally, I’m using hotel points. Regardless, Bon Maison is on my list for a visit one day as it’s situated right in the middle of where I need to be.

You’re more likely staying at a mainstream hotel such as a Hilton affiliate. I have no problem with the regular hotels, and they generally work quite well, especially when I’m there for work, but they’re also a bit more removed from where I want to be in the evening. Sometimes, that bit of distance is not a bad thing, especially if something out of the ordinary is going on. Other times, I find myself wondering if I’m going to make it back to the hotel after a long evening of ribaldry.

The Doubletree at the bottom of Canal Street works very well if you have the money or Hilton Honors Points. The view across the water can be a delight. The bartender there saved my life with his Healing Bloody Maries on a New Year’s Day after I ate a rare burger to be described anon.

I generally use the Hilton Garden because of the oh-so-fine breakfast they provide, always prepared to my exacting specifications, and always cooked with a smile by a handsome Cajun man who likely learned to scramble my eggs at his grandmother’s side. This hotel is about a half-mile walk from the good stuff, and I find that, when coupled with the magical breakie, well worth the hike.

More to the point, you step out the door, walk a block, turn left, and head up to cross Canal Street and enter Bourbon Street, which means your return trip is very easily negotiated, and that is important because you probably aren’t thinking clearly, much less walking straight, not that I ever walk straight, at 4 a.m.

However, the entrance to this hotel is weird and difficult to negotiate when sober, which is why you should have the cabbie stop at a drive-through hurricane kiosk on your way from the airport. The door is off the side of a parking deck, and the signage is minimal. Registration is up somewhere towards the 11th floor, and that can present a challenge at times. The rooms are even higher. Very high. High as a Georgia Pine.

There is a Hampton across the block, and it’s equally convenient to Bourbon Street. I’ve never stayed there, mostly because I don’t want to be exposed to the risk of the Hampton breakie while I’m in New Orleans where bad food is especially difficult to find.

You can also make use of the Embassy Suites way down on Julia Street, which will involve a long hike down Tchoupitoulas Street to reach Canal near the Doubletree. Having stayed at this Embassy Suites several times, I can report that it’s a perfectly reasonable place to take one’s evening comfort. In addition, it’s a straight shot over to the French Market and, of course, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, which comes up for review a little later.

I can report that on one of my visits to New Orleans, I was walking back to the Embassy Suites at about 2 a.m. when a friendly woman called me from across the street. She wanted to know if I needed some company for the night. I explained a few details to her, and she remarked that I must be undercover. I spent some time on the rest of the walk wondering how to amend my wardrobe. Apparently, a brown leather jacket over 501s and GI-issue jungle boots was broadcasting the wrong signal. However, I’ve never been particularly GQ material, and I let the matter drop.

There is also Le Pavillion. It’s a perfectly fine, upscale hotel, and it’s conveniently located to a smoothie shop that I cannot remember much about. I’ve stayed there twice while spending Other People’s Money, and now I receive the unending emails to prove it. The web site comes with music; click fast. One attraction here is peanut butter sandwiches in the late evening, something that I do not get. Go the New Orleans for PB&J? Not likely.

Where to eat

The Clover Grill is my favorite place for quick food, prepared under a hubcap, and served with a smile that lets you know a tip had better be forthcoming. The trick is to find the place, and many never quite get there.

You’ll most likely step onto Bourbon Street where it intersects Canal Street. Most people do. Walk down the street. During the day, you’ll want to use the sidewalk. Make mental notes of where you want to stop for a drink and some music. Be mindful that there are more places to visit than you can accommodate, and you want to weigh each in the balance carefully.

On the second block from Canal, on the right hand sidewalk as you’re walking, stop in the middle and cast your vision to the concrete. This is the spot where I encouraged a street hustler to sit down and to take a load off. You see, as I was walking along aglow with a tum full of cheeseburger, the kindly gentleman walked up, told me that he could tell me where I got my boots, and proceeded to put his arm out to grasp my opposite shoulder.

As he spoke the ruse, I dismissed him because I already knew where he was headed. I got my boots on the sidewalk of Bourbon Street. The follow-up reach brought my attention back to him, all up close and personal. As he reached for my shoulder, I took his wrist in the one hand, rotated the arm, and applied knife-hand undeniable pressure to the back of his elbow with the other hand, encouraging him to sit upon the pavement and rest a spell. He seemed content to remain in place as I walked away.

Keep walking down Bourbon Street. Maybe stop for a beer or hurricane along the way. At some point, you’ll cross into the 800 block. You are home free now, and you’ll notice this by the change in scenery. In particular, rainbow flags and shirtless men will be in abundance. Drink it all in. You are all welcome here. Sidestep the occasional wingnut ministry; they are not worth the trouble, though they can make an interesting diversion when viewed from a balcony with beer in hand.

The Clover Grill is on the 900 block, on the right side as you’re walking. Step in, say hello, and have a burger as the Deity intended: Cooked under a hubcap. Get extra fries. Get a milkshake. You can diet when you return home. Get anything on the menu. It’s all good.

Do NOT order the burger rare, no matter how much better rare burgers are. I have been there and done that. Rare commercial burgers lead to an all-too-interesting 36-hour follow-up. Remember: You’re in New Orleans. Codes are different there, and if you want it, you can generally have it if you can pay for it. Have beer for breakfast if you choose. There is no way you want to pay for a rare commercial burger. The hotdog kiosks on the street are less risky, and the dogs are excellent, I must add.

At some point, you might want a culinary change in venue. Any kitchen in New Orleans, as best I can tell, is worth your time and tum. One spot of interest is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville near the French Market. I try to stop by once a trip for a Cheese Burger in Paradise.

Do understand that you’re at risk to have a cute, if cretin, waiter here. He will not likely know what you mean when you ask for the cheeseburger the “way Jimmy likes it.” In that even, let me encourage you to lead the other diners in a rousing rendition of Cheese Burger in Paradise, complete with table dancing, and remember to leave a good tip for the mess you’ll make.

I generally eat at the bar when I visit Margaritaville. That’s because the bartenders are often cuter than the waiters, and they are always more adept with flirty chat. This means that my appetizer is, usually, one or two Incommunicados. I have one more with the Cheeseburger in Paradise, despite the song calling for a cold draft beer. For desert, I order one more Incommunicado, and then a double to go. Yeah, it makes for an interesting stroll through the French Market.

Music in the Quarter

With all my passion for Jimmy Buffett, I have never been to an evening’s show at Margaritiville. Instead, I preferred to start with the Corner Pocket, unless I’m sufficiently distracted by a group at another bar. The Corner Pocket is now far different from what it was two years ago when last I visited. The scenery has definitely improved, but I suspect the music has gone downhill. Think disco and techno-tribal.

When last I visited, the Corner Pocket was a straight bar with friendly wait staff and excellent southern rock. Now that it appears to be a twink bar, I’ll just aim for the nearest strain of “I hope Neal Young will remember…” Besides, twink bars don’t start rocking until after midnight.

My favorite band in the Quarter, At Fault, appears to be no longer in existence. I might require counseling now. They have entertained me countless hours, both in person and by CD. The world is lessened in their absence.

At some point, there’s the need for something different. One inviting place is Parade upstairs from the Bourbon Pub. The trick here is to pay the five bucks and go upstairs to sit on the woofers while the twinks dance under definite chemical influence. The energy they produce is not natural in the human species.

You might want some earplugs before you go in. I find the foam plugs work well, and it’s not like you’re going to miss much in terms of sound. How the nails stay in the walls of the 200-year-old building, I have yet to understand. If it is of interest to you, the couches with the velvet curtains have been replaced with tables and chairs, representing a definite source of depression for me.

Finally, it’s time for a settee. That’s why we have Jean Lafitte in Exile. You can stop by the café if you’re hungry, though I never have, what with being smitten with the Clover Grill across the street. Instead, I step into the bar, smile at the cute bartenders who always smile back, find the stairs up, which is not a minor feat, and go to the second floor. At the top, I grab a drink from the second cute bartender, and noodle along to the balcony, where I set up camp for an evening of people watching.

While you’re at Jean Lafitte in Exile, show some respect: You’re drinking with Papa, Papa being the shade of Ernest Hemingway. Prepare to express yourself in short, pithy, declarative sentences that drill to the core of human existence. Save the best ones for the occasional street minister attempting to save your soul below on the street. Don’t throw the cup, no matter how much you want. As your drink grows short, revisit the bar, and tip my favorite bartender well. Remember the bathroom off to the side. Don’t make a mess as I use that one often. You can leave the seat down.

Jean Lafitte is likely the best bar in the known universe. Casual. Unassuming. Accepting. Judgment free. All forms of human life pass through the doors and along the street below. You are advised to follow suit and make no trouble here. There are bears about. I also need to mention that at 8 a.m., they serve the medicinal Bloody Mary, which you’ll likely need before your visit ends.

Drinking in New Orleans

Alcohol is available 24/7 in New Orleans. Abuse the convenience, and you’ll rue a day or three. Don’t be like the young man I encountered at 4 a.m. in a doorway by Bourbon Street. He was a veritable fire hydrant of puke. I crossed the street to grant him some privacy and to save my boots.

Remember that the average human can process about one ounce of alcohol per hour. Have two drinks in the first hour, and one drink per hour thereafter to manage your buzz. Eat something occasionally! Limit the amount of sugar you snarf. Sugar is a stronger poison than alcohol in humans, and your liver will focus on the sugars first, leaving the alcohol to ride through your blood stream and oxidize, at some point forming carboxylic acid, which will seriously perturb your blood ph, leaving you with a hangover that will last for days. Trust me: I once taught organic chemistry.

Also, remember that New Orleans has both drive-through hurricane kiosks AND open container laws. It’s not an open container until you remove the lid or you put a straw in it. However, I wouldn’t pretend to drive in New Orleans. I did that once. It’s better to park at the airport, and then take a cab to the hotel.

I have yet to meet the municipality that would not benefit from following a model such as we see in New Orleans.

Halloween and New Year’s Eve in New Orleans

Mardi Gras is over-rated. You’ll be knee deep in street crap, and yards from the nearest bartender who can hear you. Halloween is better, followed by New Year’s Eve. Go for it. The crowd is smaller, and equally boisterous. Remember you can flash above the waist for beads, male or female. Flash below the waist, and it’ll be fun, but you’ll likely be visiting the county lockup, which will be less fun because the county lockup does not come with a bar.

Men wearing kilts receive far more attention than any other gender and dress combination. Oh yeah, I know this for a fact.

Note to Da Dudes

Years ago, I promised both of you a trip to New Orleans when you turned eighteen. One of you has reached that age and more; the other is on the cusp. My promise remains, though I think you’ll enjoy the visit more at 21. Regardless, my requirement of trumpet and trombone screaming “When the Saints Come Marching in” remains in effect. It’s gonna be a moment from which I date.

Necessary links regarding partying in New Orleans

1. Bon Maison: http://www.bonmaison.com
2. Doubletree: http://doubletree1.hilton.com/en_US/dt/hotel/MSYTCDT-Doubletree-Hotel-New-Orleans-Louisiana/index.do
3. Hilton Garden: http://hiltongardeninn.hilton.com/en/gi/hotels/index.jhtml?ctyhocn=MSYORGI
4. Hampton: http://www.hamptoninn.com/en/hp/hotels/index.jhtml?ctyhocn=MSYDTHX
5. Embassy Suites: http://www.embassyneworleans.com/
6. Le Pavilion: http://www.lepavillon.com/
7. Margaritaville: http://www.margaritaville.com/
8. The Clover Grill: http://www.clovergrill.com/
9. The Bourbon Pub: http://www.bourbonpub.com/
10. Cheese Burger in Paradise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oq69l32DCKs
11. Incomunicado: http://www.margaritaville.com/index.php?page=drinkrec
12. Jean Lafitte in Exile: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60864-d146957-Reviews-Cafe_Lafitte_in_Exile-New_Orleans_Louisiana.html


Lily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lily said...

We will be there for my 21st birthday. Or maybe we should wait for his ;)
We could even CONSIDER taking Mom along!

Jim Penny said...

Mom? In New Orleans? Sitting on the balcony at Jean Lafitte in Exile? The mind BOGGLES!