-Big Joe Williams
There is a house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy, and God I know I’m one
We pulled out of Tallahassee on a Tuesday, leaving Florida and our sobriety in the rear view mirror.
Let’s get something clear straight away – New Orleans isn’t for everyone. This is not Orlando with jazz music and proper chefs. It is, frankly, a steaming cesspool of humanity, corruption and vice. Think 42nd Street in New York before Giuliani replaced the pawn shops and porn theatres with Olive Gardens and Lego stores; but with more of a port-a-potty on a hot summer day fragrance. According to our tour guide “DJ” (and please don’t fact check this) there is a new species of cockroach found only in Bourbon Street sewers that were birthed out of the frothy gumbo of fry grease, bodily fluids, and booze that is washed nightly into its gutters. The roaches evolved, like something in a straight-to-streaming science fiction film.
Urban legend? Are there giant roaches with human-level intelligence and bad tempers in the sewers of New Orleans? I am just asking questions.
Nevertheless (and this is important): New Orleans is a ton of fun. Full stop.
Think Bacchanalia. Wine, whisky and song. Oysters. Bourbon. Crawfish. Absinthe. Catfish. Shrimp & Grits. Biscuits & Gravy. Chicken & Waffles. Hurricanes. Sazerac. Boudin. Muffuletta. Whisky Sours. Daquiris. Trumpets. Tubas. Tambourines. All day and all night.
So, who is New Orleans for?
Eaters: They take their cuisine almost as seriously as their mixology. Though, like anywhere with lots of tourists, you do have to ferret out the wheat from the chaff. Obviously, Coops Place is the only place to get Jambalaya in the Quarter. And the beignets at Café du Monde are the same ones you get anywhere in the city, just with louder jazz bands (though on this second point, why quibble because is there even such a thing as a bad beignet?).
Drinkers: And I put myself in this category. The cocktail was invented in New Orleans, and they haven’t rested since. We visited scores of taverns, bars, pubs, and houses of ill repute, several of them haunted. Notable drinks we discovered:
Cool Breeze: sampled at The Voodoo Lounge (mango chile rum, cranberry juice, pineapple juice)
Frozen Bananas Froster: sampled at The Palace Café (white rum, banana, salted caramel ice cream, cinnamon)
Voodoo Daquiri a.k.a. The Purple Drank: sampled at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (self-explanatory)
For more on NOLA cocktails, check out brother blog Buzzed Boomer.
History Buffs: Lots of history here, and plenty of it tragic. Founded in 1718 by French colonists, in one of geography’s most ill-advised locations given that it is a hurricane bullseye on very low ground (6 feet below sea level on average), New Orleans has survived and occasionally thrived through fires, floods, slavery, invasion, wars, hopelessly corrupt politicians, and a whole lot of cross-cultural blending (English, Spanish, French, American, Creole, Choctow, Irish, German, to name a very few). We did a stellar walking tour/pub crawl with the aforementioned DJ who was a wealth of fascinating facts, tidbits, and credible lies about the city, past and present.
The Merely Curious: New Orleans is an 24-365 carnival midway freak show. Not all of it is necessarily comfortable (any more than the bearded lady was comfortable), but much of it is also absolutely charming, such as this Tuba player who was simply walking through the French Quarter on his way to a gig and stopped to entertain a young girl and her mother when the girl asked what his tuba sounded like.
We met up with our son Alex and his cousin Sean to celebrate their 30th birthdays. Lots of other family came down to celebrate.
Having a few in the group without meaningful Louisiana swamp experience, we had to go full tourist-mode and sign up for the Swamp Tour. A bus picked us up at the hotel. Drove us out of the city, through the burbs and out to the swamplands. We waited around for a bit and then our guide, “Bubba” (because all the Airboat swamp pilots are thus known) loaded us into the “Swamp Rat.” He made a few obligatory wisecracks about gators eating tourists and off we went. He teased us by motoring slowly out into the channel, but then he lit up the big V8 candle and the giant fan behind us rocketed us across the swamp; skimming over grasses and swamp things at heart racing speed.
We saw several smaller gators as we cruised along. Then he turned us into a narrow passage where we stopped. This was Bubba’s special gator hole and thanks to the marshmallows he kept handy, we soon had two massive 12-footers right alongside the boat, plus a 3-footer that he would pick up and hold. Don’t try that at home.
Alligators are pre-historic. Been here 245 million years. Think about that for a second. Our earth tenure is around 7 million by way of comparison. Gators are apex predators that eat just about everything in the swamp, but also enjoy a tasty marshmallow snack, because well, who doesn’t? Are marshmallows healthy for an alligator’s digestive track? Should we check with a wildlife biologist? Bubba don’t care. Bubba also keeps a cute little baby gator on board in a cooler for his guests to hold.
Five days went too fast, but our livers were begging for mercy. It was time to roll on upstream into the Mississippi Delta River Blues.
Until next time Stay Classy, New Orleans