New Orleans, Louisiana – April 2018.
We stepped out of Louis Armstrong Airport in to a wall of humidity which almost bowled us over. We caravanned to the immensely unique, tremendously interesting, and just plain downright weird city of New Orleans, The Big Easy, on a Friday morning which would eventually lead to a happy hour the day prior to two of our friends’ weddings. I mean…they were marrying each other. So there was only one wedding.
We checked in to Hotel Royal our restored 1827 Creole townhouse, and then immediately also checked in to Brieux Carre Brewing Company in the Marigny/Bywater area for some Crispy Boiz II Men and some Mom Jeans Triple IPA. Still getting adjusted to the muggy swamp air, compared to our brisk Chicago spring-time breeze, the back patio allowed us to settle in and energize amongst the croaking bullfrogs and extremely slow-moving waitstaff of Louisiana.
Until that very point, it was unbeknownst to me that one can legally take drinks outside of bars and leave, drink-in-hand, to linger and stroll, hither and yon, rambling about about the city streets like some sort of a Las Vegas affair. I was not quite ready for this. I enjoyed the atmosphere at Brieux Carre, and I really didn’t want to funnel my Double Dry-Hopped Dad Jokes beer from my tulip glass into a plastic frat boy cup in order to exit the bar with it. I’m sure I annoyed everyone, but I insisted on finishing my beer in glassware. I’m trying to play my part in civilization, is all. On my deathbed, I’d like to be able to say I tried my best to uphold standards, playing no role in the unraveling of polite society.
The city’s French Colonial architecture incorporating columns and balcony space is really like nothing I’ve ever seen other than in films like Candyman 2 and other movies, particularly ones with the term “bayou” in the title.
We visited a Voodoo museum called Hex where we were the witness of oil paintings like La Grande Zombi Snake Dance, and collections of pin cushion dolls. A witch’s altar adorned with amulets and a grimoire; shrunken heads pressed and dehydrated by the breath of Black Philip, the devil himself, and skulls with pennies atop to cast love spells aloft, was enough to make even the most devout horror film enthusiast as myself shudder a tad inside. Magicians of centuries past and the lore of rootwork, hoodoo, conjure and Native American and African spiritualism displayed within an archive in underlying themes of Mississippi Valley Voodoo, pre-Haitian Revolution.
Faulkner House Books on Pirates Alley in the French Quarter, directly adjacent to the Cabildo and St Louis Cathedral’s rear garden is William Faulkner’s one time home-turned-bookshop. Dust shimmering in the light of the alleyway windows, a golden chandelier above cherry wood libraries holding stories of old, and the familiar and alluring smells of decomposing books. Frankly I would buy a candle, scented as such. The aromas connected me, and sent me through a portal as an apparition to haunt Faulkner as he wrote in that same house in 1925, perhaps some of the same books still residing there.
I’ve been told damnation awaits those who meander in the shadows and frolic with the dusk. We wanted to test this hypothesis so we took a stroll through St. Louis Cemetery Number 1. Eight blocks from the Mississippi River, an above ground vaulted, natural cremation cemetery, it reveals itself as a City of the Dead. Due to a high water table they can’t bury people in NOLA, alas the caskets will float to the surface of the earth. This can cause problems for both the living and dead. The deceased are all among us there, the tombs acting as ovens, baking the corpses in the noonday sun as they melt and decay to human stew.
Marie Laveau, a well-known local Voodoo priestess now lies in dark turmoil within the Glapion family crypt, in St Louis Cemetery Number 1, only to haunt the vile and cursed while they sleep under a blood moon.
Never to look back and never again shed a tear, Nicolas Cage’s future burial plot resides in the cemetery as his forthcoming gate to Andromeda. Cage paid $250,000 for the completely jarring pyramid tomb where he can ride Omnia Ab Uno to the space chariot vortex in the outer Milky Way among the great and mysterious silver dust breathers and Alpha Centuri.
Happy hour was at The Maison on Frenchmen Street, a three-level bar, restaurant and jazz club. Live jazz in the Crescent City while munching hor d’oeuvres and catching up with friends of old and meeting pals anew.
Ponytail Bob, a newfangled comrade to me, a gentle giant, and groomsmen in the forthcoming nuptial arrangement offered to smoke people up on the balcony and explain his big plans for the weekend free-for-all. I declined, but instead opted to open some crowlers of beer from Green Cheek, shipped directly from Orange County by another new acquaintance who crafts woodwork for all the tap handles on display at establishments like Bottle Logic in Anaheim.
That night the crew dispersed to various areas of the city in order to venture to and fro, explore and imbibe. The stories are true: Avenue Pub in Lower Garden District is quite astounding in terms of a prism array of beers from all over the spinning globe, sending you to up to a dizzyingly spectacular roof-top view over the material of the Louisiana Purchase. Are you ready to level off that notional insanity? Well, look…they have a cigarette vending machine.
The wedding at Chateau LaMoyne was modest and classy. Immediately after, everyone in attendance was handed a goblet of champagne and ushered directly out to Bourbon Street in order to be in a Second Line parade to celebrate our newly-wedded friends. We were squired about Canal and the Quarter by a traditional New Orleans brass band as we galivanted, twirling white handkerchiefs in high praise of mystic Saints and Voodoo tradition. Our own tiny Mardi Gras.
In stark, shocking contrast to the City of Chicago, blocking off traffic in New Orleans for a makeshift parade, not only didn’t garner arson or murderous, bullet-ridden rage from bystanders, but was actually rewarded with much applause, cheering, and waiving. No poppin’ caps, just snappin’ pics. All the people raising a glass to me and applauding would have surprised most who I’ve told the tale, since, for example, I didn’t save anyone’s life or win any type of sporting championship. No…in fact all I had really done that day, other than absolutely nothing, was dawdle and drink beer and chomp savory crawfish and luscious mounds of mac & cheese.
Dinner, drinks and dancing followed – jolly lads scat-singing in seersucker suits and sassy flappers with flasks doing the jitterbug and other jazz-inspired fashionable dance set to the echoing trumpet of ol’ Satchmo’s ghostly soul.
That night things became a shade unhinged. The wedding party and all those encompassing the warm embrace filed to Pat O’Briens, home of the signature Hurricane rum-based cocktail. In one of the most iconic night clubs in the country, among the dueling baby grand pianos, the twilight melted in to a haze of optics and blurry conversation.
Other than my confidence level rising as I obviously became more and more hilarious with the more and more beers I drank, I was not too sure of much else going on. As the back patio turned sideways on me and my own voice echoed in my head to vague terms elusive, I saw Ponytale Bob, his arms around two ladies of silent sport.
I recall standing on the sidewalk next and my then-girlfriend, now-wife who was beginning to cry because someone uttered a harsh word to a dog. These are the types of things that happen when you drink for twelve hours straight.
Ponytale Bob rescinded to the black night beyond the moon and around the corner, out of site with the two workers of all things pleasurable and exotic, the destination of this sensual journey? A mystery. It was a classic love tale as old as time. Poetry as enigmatic as anything Victor Hugo could pen, hand-in-hand-in-hand as if they were strolling through the countryside of Normandy. What he would share the following day would be a Demain dès l’aube for the crew textbook.
The next morning we most definitely found ourselves eating beignets and sipping cafe au lait. Don’t worry about that.
We also ended up at Woldenberg Park for the Tricentennial celebration of NOLA. For New Orleans’ 300th birthday they had these Tall Ships docked for the weekend. You know, the classic schooners, brigantines, and barques. Any one of those antique, traditionally rigged, pirate sailing vessels could have been One-Eyed Willy’s ship. It was my last chance. My last chance to see if there really was any rich stuff.
Later we walked down Bourbon Street in the warm rain, gutters rattling, in to Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop, the oldest structure in the entire United States which is still used as a bar. There were a lot of dudes in sneakers and we walked right the fuck back out the door. Neon green plastic hand grenades and transparent pink hurricane cups litter the street from an infinite night-before.
Since the French Quarter is Wrigleyville on WWF Monday Night Raw-level steroids and is devoted to bros and bachelorette squads performing squad goalz, adorned in matching t-shirts, we all scurried away and our final day in New Orleans was spent back in Lower Garden District.
It was there I was enchanted by the best meal I’ve ever consumed: authentic Cajun hot garlic shrimp.
My delicacy-consuming session took place at an establishment called Lula Restaurant Distillery, a quintessentially southern micro-distiller along the historic streetcar line of St. Charles Avenue. If the dazzling copper still was not quite enough to angelically coax me out of my mind-vibrating hangover, the Planter’s Punch with Lula Rum and that giant shrimp in my bowl, staring back at me in trembling fear, definitely was.
We drank espresso at the eye-catching canary yellow French Truck Coffee Roastery. I purchased some of their lightest beans to smuggle home on the plane and brew at my leisure. Whether by Areopress or Chemex, that stuff would be sure to bring Napoleon to his knees.
The Courtyard Brewery sits in a revitalized industrial strip in an old shrimp warehouse. Converted into a three-barrel production nano-brewery, and selling beer right out of a garage door, interestingly its owned and operated by a guy with a degree in Religious Studies with emphasis in Tibeto-Himalayan Buddhism, with a minor in Peace Studies.
It felt like his sanctuary of solemnity and I was ecstatic to be in the foyer lending my tithes and offerings to the haze bombs and tip jars while paying homage to the zymurgy of sacramental elixers. Beat-Lit phraseology for beer titles felt spiritually extracted directly from my personal book shelves. Beer handles with reference to Kerouac and Burroughs encapsulated me with warmth and awe, a sixtel tapped directly to my heart.
New England IPAs take front and center showcase on the beer list. Orange slicing through the dense air, those juice bombs were a perfect contrast to the humid climate and bright solar sky.
The taproom soundtrack was backed by a turntable and roughly two-hundred vinyl records. Amongst the cluttered mosaic of breweriana, hodge-podge of ancient brick build-out, weeds and winding flower trellises, I spotted some hometown sticker swag stuck to the fridge. Places like Rock Island Public House from Blue Island, and Begyle Brewing from Ravenswood. It’s remarkable that such tiny places from such far-off lands are all recognized and represented within the craft beer community – one-thousand miles away.
I was a fan of the vibrant salmon and seafoam colors all around me. A turquois shrimp house among the plank board paths to pineapple décor and tropical beers. The bamboo shoot and palm tree borders with Christmas tree lights strewn about, as well as the mismatched plastic chairs and giant cable spool table-tops, all lent themselves to a Fat Albert and the Junk Yard Gang-feel when lounging in the patio area. There is no bar, at least that I noticed, but just the outdoor situation of souls gathering in splendid kinship sipping beers yellow and opaque, citrus abounding in high resolution.
Sarah and I walked down to Magazine Pizza to pick up a Hangover Pie with honey BBQ sauce. We returned to Courtyard Brewery, pacing the corner and seeing what was looking like Fred Sanford’s back lawn, to find five of our friends among the debris, circled around one of the upturned, wooden cylindrical utility garbage-tables.
Ponytale Bob was there sipping something bright and cheery, offset with a melancholic demeanor. Depleted and fatigued, something was askew. He began to regale us with the previous night’s sexual, drug-fueled exploits regarding the two women he so gracefully marched off with in to the heat of NOLA passion.
With eyes-wide, I started in on our pizza to his initial memory. It kicked off with Ponytale Bob getting in to a car with the two women and during the drive, the duo began to perform innocent love pats to his pockets as he lounged about in a daze. See now, Ponytale Bob is not a slow-witted man. Even in a self-induced stupor he could tell something was amidst. Love pats are a creepy thing to begin with. Love pats on your pockets? Nah.
As his height of excitement dissipated quickly to a valley of despair, he recognized a mugging afoot. He laid out his thought process and described how he played coy, asking for the car to be pulled over. The vehicle beginning to pick up speed, albeit still slow enough due to a crowded road. He began to open the door while planning to hit the ground running and take off in attempt to escape the culminating doom.
With one foot dragging on the brick-laid pavement and multiple claws violently grasping his clothing, trying to keep him in the cab, glancing back for one final look at this would-be lovers-turned-assailants, perhaps a final glimpse of what could have been, in wilted flowers his dreams faded as he caught a charge of pepper spray directly to the face. He was brought to a slump, rolling out of the car, in to the middle of Bourbon Street. With a mace blast burning his eyes, and singeing his lungs, the two demons pounced and attempted to jack his wallet and whatever else he was holding. He squirmed away wriggling and yelling but alas – they got away with his phone and his heart.
The wretched Voodoo vixens ran off cackling and vanished to the crowded madness in a twisting cloud of vapor. Back to their cauldron of spells they dissipated, and almost as quickly as they had materialized, they were gone.