Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Wherever I May Reauxm (Part 1)

It took roughly 54 hours before I sipped alcohol again. Keep in mind, I wasn’t hungover that entire time. Sure, I dueled with the common withdrawal symptom of good ol’ incontinence early Friday evening, but I had quickly shaken the beast. And I wasn’t really concerned for my long-term health. (Well, no more than usual. I mean, come on…) Certainly, I had not been lacking options. Swag invited me to a bar crawl in the South Side (St. Practice Day) on Saturday, and I always keep a modest-but-well-stocked liquor cabinet at home.

So what was it? What made me stay home and dry through an entire weekend, drinking nothing but Gatorade, ginger ale, or juice when I felt an urge to wet my whistle?

Alcohol felt boring.

This is what they don’t tell you about going to New Orleans.


Let’s rewind to a Thursday morning in mid-February. As I hurried through my office building’s garage, running late for work yet again, my phone buzzed. It was T.C.

I’ve dreamed about visiting New Orleans for most of my adult life. Its vibrant culture, historic streets, iconic bars, and world famous food have called to me through TV screens and magazine pages. The city is booze, culture, parties, food, and music—basically, everything I love—rolled into one chill, unassuming package. NOLA has long been the girl-next-door pinup model in posters hanging on the walls of my mind.

My flight landed late in the afternoon on March 3rd, and like a good 35-year-old son I called my mom from the cab to let her know I’d arrived safely. “And now you’re going to go drink,” she said in a slightly disappointed tone.

“I mean, first I’m going to get cleaned up, but…”

When I got to the room, T.C. was at a work function. I hopped in the shower and washed public air travel off me [no trip has ever fortified my desire to become private-plane-rich more], and was dressed by the time my homie walked through the door carrying two beers.

Our immediate concern was dinner. One of our friends had suggested Mr. B’s Bistro, and its outstanding barbecued shrimp. Expecting it to be a hurricane shack—or a Hurricane shack—we strolled over for a bite. We were instead greeted by a classy five-star restaurant that was filled to the fire code with guests. The bar seating was also full, and the earliest dinner reservation we could get was for 8:30 pm the next night.

“So that’s a ‘no’ on the barbecued shrimp…” Plan B was to find something on Bourbon St. Not bad, as far as Plan B’s go.

In 2015, it’s not only cliché to say there’s a magical feel to a night in New Orleans, it’s cliché to say that it’s cliché to say there’s a magical feel to a night in New Orleans. And it’s easy to be reductive, and assume the “magic” people feel—that I felt, as I strolled towards the shiny street sign that read “Bourbon”—comes from the more lascivious features of Bourbon Street. Yes, getting drunk and seeing boobs both make me happy (…I think this is well documented). But they don’t cause the magic; they’re an effect of it. As you pass the policemen and sawhorses that turn it from street to playground, your mind dances. The air is light. Every face has a smile. Music is playing. There’s laughter. There’s energy. There’s the moment. It’s everything.

I pulled myself back into consciousness, as we had a dining decision to make. A very scientific and well thought out decision, it involved us strolling past Pier 424 Seafood Market and saying to each other, “This sound good to you?”

We settled in and ordered ourselves some eats—including fried alligator—and some drinks. T.C. called for an IPA, while I chose a house concoction that came in a sling glass and tasted like candy. A poor choice, sure, but at least it had Jim Beam in it. Needing my machismo reaffirmed, I was already plotting out a new drink order when T.C. asked the bartender to bring him something “New Orleans” that had whiskey in it. Barkeep, make that two. We soon had two Sazeracs sitting in front of us.

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

As I finished my shrimp po-boy, T.C. threw his corporate card on the bar and simultaneously ordered a rum & Coke for the road. The man’s a born leader. I fell in line, adding a Makers & Coke (to go) to the final tally, and we were soon back in the warm night air of the French Quarter with cold plastic cups in our hands.

We happened upon Spirits on Bourbon. T.C., a Bar Rescue fan, recognized it immediately. In we went. I haven’t watched much of the show, but I’d assumed the successful business strategy that Jon Taffer imparted to each bar owner was something more shrewd and insightful than “Just talk about how you were on this show once.” TV screens around the room play a 30-second promo clip of the episode on an endless loop. Bar Rescue-themed t-shirts hang behind the bar for sale, along with mugs and other trinkets. Signs saying “As Seen on TV” adorn the taps. It reminds you of that guy who constantly talks about that one touchdown he scored in high school.

The good news: That annoying self-promotion is only born from insecurity, and isn’t a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Spirits is actually a really good bar, with cool staff and a nice vibe. They just need to learn how to be comfortable in their own skin (that is to say, as a bar they need to learn; the beautiful blonde bartender with the low-cut top straining to hold back her blessings is quite—and well-deservingly—comfortable in her own skin). Act like you belong, and people will think you belong. And Spirits belongs.

After a couple of draughts and the piano player tickling “Home Sweet Home” out of the ivories at T.C.’s request, we strolled out in search of the next bar. Maison Bourbon caught our attention, with a big raucous brass band hammering away inside. What better place for a couple of Miller Lites? Unfortunately, the band was going on break right as we arrived. So after one beer, we were off into the night once more.

The next establishment—or, rather, the next I remember visiting—was Tropical Isle.

Now, if you don’t know much about New Orleans, you’ve probably never heard of this fine NOLA institution. Hell, I hadn’t, and I was infatuated with the town. But, it’s quite likely that you’ve heard of another NOLA institution, that being the beloved Hand Grenade. Well Tropical Isle is the home of the Hand Grenade. “And if anyone tries to tell you differently,” the bartender said, “Tell us. We’ll sue ‘em.”

*sips the delicious nectar*

You got it. Fuck ‘em.

I’m fairly certain the Hand Grenade (and the draught) that I drank at Tropical Isle were my kill shot. Not to get ahead of myself, but the night gets a lot dimmer after that stop. But while we were safely within their walls, the world was bright and colorful.

That included the band on the stage that was rocking the house down. They were even better when you consider that the lead singer was an overweight, middle-aged white woman. Which led to this gem from T.C.: “Is that lead singer from Monessen?” [Okay, you probably have to be from Pittsburgh to get it. If you’re not, just picture a hillside white trash community. Or, you know, just move on. But damn it if it wasn’t funny as hell in the moment.]

The next stop was…uh…well…I have no clue. It was dark. The bartender at the back bar was a very cute, light-skinned (possibly Creole?) girl, who served us beers and said a bunch of words that the in-house band, my overwhelmed consciousness, and time conspired to keep me from remembering.

Wanting to switch up from beer, we asked her to make us another Nawlins tradition: Hurricanes. …Not a wise decision. We quickly realized that Creole Shawty wasn’t manning the Tuesday night shift because of her mixology excellence. Her Hurricane was three parts rum, two parts juice, and five parts lighter fluid. We winced as we tried to work our way through them, before T.C. made an executive decision to toss them when she wasn’t looking. Back out into the night we went.

By now, I was on my feet, but I was off my ass. The five hours I’d spent on Bourbon Street had cornered my consciousness in the prison shower, and were going to town. Innocence had surely been lost. I remember T.C. and I being in another dark, sparsely-populated bar, talking to two hot shot girls. I remember the one trying to sell shots to me, and I remember buying on the condition that I get a kiss along with it. That’s right: I had gone full Namath.

Around 1:30, I stumbled down Bourbon and back to the hotel, realizing as I got off the elevator—on what I hoped was the correct floor—that I’d left T.C. behind. I texted my apologies, found the room, and fell on my bed.

Bourbon Street’d.

[To be continued...]