I don’t like to satiate drinking, I never have; not even in high school or college or while living in New York City when I was closing a bar down on a fairly regular basis. Pretty much everyone else does. Jesting about playing beer pong, getting wasted, and blacking out. I don’t get it. I enjoy a good drink and being alleviated in alcohol, still I don’t understand the stagecraft and the social capering that tends to follow. I don’t particularly enjoy being drunk either, and beer pong and drinking games are geared toward being drunk, it seems to me like it’s the only game that everyone competes to lose.
And because I don’t, and have never understood the appeal of gratifying drinking, New Orleans’ Bourbon Street was not at all my idea of a good time, and I’ve felt that way well before spending the weekend in New Orleans with some friends. We walked up and down Bourbon Street in the later hours of our first day there, twice, and it was crowded, the entire few blocks smelled like a nose-lifting solution of fresh and stale vomit, the alcohol was cheap and glowing, and at the height of my displeasure I was seized at the wrist by a woman dressed in a small, tight roller derby outfit—and that’s not my… I don’t like that either—she uncorked a handful of beakers filled with some chromatic liquid then shoved it into her cleavage and then palmed the back of my head and labored my skull into her breast, after which she looked at me and said, “That’ll be $15.”
We were on Bourbon Street a few hours earlier, it was daylight then, we each had a drink, and we were scouting for a place to eat. We stopped at Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar and were led upstairs and through a tall open window where the host sat us, on the balcony overlooking Bourbon Street. I tried Alligator for the first time. We ordered mostly a smattering of appetizers including alligator and oysters, the food was amazing; the restaurant was amazing. Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar is an aged white and black building with a beautiful, although kind of sketchy balcony that could have gone at any minute, I’m certain, and still we were lucky to get a table on the balcony. That was my favorite Bourbon Street experience.
My favorite part of New Orleans is always spent walking around the French Quarter and looking at the century old buildings flush with pendulous gardens—I stepped into random restaurants, bars, galleries, storefronts just to see a building’s interior—and the buskers, and the food, of course. I walked through several well-versed bookstores and voodoo shops, those places so unique to New Orleans that it’s impossible to ignore going there while you’re there, and never once forgetting where you are. We stopped at Pirates Alley Cafe & Absinthe House off of Royal Street (my favorite New Orleans street followed by Frenchmen Street), and sat there watching the bartender pour our absinthe over sugar cubes and into a glass, and we sat at the bar and took in that place. “Where [the] past and architecture have been preserved by neglect.”
The following day was offered to touring the NOMA and wandering around Congo Square and Louis Armstrong Park. The NOMA’s amazing; I love museums, they are nothing short of an experience that makes our history corporeal. It’s easy for us to perceive events as stories, fiction comparable to watching television and movies. A museum can allow us to put ourselves in a place in a way less sexy and far rawer than a fiction. The past is real only if, and because we take ownership of it, history is our own to imagine and until you have stood there looking at something that once belonged to someone who helped to forge our present, our culture, and our time it’s not easy to put yourself there.
We got to New Orleans on a Thursday; Saturday was our last night before heading home the following morning. I was the only one that wanted to go out. I’m still baffled by that, it’s not often we’re in New Orleans on a Saturday night, and they wanted to spend the evening at the Airbnb watching television. In situations like this experience outweighs mood, or it should anyway. I went out on my own. I walked down Royal Street open to opportunity, I followed Royal to Frenchmen Street. I stopped for dinner somewhere, I can’t remember the name of the place, and then stuck my head into a few bars to compare the music and decided on spot that, again, I can’t remember the name of, and ordered a drink and sat there listening to what was probably the best jazz I’ve ever heard live. I walked along Decatur Street to Canal Street and then headed back to the Airbnb. That Saturday night was the best night I had in New Orleans, and when I got back to our Airbnb, my friends were still sitting on the couch watching television. So, they weren’t just trying to get rid of me; I might have at least understood that if it were the case.
And yes, we did, of course, make a point of picking up a beignet while we were there, sometime over the weekend, because you can’t visit New Orleans and not get a beignet. I really like New Orleans although I haven’t spent time in the city outside of the French Quarter, still there’s so much character and antiquity that’s unlike anywhere else. A lot of what was built, in many other places, such as New York City, has been rebuilt so many times that the account exists only in story, and that’s not at all what you experience when you go to New Orleans, it’s like D.C., in that way. I could easily spend weeks in New Orleans and never get bored or black out drunk, and hopefully I get that opportunity at some point.