“Slow down, Turbo.”
We, the six of us, sitting at a bar table, were having a lunchtime beer. There were a few police officers standing just outside, watching the Saints play the Bears through the open door. In bursts a kid; stringy, unwashed hair and wearing a red t-shirt many sizes too large. He was moving fast and doing The Potty Dance. Behind him strode a burly cop. “Slow down, Turbo” said the cop. Not harshly or unkindly, just insistently. The kid found the bathroom and ran in, the cop waiting just outside. When the kid came out he looked dazed, a little lost. A little scared. The cop escorted him back outside. For most of us, thoughts move pretty crisply, maybe a little slower than the speed of sound. This poor kid’s thoughts were trying to move through a bucket of vaseline. The whole setting seemed very New Orleans.
Parsing NOLA can be tricky. The french quarter is filthy. Aggressively so. It seemed to me that both the residents and the visitors had absolutely no use for garbage cans. Like they couldn’t be bothered to carry trash any distance at all. Ever.
But then there were beautiful spaces, old spaces. Unique spaces. We’d walk through a door in a shabby old store front, walk past a bar and be seated in a garden set apart from the trash and noise 10 yards away. We’d be served great food and great drinks by friendly and knowledgeable professionals. We’d wander past a bar or restaurant where brilliantly and skillfully played live music would compel us inside, at any time of day.
It’d be a lot harder to find crappy food, service, music, and drink in NOLA than to find great food, service, music, and drink. I listened to the greatest clarinetist I’ve ever heard, sitting on a curb in New Orleans.
Here’s my tip for people looking for surprises in New Orleans. Find a good starting point. Make sure it’s a bar or a restaurant. On the plane to NOLA, check Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Zagat. That’ll help you familiarize yourself with some names of places. Read comments and look for themes. Find out who the food writers are in town and read what they’ve published recently. What you’re looking for is a bar or restaurant that IS NOT A CHAIN, is popular with locals, has had their food or drinks written about, and is just off the beaten path. Then put away your phone and get to know your server or bartender.
For us that place was Cane & Table. We had compiled a short list of places to try. One of them was Cane & Table. It’s a rum bar and restaurant. I wanted to go back to a rum bar. A few years ago, The Destroyer of Comfort Zones and I were in Key West with our families and he and I found ourselves sitting at a rum bar, happily sipping aged rum for a couple hours. It was one of my favorite parts of that vacation.
Anyway, the six of us were sitting at Cane & Table eating great food and drinking amazing cocktails. Either the Destroyer of Comfort Zones or Farmer Tough Guy asked our server, Emily, what places she would recommend. She gave us a few names.
One, near our hotel, was Sylvain. Emily at Cane & Table said they had a great breakfast. The next morning, we got to Sylvain around 10 or so (though I was a bit late, having successfully murdered a part of my brain the night before) and found 6 seats at the bar. We had Bloody Mary’s and Champagne Cocktails. We had little two-ounce margaritas , on the house, made by our server and bartender, Sean from California. He made seven of them, one for himself so he could properly toast K’s birthday. When I ordered orange juice, I watched Sean squeeze oranges right into my glass. The food was amazing. I can’t stress that enough. I want to hop on a plane right now to eat cheesy grits and roast pork from Sylvain.
So, sitting at the bar, finishing our drinks, either The Destroyer of Comfort Zones or Farmer Tough Guy ask Sean from Sylvain where he would recommend we go later. Sean named a couple places.
One of those places, for cocktails, was Tonique, which was also right by our hotel. Our bartender Colin made me one of the best Old Fashioneds I’ve ever had. The bar is small, comfortable and dark. The bar itself is flanked by two old gas fireplaces. We loved it, and the drinks were delicious. Tonique is just enough off the beaten path that it was lively without being obnoxious. No green, plastic, yard-long cups of sugar and crappy rum at Tonique, I assure you.
But we were getting hungry, so we asked Colin where we could get great food close by. Colin had one recommendation, and one was all we’d need. Meauxbar. It’s about two blocks from Tonique, so easy-peasy lemon-squeezy.
They make duck-fat popcorn there. Greatest popcorn ever. And that wasn’t the best thing I ate there. Thanks Dwayne at Meauxbar, it was a great meal.
Forget the beads, bodypaint, crappy drinks and garbage. My memories of NOLA will be Emily at Cane & Table, Sean at Sylvain, Colin at Tonique, and Dwayne at Meauxbar.
Well, and dancing at The Famous Door. And of course Germaine Bazzle at The Royal Sonesta. But who doesn’t already know that NOLA has great live music? Even the dead know that.
So when in NOLA, put your phone down and talk to your servers and bartenders. They’ll sort you out. Just remember though: Put your trash in a garbage can and don’t forget the tip.