Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Danny Barker's protégés kept trad jazz alive

Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University
By Katy Reckdahl, New Orleans Advocate
Without Danny Barker, today’s New Orleans soundtrack would sound dramatically different.
In 1970, Barker, a seasoned jazz musician who had played in New York with jazz greats like Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Benny Carter and Jelly Roll Morton, came home to start a youth band that is credited with almost single-handedly reviving traditional New Orleans jazz.
For his group, the Fairview Baptist Church Christian Band, Barker recruited New Orleans teenagers who — like teens across America — had turned their attention to rock ’n’ roll and R&B. Over the next few decades, he convinced dozens of young people that brass band music was both cool and worth preserving.
Now, 44 years later, Barker is considered a savior of one of the city’s most prized traditions, and the Fairview band is seen as an essential part of the city’s jazz history, having created a strong core of young players to carry on the tradition.
Fairview’s original members went on to form the Hurricane and Dirty Dozen brass bands, which inspired the Rebirth, New Birth, Lil Rascals, Soul Rebels, Hot 8 and more.
Other original members, now in their 50s and early 60s, lead their own jazz ensembles. Altogether, the group’s alumni command key stages at every New Orleans music festival.
Later this week, Barker’s students and admirers will host a forum and two concerts to raise money for the first Danny Barker Festival, which will kick off in January, on what would have been his 105th birthday.
The event will give Barker’s students a chance to emphasize that traditional jazz would have withered without their mentor and that the city’s vaunted second-line parades would have few bands blowing along with them.
“Brass bands were run by a bunch of old men, and they were dying and no one was trying to keep that tradition going,” said Fairview member Harry Sterling, the longtime guitarist for Big Al Carson, another Fairview alumnus. “So if Danny Barker hadn’t kept the tradition alive, there would be no Hot 8. No Algiers Brass Band or Soul Rebels. No Pinettes.”
Barker filled out his band’s ranks with church members, cousins, musicians’ kin and children from his 7th Ward neighborhood, including trumpeter Leroy Jones, then 12, who began hosting weekly rehearsals at his family’s garage on St. Denis Street, a few blocks from Barker’s house.
At its peak, the band had 30 members who would sometimes split up into three different bands to play three different gigs, Jones said.
“We can measure Danny Barker’s gift by the musicians that came out of that band,” said Fred Johnson, who was spurred by Barker’s traditional funeral procession to help form the Black Men of Labor, a social aid and pleasure club that makes a point of hiring traditional brass bands for its annual parades.
Even young musicians who weren’t formally Barker’s students were influenced by him. Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins recalled Barker driving his big Pontiac “real slow” through the streets of Treme and stopping to talk about music with him.
Rebirth snare drummer Derrick Tabb formed his Roots of Music marching band program partly because he saw the effect of Barker’s Fairview band. He has fond memories of Barker pulling over, especially if he saw young musicians at work. “He was always willing to teach, show or just have a laugh with you,” Tabb recalled.

Rescued from the water

After floodwaters deluged Barker’s Sere Street home in 2005, friends retrieved dozens of sodden boxes and gave them to the curators of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University, who were able to salvage much of it: signature hats and shoes, letters, receipts, news clippings and countless longhand and typewritten manuscripts, edited and re-edited.
The collection’s contents reflect the Barker that his colleagues and students describe: a natural musician and writer. He published his own memoir, “A Life in Jazz,” and a book about African-American musicians called “Bourbon Street Black.”
His handwritten notes are everywhere: The back of a church bulletin or a scrap from an envelope might include a set list for an upcoming Fairview event and random to-do reminders — to get a strap for Puppy (one of the group’s drummers), return a contract for Saturday, buy cat food and check on the lawn mower.
Barker kept a pen handy and scraps of paper in his pockets and on the dashboard of his green 1972 Pontiac so that he could always scratch out a quick thought, said Jerry Barbarin Anderson, now 50, who was 6 years old when the band began and often tagged along with Barker after the Fairview rehearsals he attended with his grandfather, Charles Barbarin Sr., and teenage uncles, Lucien Barbarin and Charles Barbarin Jr.
Barker had grown up in the one of the city’s best-known musical families, the Barbarins, and he spent all his life watching musicians in clubs and the brass bands who ruled the streets, with names like Superior, Imperial and Olympia.
He described the bands to Peggy Scott LaBorde in a WYES-TV interview that’s also part of the Hogan archive: “All these bands were jazz bands: six, seven men without a piano, see, and you could move all over with it, and they had this raunchy, laid-back rhythm that they played. Not in no hurry, they weren’t infuriated to go nowhere. This was get-down music, see.”
Several decades later, that scene was in the hands of elderly men. Or so Barker observed in 1965, after moving back home with his wife, vocalist Blue Lu Barker, whose mother was ailing. They’d been gone for decades. In 1930, the couple had moved from New Orleans to New York, where Barker played banjo and guitar on stages all across the city.
Barker continued performing until his death; he had a standing gig at the Palm Court Jazz Café in the French Quarter. He also became an assistant curator of the New Orleans Jazz Museum, whose instruments and recordings are now part of the jazz collection at the Old U.S. Mint. After work, as he stepped outside the museum, he worried that the music he performed soon would live on only in historical exhibits.
In a handwritten essay in the Hogan Archive titled “The Fairview New Orleans Jazz Institute,” Barker described the band’s beginnings. “I had been wondering about the plight of New Orleans jazz, considered old and out of date — passé,” he wrote.
Part of the problem, he continued, was that the city’s brass-band musicians “rarely encouraged youngsters to join their ranks playing the street music, one of the most captivating, exciting scenes” for the “eyes, ears, feet — the heart.”
He formed the Fairview band with the Rev. Andrew Darby to “revive the interest” in jazz for musically inclined young people, he wrote.
Barker hadn’t set out to create a legacy for himself, said trumpeter Gregg Stafford, who was 17 when he joined Fairview. “But he knew he had to do something to keep the music going. He told me, ‘If you don’t teach the next generation and make them aware of their history and the history of their culture, it will be lost and someone else will be claiming it.’ ”

Jazz lessons

The first non-cousin recruited to the band was Leroy Jones, a diligent student who practiced every day in his garage in the 7th Ward. One afternoon, said Jones, now 56, a big Pontiac parked at the end of his driveway and out walked “the hippest old man” he’d ever seen. Barker introduced himself and asked if Jones wanted to be part of a band. Soon, Jones’ garage was part of jazz lore.
“It was exciting,” Jones recalled. “When we didn’t have rehearsal, I’d do my homework and practice for four or five hours. We’d get together and jam, and Blue Lu would fix us little snacks.”
The whole concept seemed so fresh and new, Jones said, noting that while Doc Paulin had some of his young sons playing in his band, a band made up entirely of teenagers was unheard of.
Barker decided that the idea of reading music might seem too intimidating to some children. So there was no sheet music at Fairview practices, said trombonist Lucien Barbarin, 58, who started out on snare drum with the Fairview. Barker kept it simple: He would teach them melodies by playing songs on the banjo or guitar or spinning records of Tuxedo or Olympia brass bands.
“Then we would follow by ear,” Barbarin said. Most would play the melody, and those who could improvise would provide harmonies and riffs beyond that.
First, they learned church hymns: “Down by the Riverside,” “A Closer Walk With Thee,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Then they learned more secular classics, including Paul Barbarin’s “Second-Line” and “Bourbon Street Parade,” written by Barker’s uncle.
Barker also taught stage presence.
Sterling remembers his lessons: “Be the best musician you can possibly be. Always be on time. Learn to be a sideman before you become a leader. Dress well. Always look good. Be kind to people all the time. Kill them with kindness, and they’ll respect you.”
In his way, Barker groomed the teenagers as they moved toward manhood. He also counseled them and kept them from delinquency.
He recruited Eddie Boh Paris to play sousaphone after Paris walked in front of him at a corner store and a shoplifted Hubig pie fell out of his waistband. Paris was unwilling at first, but Barker kept him in the band by threatening to tell his mother about what he’d witnessed.
The drummer Anderson, once a young hothead, remembers Barker working to cool him off: “If I got angry, he’d say, ‘Go practice.’ ”
For him, the lessons went far beyond the history and the art form. “I found what jazz can offer for musicians and people who love music: peace of mind,” he said. If not for Barker, he believes he would likely be in prison or in the grave. “Danny saved me,” he said.
Once the Fairview band hit the streets, it grew exponentially, Stafford said. Barker would tell inquiring parents when the band rehearsed and they’d drop off their children at Jones’ garage in ever larger numbers.
As they gigged, Barker also taught his charges how to read an audience. At an early event, Lucien Barbarin recalled asking Barker why people in the crowd didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves. Barker assured him that the crowd just needed to loosen up. “Wait until they get a couple of drinks in them,” he said. “They’ll listen, and they’ll think you’re great.”

Branching out

The Fairview band was a hit locally, and it played prestigious gigs at places like the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Within a few years, however, Barker began to hear complaints from fellow musicians that his popular children’s band was taking their jobs.
While Barker continued to work with younger children for years to come, he decided to cut the older kids loose rather than fight the musicians’ union. In 1974, Barker helped Jones establish the Hurricane Brass Band, dubbed as such because they “came up the street and blew like a storm,” Jones said.
Soon, Stafford would begin playing in Barker’s band, Danny Barker & the Jazz Hounds, which he did for about 15 years before Barker, in failing health, asked Stafford to carry on the name through his own band, Gregg Stafford & the Jazz Hounds.
But for most of the original band members, the break had come earlier, in 1974, when Stafford remembers Barker handing Jones a stack of business cards that said “Hurricane Brass Band” on them and saying, “You’re on your own now.”
They may have been on their own, they say, but they were following a track set for them by Barker, who kept New Orleans jazz young and swinging.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fresh produce returns to the French Market

Photo: Matthew Hinton, The New Orleans Advocate

By Ian McNulty, New Orleans Advocate
A riverfront location and access to overland portage routes made the site of the French Market a natural for trading and commerce among Louisiana’s native peoples long before it became the city’s first official public market in 1791. Today, market boosters say, a confluence of that long history and the modern appreciation for fresh and local foods recommends the site for a new weekly, year-round farmers market.
That market will debut Oct. 15, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., and will continue each Wednesday thanks to a new partnership between the city-run French Market Corp. and Market Umbrella, the nonprofit group that operates three other editions of its Crescent City Farmers Market around town.
Leaders of both organizations on Wednesday outlined details of their new market-within-a-market plan, which will begin with more than two dozen vendors selling a mix of fresh produce and seafood, locally raised meats, bread, pasta, grab-and-go snacks and handmade pantry staples.
The farmers market will take shape in a covered, open-air pavilion area near the French Market’sbank of walk-up cafes and a small stage used for live music and cooking demonstrations.
Jon Smith, executive director of the French Market Corp., said the idea is to provide local residents and chefs with a new venue for fresh foods direct from their producers and to give out-of-towners more tastes of local flavors to enjoy on the spot, to buy for picnics or to take home as edible souvenirs.
“I can’t think of a better way to honor the history of this place than with an open-air market like this,” Smith said. “We want the market to be something that people will plan a visit around. We’re hoping to create a mini-festival atmosphere.”
The French Market hosted a weekly edition of the Crescent City Farmers Market from 2004 until Hurricane Katrina. That venture attracted far fewer vendors and shoppers than the other local farmers markets, but both partners in this new effort said they feel better equipped today to promote and develop the weekly market day.
“We know this is no small task, but we have done our homework,” said Kathryn Parker, executive director of Market Umbrella.
Over the summer, her staff conducted surveys at the French Market and nearby businesses, circulated an online survey, polled vendors at other markets and conducted a focus group with local chefs.
This feedback guided the mix of fresh and prepared foods the market planners sought to achieve during an open call for vendor applications last month. The research also led them to add new features, like free parking for vendors and market shoppers, plus a designated loading zone for chefs collecting large orders for their restaurants.
As with the other local farmers markets, vendors at this new site will accept payment from people using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the government assistance program commonly called food stamps.
“We’re ready. Now what we really need is the people of New Orleans to show our local food producers your support and reclaim your food heritage,” Parker said.
While perhaps best known today for souvenirs and other retail items sold at its flea market area, the French Market was once an essential part of the city’s network of public markets.
The new farmers market plan is the latest in a series of efforts at the French Market to rekindle that legacy and update it for modern tastes and lifestyles. In June, the market revamped its annual Creole Tomato Festival with an expanded lineup of food and music. And last month its board approved a proposal from three well-known New Orleans purveyors of artisan foods — St. James Cheese Co.Bellegarde Bakery and the butcher shop Cleaver & Co. — to open a new eatery at the market. That concept, called Continental Provisions, is under development for an expected debut later this fall.
“I’ve been with the market since 2010, and we’ve seen such remarkable changes,” said Demetric Mercadel, president of the French Market’s board. “The addition of the farmers market, with all the delights it’s bringing, will be such a huge step forward for what we intended to do with the French Market.”
Some vendors on tap for the market’s Oct. 15 debut are familiar names from other locations of the Crescent City Farmers Market, like Pete & Clara’s Seafood and Monica’s Produce. Others are new to the New Orleans market circuit, like Feliciana’s Best Creamery, a dairy in Slaughter, and Iverstine Farms, of Kentwood, which will offer pasture-raised meats, including special-order turkeys for Thanksgiving.
Another market vendor, Bob Romero, owner of sugar producer Three Brothers Farm, in Vermilion Parish, predicted the French Market venue would be a good way to reach new customers.
“You need more than belts and sunglasses for sale when visitors come here. They want something local,” Romero said. “I imagine my cane syrup going back to California with someone. That’s a whole new market for us.”
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fr. Tony's 2014 Prayer for the Saints

God of all unity,

We stand before you this day, ever grateful for the unifying spirit that has made us the Who Dat Nation!

We hail from all across the South - united under the banner of the New Orleans Saints and blessed by the presence of every walk of life.

We are One Coast. One Voice. One Dome!

We represent almost every group of people who have walked on the face of this blessed earth.

Among us are members of every faith community and every generation. We come from every race, creed and color. Stretching across the Gulf Coast and reaching deep into every state in America, we are the Who Dat Nation, unbowed and ever proud of our legacy.

Some of us ride boats up the bayous while others ride horses in Mardi Gras parades. Some drive streetcars down St. Charles Avenue while others rock shrimp boats in the Gulf. Regardless of our home ports, occupations or ways of life, we are united as Who Dats and come before you with one voice of eternal praise.

Lord, you said that where two or more are gathered together in your name, you would be in our midst. Well, as we gather as the Who Dat Nation in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and in other stadiums across the land, we believe your words to be ever true.

As you unite with us in the Dome and in our Gulf Coast homes, we ask you to send your blessings down upon "Our Boys." Help each of them to be the best that they can possibly be.

Guide our team's front office. Help them to make the best decisions and lead us into the land of great promise. Especially send your blessings upon Tom and Gail Benson. They are the heads of our Who Dat family. Shower them with great health and your undying spirit of love.

Bless Rita Benson-LeBlanc and Mickey Loomis. Infuse them with wisdom as they continue to choose the path down which we march as one.

Bless our coaches. Help Sean Payton, Joe Vitt, Pete Carmichael, Rob Ryan and Greg McMahon devise successful game plans that will ultimately get us to the Super Bowl. Allow each of them to teach and preach a message of success that will inspire "Our Boys" to be as united as the rest of the Who Dat Nation.

Bless our players. Send your grace upon Drew Brees, Zach Strief, Junior Galette, Curtis Lofton and Thomas Morstead and all of our players. Keep them safe from all major injuries and allow them to victoriously represent us across this great land. They are our brothers and our sons. Let them know just how proud we are to call them "Our Boys"!

Bless the entire Who Dat Nation as we march under the banner of the Fleur-de-Lis. Together with your grace, we will remain banded as one as we support and encourage the New Orleans Saints. May we always be One Coast ... One Voice ... One Dome!

Through the prayers of our heavenly New Orleans Saints, St. Francis Cabrini, St. Katherine Drexel, St. John Paul II, Blessed Francis Seelos and the Venerable Henriette Delille, may we be as united on earth as they are in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Together, may we always be one nation under God, undaunted and indivisible. May we stand tall before all as proud members of the Who Dat Nation!


The Rev. R. Tony Ricard, M. Th., M.Div., is the New Orleans Saints Catholic team chaplain and a theology teacher at St. Augustine High School. Read Sheila Stroup's interview with Fr. Tony and the complete story behind his annual prayer for the Saints.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

After 200 years, city's fighting spirit unchanged

Author Morgan Molthrop at Jackson Square crediting 'the man.'

Many marvel at New Orleans’ miraculous rebirth, having assumed the struggling, honky-tonk Southern city could never revive itself after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Yet, the Crescent City is looking better than ever with sports and convention industries booming, a vibrant music scene and social innovation outperforming other areas of the country in job growth and economic prosperity.
In a provocative new book, “Andrew Jackson’s Playbook: 15 Strategies for Success,” author Morgan McCall Molthrop examines surprising tactics and innovations that have contributed to the city’s rapid recovery, suggesting that contemporary civic leaders have much in common with U.S. Gen. Andrew Jackson who soundly defeated the “invincible” British Army at the Battle of New Orleans 200 years ago.
Dozens of books have been written about New Orleans’ unique music, culture, and history, but Molthrop analyzes the city’s remarkable resilience from an entirely new perspective. He theorizes that character traits, tactics and determination Gen. Jackson demonstrated in defeating the far better trained British army are the same characteristics that helped catapult the city’s post-Katrina recovery.
By interviewing a wide array of notable local sources, Molthrop juxtaposes events from 1815 with those of 2005, demonstrating unconventional attack plans that achieved improbable victories. Success tips are categorized with military terminology, including shoring up defenses, using guerrilla tactics, acting with bravado and never forgetting the prize. Readers can valuable reap life lessons along with a fascinating history lesson.
Gen. Jackson was a frontier soldier who refused to follow traditional rules of European engagement.
“Pesky Americans refused to fight fair,” Molthrop wrote.
The rough-and-ready American general formed alliances with unscrupulous Baratarian pirates, free men of color, Choctaw Indians, Kaintucks and Creoles, each with singular mettle. Similarly, New Orleans’ post-Katrina revival brought together a motley coalition of business, government and educational leaders, entertainers, tourism and sports promoters – even a Vodou priestess – to cooperate in an entirely new manner.
Both crises called for decisive action and for sidestepping rules. Real estate developer, Pres Kabacoff, for example, saw an urgent demand for loft apartments for returning artists and a Healing Center to create a new social hub. Putting together federal historic tax credits and new market tax credits, he quickly built a nexus.
“All the internal politics and bickering – they are just sideshows to me,” Kabacoff told Molthrop.
With few troops and weapons, Jackson understood the importance of shoring defenses. By buttressing the port of Mobile, he cut off the easiest route for British invasion and forced their ships up the treacherous mouth of the Mississippi.
In 21st century New Orleans, the underlying defense is music – without which the city could perish. So, entertainers Harry Connick, Jr., Branford Marsalis and Habitat for Humanity teamed up to create Musicians Village, providing homes so musicians could get back into the clubs to perform.
After Katrina, the city needed to jumpstart its economy. New Orleans has always been a city of entrepreneurs “because large corporations won’t headquarter in a place with a poor school system and an annual summer evacuation,” Molthrop wryly commented.
But in 2000, New Orleans turned that hardship into an advantage, founding Idea Village, a startup community with a vision to create “a self-sustaining ecosystem that attracts, supports and retrains entrepreneurial talent.”
Above all, Jackson had the charisma to unite diverse groups and convince them to follow his leadership, pledging to die before surrendering to the British. The general’s team approach solidly defeated the Brit’s top-down command structure, slaughtering more than a thousand British troops in less than an hour.
“He’d beaten the army that had beaten Napoleon,” Molthrop wrote.
“Jackson’s Playbook” was designed not only to reflect on one of the most important battles in U.S. history on its 200th anniversary, comparing its indomitable military leader to modern leaders, but also to help people understand and manage complex issues in their workplaces, neighborhoods and in their daily lives.
If you think you know the back-story on the War of 1812, “Jackson’s Playbook” provides an entirely new insight into the events and the enduring culture of New Orleans. Offbeat photos and insider perspective on this intriguing city make “Jackson’s Playbook” a fascinating read and guide to life.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bars provide havens from the summer heat

Photo credit: Veronica Dominach


“Hot weather opens the skull of a city,” wrote New Orleans-born Truman Capote, “exposing its white brain and its heart of nerves.”

Don’t it, though? The Crescent City in the soupy season has been known to bring on brain fever. Tempers flare, foreheads crack like expired pralines and businesses close shop until the school bell rings. Those “out there” look like “walkers”: feverish, half-baked, menacing. 
Road rage, domestic abuse and killer-mime hallucinations ensue. Crime rates keep pace with the soaring mercury. Locals stuck in town hole up and wait it out, allowing the tourists to take over.
Relax, there is respite. August here is when Hell freezes over inside bars and restaurants, the city’s ice palaces, which provide just the chill-pill to meltdown.
 (Warning: side effects may include dizziness.) The city’s makeshift igloos ramp up their air conditioning like no other metropolitan hot pocket. And though, by average, most are set at 73 degrees, that seemingly modest figure invariably feels far more brisk when out on the street it’s frying.
“When you go out to have a drink or eat here in the summer you know to bring a sweater,” said Genevieve Cullen, a bartender at Bud Rip’s Old 9th Ward Bar (est. 1960), which was cited as a cold front by several veteran barkeeps and night crawlers recruited as Advocate cold-front panelists. (None included their own digs as cold front candidates.) On a recent afternoon, Bud Rip’s proved more reasonable than chilly — though its new owners were in the throes of overhauling its AC system.

“If you’ve lived here a while, you know to bring a light wrap to a restaurant or a movie theater,” echoed Susan Spicer, the chef of the French Quarter’s Bayona and Mondo, in Lakeview.

Where to chill?

So what are the ultimate cold fronts for swilling and sustenance, day or night? (We wouldn’t dare to deem any of them THE sole cold rooms.)
Check the temperatures on wall units all you like, but they’re not an entirely reliable gauge. There are mirages at play, deceptive but subliminally effective.

Among the factors aligning to create snowball effects are an interior’s décor (spaces that are industrial, uber-Modern or simply sparse in furnishings exude cool), flooring (tiled or concrete are colder), ceiling height, and direct (or not) natural light exposure. If it’s a mole hole, it will likely be colder.

And there are crannies suggestive of haunted “cold spots” in otherwise comfortable rooms, that deliver shivers up the spine. Case in point: the Columns Hotel, where an AC vent positioned under a certain corner perch at the bar blasts frigid air up dresses and trouser legs.

New Orleans cold fronts, we discovered, invariably include sepulchral dive- and sports bars, sushi-and-steak houses, booze-friendly movie theaters, cigar lounges with their humidors and fat-cat clientele, vegetarian outposts, jacket-required establishments and all those f-f-f-frozen daiquiri factories indigenous to Veterans Highway and Bourbon Street.

“The challenge with daiquiri places is this: Are you cold because you are drinking them or because the bar is cold?” pondered Virginia Saussy, a marketing consultant for the Warehouse District’s Lucy’s Retired Surfer Bar & Restaurant, known for its “Arctic Shelf Pleasers,” such as Tito’s Frozen Lemonade. “Boozer’s dilemma,” she shrugged.
As for perception-versus-reality venues, a case in point is Uptown’s Brothers III Lounge, which is cooled by multiple wall boxes and deemed “butt-freezing” by a quartet of social-coasters on our makeshift team, most with penchants for black-tie and for slumming it.
On a Thursday afternoon at Brothers III, a surly barkeep growled, “I have no idea what the temperature is in here. Maybe 70? But we’re the coolest bar in town, and we got the coldest beer in town.” As evidence that it was “cold all right,” he added, “I may be the only bartender here who wears long pants and a long shirt to work in the summer.”

Not the only one, actually. At Dos Jefes Uptown Cigar Bar on Tchoupitoulas Street, a bartender pointed to the blue jeans he wore to work to keep warm. He explained the wavering mercurial conditions (72 at that moment). “It’s colder now because it’s slow. Once the bodies roll in, though, it’ll ramp up the heat,” he said. And the temperature setting is lowered.

Source of pride

“It actually makes us pretty happy when someone eating at Mondo says, ‘It’s a little chilly in here,’ said Spicer, “because when we first opened four years ago, the AC wasn’t working right and it was hot, hot, hot. But once we added five more tons (of AC capacity) things got a lot better. Maybe we’re overcompensating now, but we do tend to keep thermostats set on 72.”
At the Riverbend’s New Orleans Original Daiquiris, a server reached by telephone placed the average temperature at 72. “We keep the settings in locked boxes to keep customers from turning it down,” she said. But on multiple visits we found the double-meters, encased in plastic, holding steady at 69.

Which is just how Tory McPhail, executive chef of Commander’s Palace, likes it: walk-in frigid. “It’s certainly cold at that daiquiri place,” he said, “but it’s also a cool spot to hang out because it’s more of a broad swath of residents — from judges to junkies — than anywhere I can think of … except maybe Central Lock-Up, which is certainly cold-hearted.”
He and others chose Port of Call in their top three of freeze-outs. “Besides being cold inside, the Monsoons have so much liquor in them that a layer of frost builds up around the outside of the go-cup,” McPhail said. “Cools me just thinking about it.”
Sean Meenan — a New York restaurateur and New Orleans transplant who’s feeling the heat from French Quarter residents over his envisioned Café Habana on Rampart and Esplanade — resides mere blocks from Port of Call. He too calls it “one cool oasis. You leave the outside behind when you enter.”
It isn’t so much the AC setting (72), so much as the positioning of the vents, which blast from all directions, including from above. On an early afternoon visit, a herd of customers wallowed outside the door in the 96-degree heat. When this reporter attempted to shake pepper onto a cheese-cloaked spud, it blew starboard onto a neighbor’s burger.

Back in the 60s

Likewise, beef people Mr. John’s Steak House, the Lower Garden District fixture, made the coldest Top 3. “It’s a f---ing iceberg in there!” said Brian Bockman, a Garden District architect who frequents the St. Charles Avenue restaurant. On an early bird visit, the maitre’d allowed that the temperature was 69 inside.
Restaurateur Robert LeBlanc — whose Lower Garden District whiskey bar Barrel Proof keeps its AC set at 65 when the doors are open to the street — said Mr. John’s was gloves-down the coldest restaurant in town. “I don’t know any colder dining room … or steakhouse. And they’re all pretty cold.”

Alternately, meat-averse Seed on Lower Prytania is “completely freezing too,“ said Bockman, “Probably due to the fact it’s vegan.” A weekday lunch visit found the temperature set at 73, but ceiling fans, concrete floors and a melon color palette in the cucumber-cool room spread the crisp-air love.
Then there’s the dress code-rigid Galatoire’s (owned by Advocate publisher John Georges), also a top ice pick. With its 60 tons of AC on the first floor alone, Galatoire’s keeps the temperature at 68, said president and CEO Melvin Rodrigue. “It’s all about the humidity,” he said.

“When August rolls around, I seek safe — and very cold harbor — at Galatoire’s, where they always keep the icy martinis and cold Sancerre coming,” said Julia Reed, vocal local and author of “But Mama Always Put Vodka in Her Sangria!”

Reed called it a tie between Galatoire’s and the AMC Elmwood Palace 20 for cold spots, the latter “where a frozen margarita makes even the most mundane summer blockbuster entertaining.”
Tom Sancton, a clarinetist and author who gigs at the Palm Court Jazz Café, Preservation Hall and Snug Harbor, wholly concurred, seeking Arctic air at Elmwood. “None of the jazz clubs I play at really fit the freezing bill,” he said. “A lot of them on Frenchmen Street have open doors.”

Also cold

Yes, we know there are so many untapped cold spots out there that eluded our three-week sledding expedition. Try not to sweat it; lift a frosty mug instead.
Here’s our short list of freeze-factor runners up: the French Quarter’s Fahy’s Irish Pub (on Burgundy), uptown’s Superior Seafood, Grit’s Bar and Clancy’s, the Riverbend’s Cooter Brown’s, the Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Room, Liuzza’s (Mid-City), and, as a whole, Harrah’s Casino … where, of course, cooler heads prevail when the chips are down.