Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Old NY friends introduced to New Orleans

This past weekend, I introduced New Orleans to childhood friends from Long Island. We'd been trying to get together since our 50th birthdays, but children, husbands and work obligations always interfered.

I knew New Orleans was the cheap, weekend fix everybody needed, if only they knew. I would endeavor to show them.

The first challenge was lodging. The city has been rediscovered by tourists and conventioneers and, of course, spring is the most beautiful time of year. Thirty thousand hotel rooms were booked. We checked craigslist, but many of those elegant French Quarter apartments were suspect.

I chose the same historic bed and breakfast in the Lower Garden District where my college friends stay. When my girlfriend booked a suite and double room, my first question was: But did you get a balcony? A balcony is a real plus.

Sue came in early with her husband and did all the usual things - breakfast at Brennan's; martini lunch at Commander's; the streetcar ride down St. Charles and walking tour of the Garden District. I couldn't convince them to stay up late for Lindy Hop at Mimi's in the Marigny or Zydeco night at Rock 'N' Bowl.

The night Patti arrived, Sue and I were already at Dos Jefes cigar bar listening to live jazz. She told the taxi driver to take her directly from the airport there, wheeling her carry-on luggage into the bar. We ordered another round of drinks.

Next day, Nancy and Che arrived. We all took the scenic streetcar to Oak Street and ate dinner sitting at a picnic table on the sidewalk outside Jacques-Imo's Cafe. The girls learned about Blackened Redfish, Eggplant Pirogue, Shrimp Etoufee and a host of sides, including corn maquechoux, mashed sweet potatoes, red beans and rice and greens. They'd never tasted greens like these - collard greens cooked in bacon fat - mmmm. Back in a cab to the Quarter for the mandatory stroll up Bourbon Street. (I'm not sure why this tour holds such fascination, but it does. Jackson Square at night I understand because that's magical.) Okay, everyone was tired and it was already a long day.

Saturday morning, we did a quick car tour around the Garden District, looked for the St. Joseph's Day parade and walked to the top of the levee to see tugboats and ships pass by. We made a stop at the Music Factory to sample local music at various listening stations. I bought Tom McDermott's "New Orleans Duets" that I'd been wanting. Sue got a chance to hear Zydeco with the head sets, but it was too early for the live band. We tried fresh pralines from a candy store and headed to Bayou St. John and City Park, passing by the New Orleans Museum of Art and Botanical garden.

It was too late to tour the Pitot House on Bayou St. John and the girls were starving. So, we took a lunch break at Parkway Bakery. No oyster po-boys! Wow, that's a disappointment. The counter guy said the oysters weren't up to snuff, so they refused to serve them. Nancy and I settled for fried shrimp and the others tried roast beef and catfish po-boys and sweet potato fries. Patti noted President Obama has eaten at Parkway, but who hasn't? The line to order was quite long, but we drank Dixie beer while waiting. Parkway was a huge success.

Just a few hours later it would be time for dinner. I dropped a couple off at the French Market to buy souvenirs and the others went back Uptown for T-shirts at the Tulane campus bookstore.

When we arrived at Clancy's restaurant, the tables were already full. The place books up well in advance, but we had a reservation for five upstairs. The service and everyone's meal were fantastic. Now, we're showing off some real Uptown New Orleans style.

Several classmates from Sacred Heart Academy, wearing a pink headdresses, were having a reunion dinner. Patti had to find out what that was about. We made friends with the table beside us, explaining the duration of the friendships.
Palm Court Jazz Cafe

Lionel Ferbos

Then, we went back to the Quarter to hear traditional jazz at The Palm Court Jazz Cafe. After a couple of relaxed numbers, the group was on their feet, dancing.

Cheryl dancing with some strange man

We closed down the club and headed toward Frenchmen's Street where we heard Big Fine Ellen Smith sing and dance with her trumpeter and fiance.

That about finished the night off. Besides, we had brunch reservations the next day at Muriel's on the Square - another fine Creole feast.

I found the makings of a new Mardi Gras costume on the way there and we stopped in a wig store to check out the blue, pink and orange hairdos. Two little girls were trying on new curls.

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