|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.”
“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?
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.
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
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.”
Back in the 60s
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.”
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!”