NOLA Weekend 

The many rewards of staggering through New Orleans.

You haven't really experienced New Orleans until you carry a comically drunk stranger back to his hotel (aided half-way through this foolishness by yet another complete stranger), dump the fellow in the lobby, and politely ask the concierge to call housekeeping or security.

I'd dropped in the Royal House Oyster Bar for some oysters and sauvignon blanc — which work together particularly well — and struck up a conversation with a friendly chap, right about the time he quit working particularly well. Shortly after he'd decided that we needed to write a book together and demanded to pay for my dinner, he dropped his wallet on the floor. On his way down to get it, I grabbed his bald cranium so he didn't split said skull on the marble bar. Say what you want about the crime in New Orleans, everyone around helped him gather his scattered wallet. Having lost the argument over my bar tab, I felt obliged to get him across the street to his hotel. It was like a village, and he was our idiot.

click to enlarge Sazerac Bar Roosevelt Hotel NOLA
  • Sazerac Bar Roosevelt Hotel NOLA

He was drinking chardonnay. I don't think that explains anything, but I thought you should know. It's hard to criticize the hordes of bleary-eyed tourists roaming these streets at 9:30 a.m., because it is very hard to find a place where you aren't expected to be drinking. The Bottom of the Cup Tea Room on Rue Chartres looked innocent enough until a bohemian lady brought some badly strained tea, dumped it out, and proclaimed my fortune. She said I would go away thirsty.

Directly across the street is SoBou (South of Bourbon), the newest member of the Commander's Palace restaurant family. Like the décor, the food is excellent but more modern than the flagship. One very New Orleans touch was the beer taps in the tables (and it did my heart good to see Wiseacre among them). It's self-serve, and you're charged by weight — like a boozy version of YoLo.

There are several local beers, and they do know how to brew for hot weather here, but this is a cocktail town. And few scream "N'awlins" in the right accent like the Sazerac: rye, bitters, and a little simple syrup shaken well and served in a glass with an absinthe rinse. You can get a good one in Memphis, but at the Sazerac Bar in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, you can get a good one in context: the long undulating bar, spotless and gleaming under the low art deco lights. I'm always slightly surprised to not find St. Peter working the door. They also charge $16 per cocktail.

Honestly, the rotting elegance of the Napoleon House is my favorite spot to have the world's first cocktail. My mother's family is from New Orleans, so the city has always been something of a psychic anchor for me, and the Napoleon House is a link in that chain. I stumbled onto Café Soulé, on Rue St. Louis, almost by accident. You should, too. They claim their food is French–Louisiana fusion; given that traditional Creole is a fusion of French and whatever else was handy, that's a bit vague. At any rate, the prices are good, the service friendly. The waiter shook my hand when I told him my middle name was Jaubert, and he remembered the old department store that used to bear our name. The place was filled with French people, whatever that tells you, and the crawfish étoufée, with some spice, plays well with a fruity Beaujolais.

I ran into the fellow from the oyster bar a day or so later. He looked rough, but he remembered me. In his honor, I offer this cautionary advice: Southern belles have long employed the trick of accessorizing until perfect, and then removing one piece of jewelry. There is a very feminine wisdom in this — the bedrock assumption that left to our own devices, we tend to overdo it.

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