“Just one drink on Bourbon Street,” BJ said as we left a restaurant on Chartres Street in the French Quarter with a few other guys who were also in town for work. “We’ll get one drink, just to see what Bourbon is like, and then we’ll leave.” Some in our group had never been to New Orleans prior to this trip, and had not seen the madness of Bourbon Street. The rest of us had previously witnessed the drunken debauchery of the infamous thirteen-block long road, but never on Halloween weekend. I don’t think any of us fully knew what we were in for.
Of course, there is more to New Orleans than just Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. Founded in 1718 by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville and often credited as the birthplace of jazz, the city is quickly approaching its tri-centennial anniversary. Over those three hundred years, it could be argued that the city has seen more trials and tribulation than any other city in the United States. Many in the city can trace their roots back to the Acadians, who were forcibly removed from what is now Canada from 1755 to 1764, and landed in New Orleans as refugees. The city has had to deal with devastating citywide fires and hurricanes of the most severe variety. More recently, Hurricane Katrina displaced over 800,000 citizens of the southern port city. Slavery, crime, drugs, and constantly rebuilding have created a citizenry that would rank among the most resilient in the world.
“Fuck you, Dan. Hurricanes? We’re gonna start the night with hurricanes!” I proclaimed as I took the massive cup of red liquid that the city is famous for from Dan, a UK import that can be best described as intelligent, stylish, and almost always armed with a camera. Primarily consisting of rum, fruit, and whatever-the-fuck-else the bartended feels like throwing in, my drink tasted like cough syrup on crushed ice. I immediately started to mentally prepare myself for what would be a long night that, unbeknownst to me at the time, would not end until six in the morning.
We walked out of the bar and back out on to Bourbon Street with the intent of walking the length of it before turning off for more quiet and less cramped accommodations. The street itself was packed shoulder to shoulder with people of all varieties. Many were dressed up in celebration of Halloween, most were in varying stages of inebriation, and all were involved in propping up the legend of Rue Bourbon that night. I consider myself to be someone that is pretty hard to shock; it takes a lot to make me look twice at anything. ‘Shocked’ doesn’t even begin to cover my emotions as we walked down the packed street. Nothing was off limits. In fact, pushing any perceived limits was the bare minimum.
In the week I spent in the city leading up to this night, I was fortunate to experience the delicious and unique food that the city is know for. Felix’s, an oyster restaurant in the Quarter, stands out in particular. The oysters are fresh, and come in many varieties – order them char grilled for a real treat. They also serve a delicious alligator meat appetizer. I’m not entirely sure how it’s prepared, but I know you would be hard pressed to find better alligator anywhere else.
If you are a pork fan, then you have to pay a visit to Cochon Butcher on Tchoupitoulas Street. The meat is prepared fresh on site, and you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. If you don’t get something with pork though, you are doing yourself a disservice.
We finally worked our way off Bourbon Street, heading a few blocks down to an intersection that had a hot dog restaurant and bar. They didn’t close the road down to traffic, yet there was a street party going on. The crowd in this area was a little more sophisticated, by which I mean they weren’t throwing up on the street quite as much as on Bourbon Street. Shortly after we arrived, a truck with a bed full of speakers pulled up and started playing music. At six feet five inches tall, I look awkward at best when I attempt to dance. With a hurricane, four beers, and three shots under my belt at that point… my insecurities about dancing were non-existent. The rumor is that there might be photos and or videos floating around as evidence, but I haven’t seen anything to incriminating yet.
The atmosphere was incredible, and we topped off the night with sausage and jambalaya from a street grill right off the intersection. Just to be clear, by ‘street grill’, I literally mean they set up a table and fired up a grill right on the street. It was delicious though, and further cemented my opinion that NOLA has some of the best food around if you look in the right places.
Our Saturday night out was an appropriate, if not perfect way to end our stay in ‘Nawlins. It’s reputation centers around Bourbon Street, and that is certainly earned, but many don’t know that the city has a vibrant art scene, excellent street musicians, amazing restaurants, and an atmosphere that is both literally and figuratively intoxicating. The architecture is incredible and unique as well, with influences from many different cultures. I wouldn’t recommend sight seeing after dark with young children; it definitely transforms into an adult party atmosphere as the sun sets. On the whole, it’s a place worth visiting at least once. You really do have to see it to believe it!