Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Dream for the City

The Hypothetical Development Organization has been wandering New Orleans neighborhoods putting up renderings of fantastical buildings which, like the Trump condos on Poydras, will never get built. It's an interesting project that gets you thinking about the future, or lack of it, for sites around town. Check out their video. Or visit their website for more info.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Trump Dumped in New Orleans

The Donald's overly-hyped 70-story $400 million hotel and luxury condo tower in New Orleans' Central Business District is dead. The property was foreclosed and sold to the parking lot operators that occupy the site now. Pity. Had Trump become president there was always the chance that his glizty building could have been the winter White House. As it is we all get to appreciate the new handsome Zatarain's mural on the side of the Queen & Crescent Hotel facing Poydras Street.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Orleans: One Singular Sensation?

Travel & Leisure has just proclaimed New Orleans "America's best city for singles." The magazine lists our cafes and cocktails as well as our array of fascinating citizens (some of whom are even sober) as key components in winning the #1 spot. T&L cites Frenchmen Street and its live music as some sort of place "popular with the locals" now that the meanderthals have overtaken Bourbon Street. Guess nobody told them about the burgeoning bar scene along St. Claude Avenue. All in all the article's the perfect set up for the bachelor party I'm hosting for my friend Patten next weekend.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dead Certainties

It's been a rainy few days. That's been welcome in New Orleans. We haven't been getting as much recently. Grey, cloudy days are cemetery days -- a good time to call on the dead. We live close to the dead in New Orleans. My home's in spitting distance of Pretty Baby photographer E.J. Bellocq in St. Louis #3. In the summer it's possible to catch a whiff of the sweet-sick smell of corruption from I-10 as you fly past St. Louis #2. These cemeteries are famous, and every tourist knows them. The one they should visit, but don't, is Metairie Cemetery located near the end of the Red Street Car line - look for the ones that say "Cemeteries" across the car's brow. Set on the site of an 1838 race track this was, and still is, the place to spend your eternal repose. Anne Rice buried her husband Stan here. (New Orleanians still gossip about him.) And Ruth U. Fertel, founder of Ruth's Chris Steak House, pays for an annual birthday party at the site of her tomb. (I don't know if they're allowed to grill out.) The cemetery holds Louis Prima, Al Hirt and even Confederate President Jeff Davis stayed here briefly before being moved on. The tombs are imposing and done in all sorts of architectural styles from Gothic Revival to Egyptian to Art Deco. Stewart Enterprises, which owns Metairie, does a good job grooming the park-like grounds. It makes for a nice day out. If you want to know more my friend Helen Anders of the Austin American-Statesman has a good overview.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

At the Tippling Point

Since Tales of the Cocktail opened last Wednesday, it seems New Orleans has been taken over by bartenders, liquor publicists, libational historians and enthusiastic boozers. And it seems to be growing ever more popular. Founded in 2003 as a way for enthusiasts to celebrate and share information about classic New Orleans drinks like Sazeracs and Ramos Gin Fizzes, Tales soon found itself bubbling upwards on a fizzy trajectory. Last year more than 18,000 people attended the four-day festival, according to the organizers, and 2011 appears to be even bigger. Opening ceremonies took place in Gallier Hall, an antebellum Greek inspired temple on St. Charles Avenue. I caught one of the many tasting parties at the penthouse pool patio of the French Quarter’s Hotel Monteleone. These tastings are schmoozy, boozy parties sponsored by liquor companies such as Absolut, Cointreau and Pernod eager to promote their brands. Longtime Tales veterans say they despise the tastings for their crass commercialism. But hey, promotions work. Sixteen stories above Royal Street, the crowd glowed from perspiration (the heat index read 101) and the drinks being poured by host Brugal Rum: "The Number 1 in the Caribbean." Bikini-clad go-go dancers frugged while waiters with platters of canap├ęs navigated the pool and billowing curtains of white linen. A friend, who received a photo from the event via cell phone, texted back: "Where are you? The 1960s?" It could have been an episode of Mad Men.

Lost in the fun is Tales' educational mission with attendees paying $45 a piece for seminars with titles like "From Grain to Bottle" or "Mysteries of Wood Maturation." During these lectures experts share their secrets in sourcing and concocting the perfect cocktail. Hint: mixers and fresh ingredients are key. And they can be entertaining. See this link to Wayne Curtis explaining Colonial American drinks.

Taking it all in at the Monteleone was Luke Tullos from Lafayette, Louisiana. Tullos, a bartender, or "mixologist" as members of the profession like to refer to themselves, takes Tales very seriously.

"I focus on the mixology programs here," Tullos says. "I then go and share what I have learned."

What does Lafayette think about handcrafted cocktails?

"My customers love them," he says. "People in small towns get tired of drinking beer."

Tales runs until July 24.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Gem in the Black Pearl

Like a pole dancer with intimacy issues New Orleans doesn't reveal its real nature immediately. Not at first. It makes a big show out of its obvious assets, but its best attributes take time to uncover. That may be a reaction to being a tourist destination. Thanks to two centuries of clever marketing, travelers think they know all about the place.

They're wrong. Take the neighborhoods of New Orleans, for example. Visitors know about the Quarter, Uptown, maybe even the Bywater, but within these famous hoods are subsets -- 72 in all, says the City Planning Commission that cataloged them. They should know. Before living here I had never heard of places like Gert Town, St. Roch and the Black Pearl. The latter's lyrical name is new. The original name for the neighborhood contained an ugly epithet. More on that here.

This week I went to eat lunch in the Black Pearl on Perrier Street at Tartine. (From San Francisco, I immediately think of the great Mission bakery Tartine and their melty, righteous orange rolls.) But this is a bistro, not a bakery, though they do bake their own bread on the premises, and it's good, too. What Tartine New Orleans offers is a good lunch in an informal setting. Tasty sandwiches with crusty, warm bread, salads and tartines, or open-faced sandwich. I ordered the grilled
vegetables. It arrived packed with roasted tomatoes, manchego cheese, herbed olive oil on focaccia with an amazing side of garlic-y white beans. The next time I come I'm ordering the ham with triple cream brie, fig mustard and topped with butter lettuce on a baguette. I hope the beans remain the side. Tartine is owned by Cara Benson, a graduate of Loyola and The French Culinary Institute, who came home to New Orleans with a dream. When I was there she was preparing the lunch with the help of her mom and crew. I think Cara's dream is delicious. I'm returning to the Black Pearl next week for the ham.

Tartine New Orleans; 7217 Perrier Street; 504.866.4860; Reviews

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hotsy #totc - Tales Returns

If you're hearing more ice cubes rattling in town this week, it's because there are more drinks than usual being poured in New Orleans. Tales of the Cocktail - the alcoholic seminar that became a phenomena is back in town. Last year, say the organizers, 18,750 people attended the five-day festival. None of them teetotalers. Though all are encouraged to imbibe responsibly, there will be plenty of what the French have recently taken to calling Le Binge Drinking. I won't be running with that crowd. Instead, I'll try to attend as many seminars as I can. I'm especially looking forward to hearing Atlantic writer Wayne Curtis and his lecture on Colonial cocktails. Wayne always mixes great history and great drinks. You can still order his charming and insightful book And a Bottle of Rum: The History of the New World in 10 Cocktails. Good stuff. Otherwise I will retreat to Neal Bodenheimer's Cure on Freret and let the cocktailing come to me. Enjoy Tales. It's #totc on Twitter.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Treat Them (to) High Hat

One of the biggest satisfactions I've had after moving to New Orleans is watching the revival of Freret Street, the Uptown shopping district damaged by urban decline and Katrina's waters. I can confirm the new High Hat, Adolfo Garcia's tasty new cafe confirms the trend and is, itself, a real cause for celebration.
I dined with a crowd there this weekend, and was quite impressed. We feasted on delish pork po boys (just big enough), fresh fried catfish and a double fried donut that reset the table's taste buds. I'd come back for the Cuban sandwich and the greens. I hear great things about both. My hat's off to Adolfo's -- his new and neighborhood cafe is off to a promising start.

High Hat Cafe: 4500 Freret; (504) 754-1336; Reviews

Saturday, July 16, 2011

An Ode to Joy

Visitors to New Orleans often wonder where its theater district is located. The short answer is "no where you're going soon." Located atop Canal and bisected by Rampart and Basin Streets, the city's four great theaters -- the Orpheum, the Joy, the Saenger, the Loews State Palace are boarded up and ignored. Or were. The Saenger is on the way back. Now word the Joy is going to reopen as a concert venue. Good news. More pictures of New Orleans theaters can be found at