Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Practical Guide to Drinking in New Orleans

New Orleans is a fantastic place for a number of reasons. If you have never been to the Big Easy, there is probably no way to mentally prepare yourself for what awaits you there. Food and drink, not necessarily in that order, are a HUGE part of the culture of the city. Also, the city is very old and the French Quarter and surrounding older parts of the city were built before anyone imagined an automobile, subway, or other modern conveniences. In the French Quarter, the streets are extremely narrow and the buildings are ancient.

There is much to discuss about New Orleans and all of the great things to do there, but today I want to focus on one thing: Drinking. If you go to New Orleans, you are going to drink. It's practically mandatory. So, if you are an avowed AA member and are carrying anything less than a 10 years chip, I'd avoid it altogether.

One other thing to avoid is taking children to New Orleans. Bourbon Street is R-rated- and that's during the day. If your kids are young, there are things they just shouldn't see and if they are older and impressionable, they are only going to get ideas that you don't want them to have. Details below.

One thing you should probably do before traveling to New Orleans is to find some sort of hangover remedy that works for you because you're gonna need it. Mind you, I am not promoting binge drinking. It's dangerous and generally not good for you. People should always drink in moderation. Trust me, though, you will overindulge at least once during a trip of a couple days in New Orleans.

If you have any sort of powers of observation at all, one of the first things you are going to notice is that some form of alcohol is available almost everywhere and at all times. There are nifty little frozen cocktail joints located on at least every other block. For less than ten bucks, you can get about forty ounces of some sort of frozen concoction to help you hold on. (These are a decent hangover remedy- assuming, of course, your idea of a hangover remedy is to commence getting liquored up again.) These frozen drinks are also great for sipping on while strolling around the French Quarter and touring the historic cemeteries.

That's right- strolling around with drinks! New Orleans has no open container ordinances. That, my friends, is enlightened thinking. As a matter of fact, from my own personal experiences, it is damned near impossible to get arrested in the French Quarter, assuming you aren't raping and pillaging. If you can manage to avoid urinating in the street or walking around with a glass container, you should be able to completely avoid the attention of local law enforcement.

If you have never been to New Orleans, you are undoubtedly going to want to check out Bourbon Street just about as bad as you want to ride Space Mountain the minute you get to Disneyland. Let me suggest that you make your first visit to Bourbon Street during the daytime hours. Trust me on this- the place is seriously too forking crazy when the sun goes down. The part of Bourbon Street you are going to want to visit is maybe 6 or 8 blocks. Start from the west- around Canal Street. (Hint: the further east you go, you are going to notice an increasing presence of rainbow flags. Gay bars. If that's what you're looking for, that's where they are.) The westerly part of Bourbon Street is decidedly heterosexual, or perhaps just perverted. What you are going to notice are wall to wall bars, a fair number of which offer very adult entertainment. Larry Flynt has a few franchises in the neighborhood. Some of these places have pretty graphic advertising of what sorts of things are available inside, including cameo appearances from the performers standing near the entrances. This is a good example of why you really shouldn't take the kids. There are also a few restaurants and souvenir shops. Actually, there are a few very notable restaurants, like Arnaud's.

The other advantage to touring Bourbon Street by day is that you have a better chance of telling one bar from another. At night, the place is crowded and, because you can take your beer to go, it really is difficult to tell one loud, crowded joint from another.

You are going to want to visit a few of the famous watering holes. For instance, you must stop by the Old Absinthe House for a libation. This is not classy drinking. The place looks and smells exactly like you think it would. It's wonderful.

Another landmark drinking stop is Pat O'Brien's for a hurricane. Pat O'Brien's is huge and features about three distinctive areas. Hurricanes aren't made- they are produced. A bartender takes that big famous glass, or a very tall plastic cup, packs it with ice, an orange slice and a maraschino cherry, and then dispatches the drinks from a muti-pronged wand that can fill three or four glasses at the same time. I imagine the basement at P. O'B's is where a series of very large tanks full of the elixir is located. At night, particualrly on a weekend, they must go through hundreds of gallons of the stuff. A word of caution: be very careful with the hurricanes. I didn't try to conduct any sort of analysis, or bother to ask for that matter, but from what I can tell they are made from two ingredients- rum and the color red. If you're smart you'll have one and then move on. If you're like everyone else, you'll have at least two. If you have four or more, you ought to get back to the hotel immediately and lie down, because chances are you aren't going to remember what happens next. When you leave O'Brien's you are going to get to take the glass with you. Attendants at the door will wrap and package it for you. You've got to bring home a hurricane galss from Pat O'Brien's. Your spouse is not going to appreciate it. The damned things are nearly impossible to wash (maybe that's why they give these things away)and they are too big to fit in the cabinet where you keep the other drinking glasses at home, but they make great iced tea glasses. Forget trying to buy hurricane mix and making your own- there is no way to credibly duplicate this drink at home.

Happy hour on Bourbon Street is a new experience. Here in Sioux Falls, the most advanced form of Happy Hour involves two-fers. If you can't find a place offering three-fers on Bourbon Street, you just aren't exerting any effort. Remember, you don't have to finish your drinks at the bar- you can take them with you- just ask for a go cup.

The Acme Oyster House is within a block of Bourbon Street on Iberville. If you go there during the day, you might avoid a line to get it. Sit at the bar and suck down a few oysters opened before your eyes by the talented staff. Wash them down with an Abita beer (pronounced A-beet-a). Be careful of the Abita Alligator beer that one of the oyster shuckers might suggest. It's like 14% alcohol which is about double the bounce of a regular beer. You're going to end up drunk enough as it is, so why rush it?

Speaking of discretion, you are going to see people walking around with funny looking plastic drinking vessels shaped like hand grenades. The shape of the "glass" should be a hint that this is something to avoid. I don't know what's in them, but they will definitely bomb your liver, and probably your judgment.

If Bourbon Street is a bit wild by day, it's absolutely INSANE at night. Sometime around 5 or 6 PM, the police start closing off the cross streets and no traffic is allowed on Bourbon. It's a little like being at the Rally at that point, only with less leather and more booze. It's a little hard to describe- the whole place is like one huge bar. There are lots of performance artists around, including young kids who will tap dance for tips using shoes with homemade taps made from aluminum cans. There are other performance artists roaming the streets, too: the ones from the adult entertainment venues who are out giving away free drink tickets or free admission tickets and, in some cases, free samples. Most bars are going to have live music and most of it is great.

My last piece of advice is to take someone with you. This is definitely time for the buddy system. A cell phone won't do. Assuming you can hear who you are talking to, they probably aren't going to be able to hear you.

Let the good times roll, but stay safe. There is really nothing like New Orleans.

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