Dec 27, 2011

A Big Easy birthday bar crawl

Considering how it’s been almost a month since my birthday, I figured I’d better wrap up the series of New Orleans blogs with the night of bar hopping that concluded the trip (well, except for the following day we used to recover).

As fate would have it, I was accompanied on my drinking tour by a mysterious and exotic Gypsy who happened to be falling more in love with New Orleans with every day we spent there.  Lucky me, as it bodes well for our future, no doubt J.  We began the night still full from our Jazz brunch at Court of Two Sisters, which served as a good base.  I would eventually need it, too because I didn’t start lightly.

First stop:  Pat O’Brien’s and their main bar to the left side of the entrance on St. Peter Street.  The drinks are always a little cheaper there than if you order them in the courtyard of piano bar.  It was a chilly night, so sitting beside the flaming fountain in the courtyard wasn’t going to make or break the experience.  Besides, you get plenty of bar feel inside with the enough German beer steins hanging everywhere from the ceiling and classic pictures dotting the walls from years gone by.  I started with a signature hurricane …

… and followed that up with Pat O’s other signature drink, the mint julep.

Before things got too out of hand too early, Gypsy suggested we get to Muriel’s for my birthday dinner.  Muriel’s was another fantastic dining experience and an excellent treat.  It’s also centrally located for the entire Quarter, right on Jackson Square.  But dinner will have to be blogged about another time; however, for some reason I thought it was a good idea to have two glasses of their house Riesling with my meal.  Never one to mix wine with beer or mixed drinks very often, this could have easily been the slow start to an early downfall. 
It certainly impaired my judgment (along with my food hangover after dinner) because we followed up dinner with a visit to PiratesAlley Café, which was just a short walk past the St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square and a right turn down the appropriately named Pirates Alley. 

A full service café in the daytime, Pirates Alley is perhaps best known for being one of the few bars that serves absinthe – the real thing – in New Orleans.  We were fortunate to find two seats at the small bar and got the complete demonstration on how to properly pour and serve absinthe by their outstanding bartender.  We also got an excellent history lesson on absinthe – for example, who knew lighting the sugar cube on fire was an Eastern European thing and didn’t originate in France?  Even when it comes to mixology, you can learn something new every day.

I really wish I could remember the bartender’s name, but I blame the absinthe, of course.  Gypsy seems to think her name was Morgan, so if that's true, thanks for making us feel welcome, Morgan!  

We had enough fun (and could actually remember it) that we returned the following night for a serving of Death in the Afternoon, which is absinthe and champagne and is supposedly one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite drinks.  We also loved hanging out with the locals, especially the haunted history tour operators. 

As you can tell from the picture, I enjoyed a nice $10 pour of Kubler.  And sometimes birthday karma can be an excellent thing because the German tourists who apparently followed us from Muriel’s had ordered the top-shelf stuff at $20 a glass and felt it was too strong.  As soon as the bartender learned it was my birthday, I inherited the unwanted glass on the house. 
So, two glasses of absinthe later, I’m feeling pretty happy and don’t really care how much longer my birthday lasts.  But Gypsies have their bewitching ways of inspiring you, so off to Bourbon Street and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop we went.  From one pirate hangout to another, I guess.   
By this time, I figured I needed something to enliven me, so I had a rum and coke hoping for a caffeine kick.  Gypsy continued her vodka tonic theme begun earlier at Pat O’Brien’s.  However, she, like me, swayed to wine at dinner and absinthe at Pirates Alley.  She can handle her libations, I must admit. 

Lafitte’s claims to one of if not the oldest continuously operating bars in the country and it tries to keep that feel of what it would have been like to drink there 200 years ago by limiting the electricity and using candlelight throughout the bar.  I’m pretty sure, however, that the piano in the back has been a more recent addition.  Even with a few concessions to modern times, the bar is one of my favorites and I always try to visit it when I’m in New Orleans.   
Trust me, there's a piano back there somewhere.
The brick and wood bar at Lafitte's
The walk through the Quarter and the cola must have helped because on our way back to the hotel, I thought we should make a pit stop at JohnnyWhite’s, the bar which never closes and famously adhered to that promise throughout Hurricane Katrina.  Not even the National Guard could shut them down. 
A look behind the bar at Johnny White's
Johnny White’s is probably the best place on Bourbon Street to get a local flavor of the French Quarter and a nice, stiff drink as well.  They’re also very pet friendly.  I can’t remember a time I was in there when there wasn’t a dog or two with their owners.  On this occasion, I balanced myself on the one free barstool and had another rum and coke to keep my energy level going. 

We eventually found our way back to the Prince Conti Hotel, or rather the bar across the street from the Prince Conti Hotel – the Erin Rose.  Gypsy loves her Irish bars, so I figured this would be the perfect spot to end the night with a Jameson and ginger ale. 
Well, you know how the best laid plans sometimes get away from you … after a second one, a freebie from the bartender, we found ourselves talking to a couple guys at the corner of the bar who had stayed in town after the Saints game the night earlier and were still partying.  They also apparently knew something about running bars in New Orleans and Key West. They may have had connections with the Hog’s Breath Saloon in both Key West and Destin, Fla., actually, but my memory may have been a little fuzzy at this point.  I do seem to remember when there was a Hog’s Breath in New Orleans from back in the day.  Anyway, they weren’t ready for us to call it a night, so they bought two more rounds for us.  It turned out to be a long nightcap, but the conversation was worth the stay. 
Fortunately, we only had to toddle back across Conti Street to our hotel room and to sleep off the night’s carousing.  We followed with a much slower day of window shopping.  And one thing we learned from the entire trip was our love for New Orleans was renewed.  It’s no wonder I try to get back there twice a year.

1 comment:

nichole said...

Love these reports! I have never been to New Orleans so I enjoy living it through you and Gypsy!

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...