Insider's Guide to New Orleans: A Master Class in Alco-Tourism
“There are three things New Orleaneans like,” said Nicholas Manuel, my host for a recent trip to Southern Louisiana. “Day drinking, dressing up in costumes and dancing in large groups.” My friend’s native knowledge was asserted later in the day, when we joined up with merrymaking amateur dance troupe 610 Stompers on their June BallCrawl, dubbed Uptown Throwdown.
The look on this particular weekend was “neon 80s workout” — the Stompers and their hundreds-strong retinue wore an eyeball-searing raiment as they delivered choreographed routines all across town, backed by a bomber sound system in the bed of a pickup truck. Though only an elite few can dance their way into the Stompers themselves (their motto is “Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Moves”), all are welcome to follow the flotilla from bar to bar and drink and dance along to the beat.
Early afternoon found the parade docking at Le Bon Temps Roule, a casual bar-venue legendary for pre-5 PM partying. Though it rained off-and-on all day, the intermittent soakings dampened BallCrawlers’ spirits not even a little. “It’s like college,” I remarked offhandedly to Nicholas, watching a hula-hooper leap a mud puddle to complete a flying high-five with a mustachio’d bro clad in booty shorts and a headband. He gave me a look. “If you learned to drink in college,” he said seriously, “Consider New Orleans grad school.”
Bourbon Street may hold the hurl-scented scepter of alcoholic excess in New Orleans, but the real expert-level drinking goes on elsewhere in the city, away from the toasted tourists and shrieking bachelorettes. As we traveled the byways of the Big Easy from the Irish Channel to Frenchmen Street, key features that distinguished expert drinking parlors revealed themselves — hallmarks of the graduate level that made patrons happy and owners cool cash.
Nosh & Hydrate
At both casual BBQ restaurants like The Joint and breezy dives like the Half Moon, getting your grub on means heading to the counter to order and pay all at once. Throw the counterman a couple bucks, sit your butt down and wait to hear your number. It’s a fast, labor-saving system that guarantees clueless drunks or shifty types won’t walk out before laying out the cash for their late-night snack.
When good draft brews and shots run an average of $4, smart publicans make sure guests can re-hydrate and stay to spend more. Rather than tie up busy bartenders, classy dives like R Bar plant a construction-style spigot cooler and cups on a counter and let you water yourself.
Located at the crux of several freight rail lines (hello, crustpunks), NOLA hosts many a temporary resident and busloads of tourists, all sweating damply into their threads. At Check Point Charlie’s, those who lack laundry can transform a boring chore into a two-hour bender with washers and dryers right in the bar.
Dine & Sip
If slumming with an Abita in hand isn’t your thing, you are in a city where cocktails are practically a religion; the better NOLA bartenders exhibit an overarching deft hand with difficult ingredients like absinthe, amari and bitter liqueurs, and pairing their admixtures with food. Elegantly hip Sylvain serves an unabashedly rich, signature plate of braised pork shoulder that had been picked over, formed into cakes and seared crisp. Their Supafly Snucka concotion of Wasamund’s rye, green chartreuse and ginger ($10) cut neatly through the fat of the pork shoulder with nary a medicinal note.
After dinner at buzzy big-sister bistro Lilette, the Aviation gin, green walnut liqueur and lemon juice of the Nocino Sour ($10) at Bouligny Tavern is the ideal bridge from swanky supper to a dirty funk foray. Fridays are all about Big Sam at the Blue Nile, but it’s hard to go wrong on Frenchmen Street.
Though pros pace and drink water all night, hangovers are inevitable. Seriously restorative brunches can be found uptown and in the Garden District at Surrey’s. Poured liberally over pornographically good biscuits, Surrey’s mushroom gravy lacked none of the umami-thrill of its sausage-spiked coursin and was only $6. Like the stoner brother of the most popular girl in school, Cochon Butcher is a helluva lot easier to get with than restaurant Cochon, the toughest reservation in town. Layered with housemade charcuterie (lardo!) and sprightly olive tapenade, the Butcher’s hangover-killing muffuletta was almost too flavorful, totally over the top, and required a long nap afterwards — just like a master’s class weekend in New Orleans.
Le Bon Temps Roule (4801 Magazine St., Uptown, 504-895-8117)
The Joint (701 Mazant St., Bywater, 504-949-3232)
Half Moon (1125 St. Mary St., Lower Garden District, 504-593-0011)
R Bar (1431 Royal St., Marigny, 504-948-7499)
Check Point Charlie’s (501 Esplanade Ave., Marigny, 504-947-0979)
Sylvain (625 Chartres St., French Quarter, 504-265-8123)
Lilette (3637 Magazine St., Irish Channel, 504-895-1636)
Bouligny Tavern (3461 Magazine St., Irish Channel, 504-891-1810)
Blue Nile (534 Frenchmen St., Marigny, 504-948-2583)
Surrey’s (4807 Magazine St., Uptown, 504-895-5757 and 1418 Magazine St., Lower Garden District, 504-524-3828)
Cochon Butcher (930 Tchoupitoulas St., Central Business District/Loft District, 504-588-7675)