Having guests is always a great excuse to hit some of those tourist spots locals tend to shy from. So when my dear friend since high school finally came to New Orleans for the first time, we “toured” the sites. Angela arrived Thursday night and we headed straight for Coop’s so she could have her first jambalaya. We stayed in to catch up that night and headed to Cafe du Monde for insanely tasty beignets the next morning. On the way there, I spotted a familiar face down the street. I said loudly, “Do you know who that is? That’s the lead singer and trumpet for Treme Brass Band!” Angela looked to the t-shirt wearing, blood-shot-eyed man holding a trumpet just as he smiled.
He put his horn to his mouth and played her a song, sometimes putting his arm around her and playing with one hand. A crowd gathered as he sang with his gravelly, Louis Armstrong-like voice, “Well, hello Dolly…” It was a fairly magical way to start the day. We made our way down the steps to the Mississippi River and talked about the city and its history and culture.
In front of the Rouses on Royal, we were lucky enough to catch Doreen, the clarinet queen entertaining a crowd. Angela and I grew up around museums and she’s a gifted painter with a deep appreciation for art, so after wandering the art galleries of Royal Street, I took her to one of my favorite shops in the city, M.S. Rau Antiques. We were greeted by my favorite showroom host, Ludovic and my Pussyfooters dance team “sister,” Caroline. Ludovic took us on a tour through the rooms of carved alabaster lamps, exquisite jewels and animal skeletons from the Ice Age – resting to demonstrate a player piano topped with 3 violins. It had an ingenious spinning apparatus as a bow and air pumps to press the strings of each chord. Sometimes I get to see the most rare of things.
Then we passed through a hidden door and entered another series of rooms. There were paintings by Monet and Renoir and an etching by Rembrandt all leading to the Egyptian King Farouk’s guilded bedroom set inspired by the furnishings of one of Napoleon and Josephine’s palaces. But we weren’t done yet. We got to see works by that most American of artists, Norman Rockwell in preparation for the upcoming collection being displayed November 6th. See it if you can – I know I will because the best part of M.S. Rau is that it is open to the public so we can all take in these treasures before they find homes in some lucky collector’s possession.
I showed her a few blocks of Bourbon Street then we stopped on my old stoop and I reminisced a little about parades gone by then we walked to Dreamy Weenies for a bite. Hot dogs might not seem like the obvious choice for sharing our cuisine but Angela had wanted to try red beans and rice and I thought the Satchmo Dog might be a fun introduction. The sweet potato fries with a maple dipping syrup were delicious.
Angela’s husband, Richard Danielson, is the drummer for Vintage Trouble, the L.A. band I’ve blogged about during their previous 5 visits to New Orleans including this past year’s Jazz Fest. We timed her visit to coincide with their gig at Tipitina’s, the local you-know-you-made-it-when-you-play-there venue that’s seen the likes of Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint and Dr. John.
We only had a moment to grab a bite before the show so we ended up at another less-obvious choice for sampling local cuisine, Louisiana Pizza Kitchen (LPK). We had a beautiful salad with strawberries and walnuts, the delicious grilled marinated artichokes, shrimp and corn maque choux and a crawfish etouffee. Like many local restaurants, LPK features different local artists on their walls available for purchase. We were lucky enough to catch the wonderful, wonky houses of Michalopoulos.
The Vintage Trouble show at Tipitina’s was, as usual, amazing. The super-high energy band’s fresh mix of rockabilly, soul and blues win over even the most reluctant of crowds so the music lovers of New Orleans took to it right away. And I spotted a number of “TroubleMakers” in the crowd, the fun fans who dress in vintage clothes and know all the words to every song.
After a late night of visiting, we started our Saturday with breakfast at Wink’s Bakery. They loved the signature Buttermilk Drops and our eggs, bacon, grits and such were a wonderful way to start the day. Afterward, we wandered the eclectic treasures of my other favorite antique shop, Greg’s Antiques, “So cheap, you can lose it in the divorce.” Greg was busy washing out aged, thick glass bottles that had just been excavated after an old school was demolished.
As we walked around, it was like the city was conspiring to make sure our guests got to see a little of everything. A band of kids ranging from about 9 to 19 played local standards medlied-up with pop songs. The crowd of tourists and a few dancing locals (like me) couldn’t notice how good these kids were. Halloween decorations showed my friends how seriously we take decorating – we especially enjoyed the house that included a tribute to locally-shot American Horror Story. Then the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of white-faced costumed, parasol-carrying people paraded past with stilt walkers and a brass band.
Street violinist and guitarist, Tanya and Dorise, were holding court on Royal. We kept saying we’d leave if the next song wasn’t the most amazing thing ever… then staying for another song. There was even a group sitting in lawn chairs on the street, just chillin’. Further down, a brass band of grown young men played some of my favorite raucous local brass band tunes. I danced my butt off like I was at a festival while tourists watched the music, cell phone videos running.
In keeping with the city’s conspiracy to expose my friends to it’s many pleasures, when night fell, the 3rd annual Carnaval Latino Parade rolled down Decatur. It wasn’t exactly Mardi Gras, but they got to catch beads and toys from fun, fanciful floats! After finding all the restaurants on Frenchmen Street had waits of at least an hour, we decided to let go of the whole attempt at getting them local cuisine and focused on getting them a great meal fairly quickly. I’m a big fan of the beef at Mojo’s Lounge and everyone found something great on the menu.
Then we took in the only all-female brass band, Original Pinettes, at the no-cover-charge Balcony Music Club. We showed them Checkpoint Charlie’s, the bar/pool hall/music club/coin-op laundry, then led them past all the clubs of Frenchmen, stopping to enjoy bands in the windows like New Breed Brass Band, Street Legends Brass Band, Washboard Chaz Blues Trio and more.
Between bars, we wandered the Frenchmen Art Market, a twinkle-lit alley of booths of locally-made jewelry, photographs and other arts and crafts. I especially enjoyed the haunting and energetic Joseph Walton photos of Uncle Lionel’s second line during the big rain when the pumps broke. It was great running into DancingMan504 after just seeing a photo of him at the art mart by another local photographer.
We tried to count how many bands we’d seen that day but it became impossible to even remember how many bands we’d passed during the day, and those that paraded past us, and those we saw in our travels up and down Frenchmen. My guess was 48 but I truly have no idea.
Richard was already back on tour by the time we drove around the Garden District to show off some of the city’s architecture and foliage. She loved the live oaks arching over the roads and the conspiracy continued as the rare scent of Sweet Olive just-so-happened to be blooming. And because we were truly blessed, my favorite sno-ball stand, SnoWiz, was still opened this late in the year and just early enough for us to grab one before Angela’s flight. A perfect ending to a pretty-darn perfect visit.