From Sunday second line and Carnival parades to our many festivals and concerts, New Orleans is a city of celebration. If the city can party over everything from tomatoes to our departed, imagine how fun it can be to celebrate yourself here. For me, a New Orleans birthday has to include great company, incredible food, music whenever possible and the occasional “only in New Orleans” event.
Many people start the day by pinning money on their chest. The tradition’s origins are hard to track, but throughout the day people – including many strangers – wish you a happy birthday and some add money to your chest to be used for your drinks or whatever. I’ve done it a few times and it’s a fairly uplifting experience.
Many local restaurants offer special touches for diners celebrating a birthday. The elegant Commander’s Palace places balloons at the table and gifts the birthday person a paper chef’s hat reading, “Celebrate!” After a long and delicious dinner celebrating my birthday with longtime friend Richard Dreyfuss (who wrote the Foreword for my acting book, Know Small Parts), Domenica presented us with three beautifully labeled desserts. If your special day lands on a Friday, Galatoire’s is the spot for all the fabulous and outlandish reasons in this POST. My visit included a brass band leading a second line parade, a fallen politician, and tables being set on fire.
Throughout my life, one of my favorite birthday meals has been seafood – especially crabs and shrimp. Cajun Seafood and Salvo’s sell both in abundance. With it’s all-you-can-eat buffet of fried chicken, red beans & rice and other dishes just like your Maw Maw made, the legendary Dooky Chase’s Restaurant is also a favorite birthday spot.
For an inexpensive added sweet treat, I love a sno-ball from SnoWiz on Magazine, but many people enjoy a plate of powdered-sugar-covered golden brown beignets with a mug of cafe au lait from Cafe du Monde.
Music is everywhere in New Orleans, often for free. Your birthday may land during one of our hundreds of annual festivals and outdoor concerts. Musicians play on many corners throughout the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street is a corridor of venues, clubs and restaurants with live music. One year I went to what’s now Kermit’s Treme Mother In Law Lounge and saw Billy Iuso with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux at d.b.a. Another year it was Prince at Essence Fest. This year, we returned to the Superdome to see the Rolling Stones with local bands Dumpstaphunk and Soul Rebels opening.
If your birthday falls on a Tuesday, Grammy winners, Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar is a must-experience so well known that it even made President Obama’s bucket list. Instead, he brought them to the White House to play. Twice. Live music almost always makes me feel more connected to the people around me and humans in general, something I enjoy in a birthday celebration. Check out local radio station WWOZ’s Livewire Music Calendar to find who’s playing where on your birthday.
The perfect combination might be the unique local brunches like the burlesque brunch at SoBou or the drag brunch at Cru by Chef Marlon Alexander. SoBou’s “Legs and Eggs” burlesque brunch features beautiful Bella Blue dancing, teasing and dropping gorgeous clothing and accessories while a live band plays and a 3-course Creole meal is served.
Vanessa Carr Presents: Mama Honey’s Drag Brunch at Cru kicks the whole thing up a notch. The music is lip-synced disco and dance tunes performed by 3 fabulous queens strutting and faux-singing their hearts out in blingy gowns and costumes that sometimes peel off revealing other inspired costumes. My favorite dancer snatched her wig off revealing a shorter, chicer wig beneath.
I was there to celebrate my friend, Caroline Bozier’s birthday. Readers of my Charlotte Reade mysteries know Caroline as the character who works at M.S. Rau Antiques and one of Charlotte’s Pussyfooter-parading sisters. After the brunch, many of us headed to Mimi’s for cocktails and hanging out. I also love porch parties and pool parties for birthdays. I always feel celebratory in a dress from Trashy Diva, but the July weather makes many of my birthdays a steamy event better for bikinis.
The most elaborate use of our city as a birthday spot was the 3-day concert, cuisine and culture-fest of my friend, Paul’s surprise party during Mardi Gras – complete with a personalized birthday float throwing us beads and toys during one of the parades. Musicians included Dr. John, Chrissie Hynde, Gregg Allman, Joe Walsh, Robbie Robertson, Dan Ackroyd and Living Color’s Vernon Reid. And there was so much more…
When I turned 50, I started a new tradition – my annual birthday splits photo. A few years earlier, I felt too young to be having issues with stiffening hips so I decided I was going to try to get my splits back. I’d been a gymnast in high school and had stayed limber for decades, but injuries had taken a toll that age wasn’t treating well. So I began stretching for an hour twice a week. It was discouraging for years. I even suffered injuries from pushing too hard that set me back months – sometimes out of over confidence, sometimes out of frustration and impatience. But eventually, it got easier and everything began falling back into better alignment. This was my sixth year taking that photo.