Back in the French Market, large crowds of tourists were shopping at the various vendor tables, and I found a Tommy Ridgeley CD there. Back on Decatur Street, I stopped at a praline shop and bought my mother a box of pralines (they also had peanut-butter dipped oreos, which were fabulous), and then I walked further up Decatur, but the clouds to the west were black and threatening, and soon, a blast of wind came sweeping down the street, blowing leaves and trash with it, and then the bottom fell out, with rain coming down in buckets. I ducked into the Cafe du Monde for a minute, but there were no empty tables of course, and the rain showed no signs of stopping. I finally grew tired of waiting, and decided to run across Jackson Square to the Jax Brewery, which left me drenched to the bone, and I hadn’t realized that the Jackson Brewery Mall had no awnings over the sidewalk, so even there, I was getting soaked.
I finally made it back to the hotel and conference, and then decided to take my car out of the parking garage and drive to Domilise’s for lunch, since it would be the last day I could. In the Uptown neighborhood, it wasn’t raining, but finding a place to park on Annunciation was difficult, and I soon found it was all because of Domilise’s. There was literally a line out the door as I walked up to the entrance, but once I got inside, things were moving with military precision, as loaves of french bread were cut, shrimp and oysters were fried, roast beef was sliced, condiments were added. The interior of the cafe probably hadn’t changed since the 70’s, with advertisements for Dixie Beer and Jax Beer (Jax had closed in 1972 I think), and they still served the mandatory Barq’s root beer in the brown bottles so familiar to me from childhood summers in Gulfport. (Back then, every grocery or po-boy joint I recall had the familiar blue-and-orange sign with the unassuming slogan “Drink Barq’s-It’sGood.”) Domilise’s po-boys truly were the ultimate, even if the menu prices were starting to reflect their fame a little bit.
After lunch, I drove back to the hotel for the last networking conference opportunities, and then headed out to an event at Tipitina’s that was supposed to feature brass bands, or so I thought. Actually the event turned out to be a festival of high school bands, and as I sat in Professor Longhair Park across the street from the club, the police blocked off the street and neighborhood kids started showing up, with drumsticks in hand, praticing on lightpoles and brick walls, a phenomenon I haven’t seen anywhere else. The bands that came were from Warren Easton, McDonough 35, and St. Augustine high schools, all Black, inner-city bands, but a good crowd of whites and Blacks showed up to support them, and apparently the event was to celebrate the arrival of new instruments that had been given them by the Tipitina’s Foundation. Altogether it was an enjoyable event, but about midway through it, it began to rain, scattered drops at first, then more steady, and finally heavy enough that I retreated to my car and headed back toward the French Quarter. However, I needed gasoline, and finding an Exxon in New Orleans proved to be difficult. I finally found one open across from Lee Circle, just across from a brilliant, rainbow-colored hotel called Le Cirque, which I photographed.
Then, parking in the outdoor lot across from my hotel, I walked to Landry’s Seafood House and ate redfish pontchartrain for dinner. Next door at Peaches Records & Tapes, there had been a rap showcase for the Cutting Edge music conference, but it had already broken up when I got there. I really had wanted to hear a brass band performance, but, aside from the Rebirth playing at Tipitina’s, which I figured would be expensive, there didn’t seem to be much going on. I decided against going to the Cafe du Monde, and headed back to the room instead. New Orleans was playing the Houston Texans at the Superdome, and there was a volley of gunshots outside of the hotel which sent security scrambling, but nobody could ever figure out who was shooting or why. It must not have been very serious, because the police never came.
Next door, a seafood restaurant and sports bar was in the process of opening for the day, with an employee sweeping the sidewalk out in front and more “where y’at’s” exchanged between him and some neighborhood folks on the sidewalk. The weather was beginning to heat up as I rode the streetcar back to Canal Street, and when I arrived at the hotel, registration had begun at the conference.
I met some people and networked for awhile, and then decided to go to Domilise’s Po-Boys for lunch, so I walked to the foot of Canal and caught the Tchoupitoulas bus headed Uptown. When I got to the right area, I got off and walked a block from Tchoupitoulas to Annunciation Street, which was a street of old 19th-century cottages with the latticework and front porches, battered, but still standing, As soon as I turned the corner onto Annunciation, I could hear the rat-a-tat of drum sticks, and, sitting on the porch of the last house before the big building on the corner, was a small boy, maybe about 11 or 12 years old who was practicing his sticking with a practice pad on his knees. The corner building had no signs visible at first, but around the corner on the sidestreet was a small sign that read “Domilise’s.” Unfortunately, the restaurant was obviously closed, and a small sign in the door stated that they didn’t open on Thursdays or Sundays. Somewhat disappointed, I asked the boy if he knew of any other good po-boy spots in the neighborhood. “Just them on the corner, ” he replied, so I walked back over to the shopping center on Tchoupitoulas, and while I didn’t find any poboys, I did find a PJ’s Coffee and Wine Bar, where I was able to cool my disappointment with a chocolate granita.
It took an hour for the bus to come back through headed back to the French Quarter, and I made my way back to the hotel. Then, walking into the quarter, I had hoped to take one of the boat rides out on the Mississippi River, but I soon found that their last runs were at 2:30 in the afternoon. As I walked along the Riverwalk, I noticed the men in boats along the rocks at the river’s edge, frantically spraying water and detergent, trying to clean the results of an oil spill some weeks back that had resulted from a collision between an oil tanker and a tugboat. The acrid smell of oil (and probably solvents as well) was covering the whole Wollenberg Park area, but I walked up to the Spanish Plaza at the foot of Canal Street, and into the Riverwalk Mall. The mall, which had been an exhibit building during the 1984 World’s Fair, had lots of shops, but not much in the way of restaurants. Many former eating places were closed and abandoned, so I walked back into the Quarter, and made my way to the Redfish Grill, which was owned by one of the famous Brennan family of restauranteurs. The place was a little pricey, but not excessively so, and the seafood was incredibly good.
Back at the hotel, the lobby was filled with members of the Houston Texans football team, who were in town for a pre-season game with the Saints at the Superdome. People from the Cutting Edge conference were asking some of them if they were attending the music conference, and they kept having to explain that they were football players. Around 10 PM, I walked back east to Jackson Square and made my way to the Cafe du Monde, where I enjoyed some beignets and cafe au lait. Then I headed back to the hotel, hung out for awhile, and ultimately went to bed.
Parking in the familiar lot in the French Quarter next to what had been Tower Records, I walked over to Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street to look at some compact discs. The store sold nearly any CD made of Louisiana music, and I ended up buying about $50 worth of discs. I then decided to go around to the Westin Hotel and get checked into my room, but I soon found that there was no parking affiliated with the hotel, so the rates were outrageous, and there would be no in or out privileges. In effect, hotel guests were deprived of the use of their cars while in New Orleans, unless they wanted to pay over and over again each time they took their car out of the garage. All the same, the lobby was above the parking garage on the eleventh floor, and with large glass windows looking eastward over the French Quarter and toward Algiers Point, it was a dramatic and striking entrance to a most unusual hotel. As I checked in, the speakers in the hotel lobby were playing George Antheil’s Symphony for Five Instruments, which I also found surprising, as Antheil, a relatively obscure American composer, happens to be one of my favorites.
My room was high on the 14th floor, and had a similar view of the Quarter as did the lobby. Although the restaurant off the lobby was crowded, I feared that it would be too expensive, so I decided to walk around the French Quarter, looking for a place to eat dinner. My original plan had been to drive to someplace outside the tourist area, perhaps Ted’s Frostop which I had heard so much about, but the parking debacle prevented that, so I walked down Peters Street, past the Jax Brewery buildings, which were now largely vacant. There was an amber glow in the air as I passed Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, with the lovely palm trees swaying in the breeze, and people were out, enjoying the cool, moist evening, sitting on porches, sitting on balconies, sitting on steps and talking; not as many musical sounds on this evening, more voices and cars, the sky now purple, blue and finally grey as I rounded the corner onto Bourbon by the Clover Grill, which I recalled from some novel I had read about New Orleans. Their signs bragged of burgers, but in the novel people had gone there for breakfast, so I made a mental note to head back there on some morning before I left the city.
Bourbon Street seemed tamer than I remembered it before Katrina- there were a few sex clubs, but many more normal music clubs and regular bars, one on a corner where a young Black drummer was in the middle of a funky solo that spilled out into the street. I had been aiming for the Embers Steakhouse, but, when I arrived I noticed the high prices on the menu, and, worse, the lack of any crowd of clientele, which had me worried about the food quality. So I kept walking, and finally ended up at Star Steak & Lobster, which was a truly tiny restaurant fairly close to my hotel. Altogether, the prices weren’t that bad and the food was decent, although the portions were small and I had to contend with a house musician who was alternately singing or playing saxophone accompanied by a pre-programmed box-not the music experience one would want to have in New Orleans.
The Quarter seemed strangely devoid of street music, compared to what I recalled from pre-Katrina days. Back then, it seemed common to come upon a brass band playing in Jackson Square, or maybe that’s just how my memories are of it. Snug Harbor was a little too far to walk to, and the name of the group playing there didn’t particularly sound like a straight-ahead jazz group, so I opted for the French Market instead, and the Cafe du Monde, where I sat outside enjoying beignets and a cup of cafe au lait with chicory, the quintessential New Orleans experience.
Back at my hotel, I learned that the pool was on the rooftop, so I rode up there, but I really couldn’t enjoy it, as I got lightheaded about being so far up on the roof with just some glass balcony railings rather than a sturdy concrete wall. Instead I headed back down to my room, opened the windows to let the lights of the French Quarter shine in, used my laptop as a CD player, and enjoyed some of the albums I had purchased at Louisiana Music Factory. Finally, I fell asleep in the overstuffed, luxurious bed, with the windows still open to the lights of the Vieux Carre.