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Thursday
Aug012013

Live to Eat, Die to Dine.

According to Tom Fitzmorris, the New Orleans area had 809 restaurants in operation at the end August of 2005. Many of the greats had already been lost, including such losses as Maylie’s and LeRuth’s. But many other classics, the loss of which the Crescent City could have never foreseen, loomed very near on the horizon. Hurricane Katrina eviscerated New Orleans of many more eateries, including some, like Bruning’s and Café Sbisa that had survived until that point since the nineteenth century. Other Katrina victims include Christian’s (named as such because it was in an old church), Mandich, and the original Ruth’s Chris on Broad.

Today, Mr. Fitzmorris places the number of restaurants “open around town” at 1349, a much greater number the days when we were just arising from the shock of Katrina, and even when compared to the good times prior to the storm. Nevertheless, the past few weeks have brought about the closing of a good number of restaurants with long histories in these parts:

Dick and Jenny’s – at 30 years old, this is probably the youngest restaurant on the list. It is also likely to retain its name and décor. Nevertheless, the restaurant was sold to the folks that own Martinque and Christiano’s in Thibodeaux, and the menu here is expected to become sort of a New Orleans version of Christiano’s.

Bozo’s – I wasn’t a huge fan of this 70+ year old dank establishment that slung fried seafood as its primary offering. That aside, some people loved it, and it filled a necessary spot in our city’s repertoire. It was just announced that Ed McIntyre (of Mr. Ed’s, Austin’s, and Cheese Burger Eddie’s fame) is going to open up a fried seafood restaurant in the former Bozo’s location.

Charlie’s Seafood  – you know, on Jefferson Highway. Yeah, in River Ridge. Or is that Harahan? It had been there since the 50’s and was almost a victim of Katrina, had Frank Brigtsen not saved it (and actually made it better than it ever was). Frank was pushed out of operating in the iconic building, with its glass tiles and disagreeing signs, by a landlord that is purportedly trying to woo CVS to build at that location.

The Camellia Grill – This one is still open, but under what name, no one is quite sure. That which has yet to change remains threatened, though. The owner may be forced to change the iconic façade of the building, and remove unique items from the menu. Frankly, the owner of the brand is being a real baby about the whole thing, as he was collecting hundreds of thousands in Royalties and ended a successful business venture for the operator/building owner and for himself over a missed payment of less than $200.

Brennan’s – We’ve all heard this story. Leggo/4, the mortgage holder acquired the building after the restaurant couldn’t pay the note; the owners are suing each other; the employees didn’t even get their last paychecks. Nevertheless, they insist that they will reopen. HAHAHAHAHA. Good riddance.

This makes me wonder if the restaurant culture in the city is undergoing some odd transformation right now. If it is I’m not sure how long it will be until we realize all of the fallout, but I’m not certain I’ll appreciate all of the effects.

Thursday
Jul252013

...of my favorite houses in New Orleans

This one is on Jackson Avenue catty corner to Trinity...

Thanks to Google Streetview for the image

 

Wednesday
Jul242013

Time to start thining about...

Tuesday
Jun252013

Featured on WWLTV Evening News

WWLTV aired a feature this evening as a result of the two previous articles. The story can be read here. The video can be seen below:

 

Friday
Jun072013

Is the future growth of Carnival based on the traditions of the past?

As of yesterday the Uptown Route has now earned its THIRTIETH (30th) parade for the 2014 Carnival Season. NOPD has approved the Krewe of Freret to parade this winter. Although I, just days ago, pondered “How much is too much?” I cannot argue with Freret parading Uptown. Am I a hypocrite? No, they are a neighborhood krewe, but from an Uptown neighborhood. At the risk of sounding like I am picking favorites, I want Freret Uptown but I think it is time for others to go elsewhere. Hopefully they will be allowed to add a piece of Freret Street to their route, though this might not be practical for several years until the construction of the Napoleon Avenue Box Culvert is completed between Claiborne and St. Charles. For now, our city will have to wait and see how the new parade turns out.

The return of the Krewe of Freret is not a surprise if you look at history. In fact, it is a perfect example of what I like to call “The Life-Cycle of a Carnival Krewe.” The concept of The Life-Cycle of a Carnival Krewe  was something that I touched on over a year ago, when I mentioned the group that holds an annual pre-carnival ball under the moniker of The Harlequins. A study of this life-cycle will also help us answer another question, “Why are traditional West Bank clubs choosing to hold their parades elsewhere?” The answer to this is simple: The members of the groups are no longer residents of the neighborhoods that have lent their names to the organizations. As members grow older they propose their sons and sons-in-law for membership in these groups, regardless of the location of the residences of their children. Sons of members, not neighbors – transform the group into a carnival club like any other, not on with an emphasis on a specific neighborhood.

Letting the Life-Cycle do what would be natural suggests not forcing a group to parade where its members don’t live or to stay alive when it is dying, but rather allow for new groups to appear. New neighborhood groups do pop up when vacancies exist, and often, they are less generic than many of the completely interchangeable, kern-float-renting, practically theme-less krewes that pollute the parade calendar. Maybe Gretna shouldn’t lament the loss of Choctaw, and should instead strive to have the next ‘tit-Rǝx or Push Mow. What Gretna and similar communities should definitely NOT allow is for Carnival to disappear from their streets.

To have innovative new groups though, maybe the days of thinking big are over. There can be only so many Super-Krewes, and one look at the empty spots on Orpheus floats suggests that maybe New Orleans exists right at that limit, especially with the recent growth of Muses to the behemoth that it has become. Maybe ‘tit-Rǝx got it right. Maybe, for Carnival to grow (and if it doesn’t grow, it dies), it is time to think small. The future of the neighborhood might be composed of Krewe-du-Vieux-sub-krewe-like entities putting on “micro-parades.” These parades could be strictly walking processions, but more likely they would have floats and throws; they just would need a full 14 float lineup, and they would fill in the gaps between with more marching members. The krewes wouldn’t be forced into paying outside groups to fill in the marching roles with outside groups that would need to be paid, as them members that aren’t would not be riding on the multitude of floats they don’t have could be marching. Riders/marchers could even possibly rotate throughout the parade. The costumes might need to be more interesting to make them usual on their own rather than simply being a decoration to a float. It could be like a cross between Krewe du Vieux, a traditional parade, and the Pussyfooters or 6-10 Stompers—Stompers, if you’re reading this, this could be your opportunity to start your own parade; I’ll even share the credit with you. Obviously, this isn’t the sort of thing that would occupy a whole evening on the whole Uptown Route. It shouldn’t. If this seems like the sort of thing that wouldn’t draw people out to see it, and if larger parades sound necessarily better to you, remember that it was the increase in the size of parades that forced parading out of the Quarter in the early 70’s. It is perfectly suited to narrow-streeted neighborhoods of the older parts of the city (Parade in Algiers Point anyone?).

Something like this might require thought that the city would need to loosen its requirements for a Carnival Parade. Maybe this wouldn’t be a bad thing, certainly the earliest parades, those of the nineteenth century, wouldn’t meet the criteria required by the city today to have a parade. But maybe, to lower the entry barrier, it’s best for a couple of these groups to band together and share a single permit. That might even be a good idea for some larger krewes though.

If Micro-krewes banding together to form parades sounds like a wacky-crazy-new idea bound to fail, think about this: The city already has hundreds of nano-krewes, that all band together to parade. If you think I sound like I’m off my rocker, then ponder for just a moment what comprises the Truck Parades.

Truck Parades provide for low entry barrier, though tend to reduce quality. While loosening size requirements could be a good idea, we must be certain to maintain certain quality requirements, lest Orleans would see problems similar to those that Jefferson is currently facing. Maybe rather than a minimum number of floats and a minimum number of marching units, a ratio is a better requirement. Requiring at least one marching unit for every float seems like a good ratio to start that debate at. Though, I do argue that we should apply the same quality requirements that we impose on regular parades to truck parades as well.

Those who would argue that small is tantamount to low quality, I direct your attention to the nineteenth century version of the annual procession of the Mistick Krewe of Comus. The initial parade had only two floats, one for Satan (as the parade’s theme that year was the Demon Actors from Milton’s Paradise Lost), and one for Comus. Every member that was not playing one of those two roles processed afoot. This should not imply though, that the parade was not elaborate. Every member had exquisite costuming topped with an elaborate papier-mâché mask. This was not just the first year either, it was actually fairly characteristic of the first 30 years of Comus parades; Comus even continued to parade like this after other organizations had switched their parades to a format reliant solely on floats for that transport of its members. The Mistick Krewe did eventually reach a point when all members rode aboard floats, and the marching units were all external entities. The floats were then still built on old wagons and were small enough for a couple of mules to pull them. After the Second World War, the city ceased the use of mules for pulling garbage carts, and adopted modern garbage trucks. With a lack of availability of mules, parades switch to farm tractors for propulsion. The float that Comus himself rode upon was one of the few left in all of Carnival to be mule drawn.  Even with the tractors (but certainly before them) there was certainly no challenge for this procession to navigate the streets of the French Quarter; it was the larger parades, which came to include the early Bacchus parade that forced parading out of the Quarter. The older—and thus smaller—parades fit just fine (though the proximity of the flambeaux to those old buildings is another issue), and quality was never an issue.

Discussing this though does help one see through the crowded Uptown Parade Schedule to the one glaring hole that exists: Mardi Gras Evening. From 1857 until 1991 the wagon wheels of the Mistick Krewe’s floats greeted the streets of the Crescent City near annually, but since then the evening of the Shrove has scene New Orleans’ street empty. A small group parading on foot with cowbells and rakes and elaborate papier-mâché masks does follow a band from a dinner in the French Quarter to the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street, where fete is held that has been said to have been “birthed by a cow.” If this group were to bolster the size of its foot parade, maybe put a monarch on a mule drawn “carriage” (with a police escort of course), add a few more masks, maybe some riders on horses, even a second “carriage” possibly, extend the route slightly, and throw a second band at the end, they could have exactly the sort of parade proposed above. It wouldn’t be too big to be forced out of the Quarter, but it might be large enough to draw a bit of a crowd, and to fill in a hole that has been empty on the last evening of Carnival for more than twenty years.

Monday
Jun032013

How much is too much?

As a resident of Uptown New Orleans, who lives just a couple of blocks from the Parade Route, I like to try to catch all of the parades that roll through my neighborhood. For the past couple of years though, this has become a daunting task. I am forced to admit, reluctantly, I gave up this year. I simply couldn’t make it to ALL of them. To simply walk out just to catch a glimpse wasn’t even a possibility; there were simply too many parades. This should not be seen by anyone as a tragedy, rather it is merely and indicator that the number of parades on the uptown route has reached a certain critical mass. There are much larger downsides to this critical mass than not simply being able to attend all of the parades: It can negatively affect local businesses, it excessively stresses the infrastructure in the area, and it dilutes the Uptown parade experience.

For the longest time there were just four parades. They all rolled through what we would today call the French Quarter, the CBD, and Uptown, but there were only four of them. Originally, there was just the Mistick Krewe of Comus.  Years later the Twelfth Night Revelers came and went (though they continued to host Balls) , and then in 1872 Rex and the Momus arrived. Proteus joined these Carnival Monarchies in 1880. Thirty years would pass before another parade stuck, but the early Zulu parades practically weren’t. The group had no predetermined route and would often diverge on different paths – this created not a parade that you went to see, but rather, one that came to you. New groups would come and go, but the Uptown area was visited annually by only those four krewes. Often, small neighborhood parades existed, but these were rarely permanent. This changed in 1934, when the West Bank saw its first Alla parade. When this occurred, the streets of the Crescent City knew not yet the wheels of parades with such names as Hermes, Babylon, and Mid City, names that are seen by many today as those of the older organizations. In 1936, Alla had paraded three times, and Uptown still had only four parades, though, this changed in the years prior to the Second World War with the addition of Hermes and Babylon. After the War, Carnival exploded and new krewes popped up rapidly until the Oil Bust of the 80's slowed things down a bit. In the 90’s NOPD began pressuring groups to consolidate their routes for more efficient policing, a move that was forced as the only alternative after Katrina. Orleans Parish, since Katrina, has had only one East Bank parade roll on a route other than the Uptown route, Endymion.

Today, Choctaw announced that it will be joining Alla in switching from the West Bank parade route to the Uptown route for the 2014 season; Cleopatra made this same move for the 2013 season.  With this announcement, only three (3) parades remain on the West Bank and it puts twenty-nine (29) Uptown. For comparison, Metairie has roughly a dozen parades, the North Shore has five, and Mid-City has only the one parade.

It seems a shame that the only parade allowed to use the Mid-City Route is Endymion, as many parade-goers love the route, and the businesses in that area find themselves financially hurt if Endymion is forced to cancel or relocate. In this particular case, I don’t see why other krewes that would like to utilize the Mid-City route should not be allowed to roll on that route prior to Endymion; we all know the route is filled with spectators by then. Doing this comes with the understanding that Tucks and Iris would either need to move their route to the Mid-City Route or move to other days, but I bet that there would be openings on other day (maybe in the Krewe of Mid City’s current spot for example). That would be created by those groups moving to a Saturday-morning-Mid-City-route-slot. Plus, who would find it fun to have Tucks roll right before Bacchus? Uptown would be completely free from its Carnival Saturday obligations.

This line of thinking should not be exclusive to Mid-city though; The City could encourage other neighborhood parade routes by not allowing parades uptown opposing those in other locations. I can’t see how this would be disagreeable to NOPD? It could still be arranged that the parades all end in the CBD area for easy access for tourists. We could have one or two days of parades originate in Mid-City, one would originate in Marigny/Bywater, and the remaining days would be left as “Uptown days”. With the new Rampart streetcar line, all could even exist on streetcar lines.

Am I alone in my feelings about this? Does anyone else agree? What other thoughts do y'all have on this topic?