French Quarter Fest – Part II

We had dinner at Café Amelie on Royal, a quaint courtyard establishment that served a perfect duck and had a bottle of wine that I’d only previously drank at Magnolia on Sunset, an Evolution from Oregon that is just splendid.  We drank coffee and took in the sounds of the night, the entire day slowly beginning to catch up with us.

After catching a few acts on Bourbon, boomers dancing and swinging each other about[1], we hoofed it back to Frenchman just in time to catch The Hip Shakers repeat performance at The Apple Barrel. It was a little quieter on the street and a trio sang old country songs on the corner.  We swayed along for a little while, but the walking and the drinking and the dinner finally began its inevitable tucker, and we decided to turn in for the night.

The next morning we awoke bright and early, the sun shining and warm through our balcony doors.  We headed to the Gumbo House for breakfast, where their ‘Lost Bread’ is a huge favorite of mine.  New Orleans style French toast, it’s kind of like having a slightly healthier version of fried dough for the most important meal of the day.  My sweetheart had some fantastic grits that were so thick and creamy a whole stick of butter most have been melted into them.

We decided no trip to the Big Easy was complete without at least one frozen drink bought from the shrines to intoxication that line Bourbon. I picked up a Hurricane and we began strolling down towards the river.  We happened upon a great little French Jazz band called Wazozo.  I highly suggest checking them out, their lead singer/cellist is a woman named Hellen Gillet, and boy, does she have a whole boatload of talent.

After a series of debilitating, paralyzing brain freeze attacks from my beverage, we finally reached the river and walked by two mediocre acts, back to the brass band stage to catch the Bad Boyz Brass Band.  The oldest of them teenagers, these kids put on a hell of a show.  They played all of the brass band classics, then invited their counterparts, the Bad Girlz on stage to do the shuffle, each of them carrying their umbrella props and smiling the smile only little girls can have. 

After swaying and shaking it to the Bad Boyz, I was both fairly tipsy from the hurricane and rather dehydrated from the beating down sun.  We headed to a brewery for a respite from the heat and a nice pilsner.  After another long stroll, it was dinner-time.

GW Finns is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been.  Period. End of story.  We sat at the bar as we didn’t make reservations and sort of happened upon it while wandering around looking for antiques.  This is what we had, for brevity’s sake: Lobster dumplings and fried lobster tail to start, Lamb Chops and Sea Bass. Everything had a touch of Cajun in its preparation and each bite was delicious. 

That evening, we walked back towards our hotel.

We strolled to Maison Bourbon a few paces away from Preservation Hall and took in the subtle notes and impeccable timing of a quartet whose name I forget.  The piano player, was a regular at The Cat during my last trip, he tickled the ivories dressed in a the dapper combination of slacks and button down, a far cry from the cap and dungarees he wore two nights in a row on Frenchman.  His jolliness  and musical embellishes  remained the same, however, and I’m pretty sure his group got its fair share of tips that night. 

The repeated sightings of musicians in The Quarter is a real treat for those out-of-townsters like myself.  Whether accurate or not, if leads one to believe that all of the local musicians know each other, and you might just walk into a coffee shop or convenience store and find a jam session in progress, which really isn’t too far from the truth.

We revisited a haunt from the last trip, The Blacksmith, one of the oldest bars in the country, true to form there was someone absolutely butchering every piano bar tune you could imagine with drunken regulars engaging in what I guess they call ‘singing’ along.  A raucous place that is pure and true in its pursuit of happiness, The Blacksmith is a place that I’ll never pass up on every subsequent trip down to the Quarter.

After a healthy amount of tonic and gin, we headed to The Cat for our last night in town.  It was a little quiet on Frenchman, we could hear the streetlight hum as we made our way to the Cat.  It was slightly emptier than usual, which only stood to underscore how little one really needs to have a fun night on the town.  There weren’t chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, no plush leather couches and fine crystal behind the bar, no haughty doormen (in fact the doorman at the cat is a legless veteran who nods his head while the tunes play behind him, comfortable in his wheelchair throne) just music, people, booze, and seats.  The band that night featured an outstanding trumpet player who wove between the frenetic and the smooth, the high abstract and the long seductive melody.  Towards the end of the show, a member of the audience, who’d brought his own trumpeteer’s mouthpiece began sitting and switching off, trading solos on the same trumpet with the bands leader.  It was a sight, my friends. 

There wasn’t much more that we could ask for after that, just hope that we can get a hotel room next year, for we are most certainly going back.

[1] There is either some sort of company, most likely called “Boomer Swing Dancing Inc”  or “Louisiana Kettlefish and Nonesuch” that culls through the night and steals expert middle-aged couples for the sole purpose of making the young and previously self-described rhythmic feel like toddlers trying to take their first step when watching these people dance, or there are compulsory swing dance lessons for all residents over 35 within the city limits of New Orleans.

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