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Day 3 - Frenchman street
New Orleans is divided into different districts and each have different character, for instance the French Quarter is known for lots of tourists and partying. The Garden District is known for grand old American mansions, the Treme is known for poor black folks, the Central Business District known for modern hotels and tall buildings and closer to the river the Warehouse district full of old 20th century warehouses turned restaurants and hotels. There are a lot more "suburbs" as they once were called. These would include Faubourg Lafayette, Faubourg Livaudis, Faubourg Marigny and many more. These Faubourgs used to be the suburbs to downtown New Orleans which at that point was only the French Quarter (curiously enough built by the Spanish). The Irish moved to the Irish Channel, the Germans moved to the German coast, the Americans moved to the Garden District etc... While in New Orleans we wanted to sample abit so we moved to Faubourg Marigny with it's famed Frenchmen Street known for having many live music venues.
I haven't mentioned how expensive hotels are in New Orleans. You'd be hard pressed to find a dive for under $100/night and a reasonable hotel (no cockroaches etc) will probably run you $120/night Sunday through Thursday. However, once the weekend comes that hotel price doubles to around $240/night. Staying in the Garden district over the weekend helped because the prices don't jump as high there. Our room a the Prytania park was fairly large with the bed in the loft, a living room, fridge and microwave. Our room at the Frenchmen hotel was just that -a room. It had space for a bed and a small ensuite bathroom. Don't get me wrong it was cute all painted in purple but it was small. We wanted it for it's location right ON Frenchmen street among the clubs. Other perks were it's small swimming pool in the courtyard where we could escape from the heat. However on the day we arrived the office door was blocked due to some repainting so we had to walk through the parking structure, climb some stairs and find our way to the back door. The stairs to our room were also blocked so we had to go around back to climb stairs to the upper outdoor walkway. No big deal really but then the electricity didn't work either. This is $150 a night folks.
We ate breakfast at the Cafe Rose Nicuad (not the restaurant pictured in the Marigny gallery below) down the street which was named after Rose Nicuad the first coffee seller in New Orleans in the early 1800s. At the time she was a slave and sold coffee in the French Market to the French people from a cart. Later she earned enough money to buy her own freedom which was allowed then. Cafe Rose Nicuad had many kinds of eggs, a few wraps and coffee. It wasn't fancy but it got us by. Since it was the first day of the conference we headed that direction on the Cable cars and found that the line that goes from the French Market all the way to the Hyat Regency only ran on the weekend. For the rest of the week you have to take the Riverfront Streetcar to Canal street, walk a block and catch the RIGHT streetcar from there to the Hyat Regency. If you catch the wrong one you'll end up at the City Park. The transfer from the Riverfront Streetcar to the right Canal Street streetcar ended up taking 30 minutes which defeats the purpose of doing it since I can walk from Canal Street to Frenchmen street in 30 minutes.
New Orleans relies a lot on their street cars and they seem to be an important part of their transit system. To be clear New Orleans has the longest continually running street car in America. When the St. Charles line started in 1833 it had to be pulled by horses and later was powered by steam engines. The other street car lines (Riverfront and Canal Street) have modern air conditioned street cars that are quiet and have electronic controls. However, the one I enjoyed the most was the St. Charles streetcar which carries the most people and uses ancient streetcars. Due to not having air conditioning they drive around with all the windows open including the drivers windshield. The driver operates several levers that we decided were for acceleration and brakes but it seemed to be more of an art to drive than a science. He was constantly pumping on one lever, rotating another etc. just to keep it moving at the right speed. It was all great fun. Headways were about 7 minutes for the St. Charles line which were great. You really didn't have to wait very long before a streetcar came down the tracks. I will have to say the St Charles cars were very noisy though, enough so that it was difficult having a conversation when it was at full speed. Still it was my favorite though.
We got to the Hyat on the Canal Street streetcar and I checked in, picked up my many t-shirts and miscellaneous items to hang from my neck and went looking for lunch. The convention recommended the Whole Hog Barbecue in the next building and since we were in the south why not partake in the southern tradition of eating BBQ? We stood in a very cafeteria looking line reading about all the amazing awards the Whole Hog BBQ has earned and it all looked impressive. But there was no smokers in view and it all looked very.... corporate chain. The food was OK but there was a very strong flavor of liquid smoke in everything. Once we identified what was going on all we could taste was liquid smoke. Even when we walked by every day the smell of liquid smoke became overbearing.
We were slowly getting burned out by mediocre southern food so Kris started doing some research on where we could get some really good local food and decided we should meet at Coop's place on Decatur in the French Quarter. The locals raved about it so I headed there after my conference was over. I'd decided earlier that it was just easier to walk to Frenchmen street than make the trolley connection and as I proceeded toward the streetcar door I got stuck in a conversation about the very same thing with a couple of tourists from San Diego - Tony and Virginia. I think the two of them had already started drinking (as the sun had already come up and we were in New Orleans) and seemed a bit puzzled over the whole transfer to another streetcar option so I brought them with me on 1 mile walk toward Frenchman street. I honestly thought Frenchmen street was no more than half a mile but at about the half mile marker Virginia said she wasn't going to make it and Tony informed me he wasn't in that great of shape. Virginia was a short, older woman and Tony a tall, older asian man. Funny couple they were. I started doing the Columbus thing and fudging the numbers of how much further it was until I ran into Kris on her way to Coop's place to meet me. It was good that I found her as my phone was dead and I'd forgotten the name of the restaurant. I sent Tony and Virginia on down the street two more blocks to Frenchmen to listen to music as Kris and I backtracked to Coop's place.
Coop's place is one of those local establishments that has a line out the door and down the street. It's a little hole in the wall and everyone in line said it was worth the wait so we joined them. About 20 minutes later we got a seat in what turned out to be a dive bar so dark we couldn't read our menus without light from Kris's cell phone and the music was blaring at almost eardrum splitting levels. We ordered a mix of things - Seafood Gumbo, Rabbit and Sausage Jambalaya, Shrimp Creole, Red Beans and Rice and Cajun Fried Chicken. The Red Beans and Rice tasted just like it sounds - food to get you through the day but not exactly exciting and again it had some liquid smoke taste too it. I didn't like the Gumbo at all but Kris thought it was OK. Kris enjoyed the Jambalaya but my favorite was the Shrimp Creole as it had some kick to it. To me the Shrimp Creole was the only dish that I actually felt like eating though. The rest I ate and probably wouldn't go out of my way to get again. None of it was just that great.
As we were eating Tony and Virginia showed up. Seems the club down the street didn't have anything interesting going on and one of the employees recommended they go to Coop's. As we left we wished them a good trip and headed to our hotel. It didn't take us long to decide the evening wasn't over since we were now in music central so back out we went into the night to find a club with great music. That club ended up being the BMC (Balcony Music Club) which also ended up being our favorite over the rest of the week. Not only did they have no cover charge but seemed to have the best music as well. The bar served up several beers on tap but oddly enough was attached to a second bar (the Patio Bar) which had no outside access but through the BMC. Why would you make a bar with no outside door? Anyway the Patio Bar had 150 different beers on tap and only 145 of them were "Urine Beers". You know the ones that look like Urine, smells like Urine and taste like Urine. Note to self, New Orlean's German population has been assimilated and the desire for a good hearty beer seems be extinct. However the remaining 5 non-urine beers looked OK so Kris got a double chocolate stout from the UK. It didn't taste like chocolate at all but was nice and creamy and deep.
It was Smokey Greenwell's (http://www.youtube.com/user/SmokyGreenwell) Monday night Blues Jam at the BMC so various musicians signed the sheet and as the night went on they were put into the band that was playing. Unexpectedly a bit later Tony and Virginia show up and joined us at our table. They danced, the musicians played, people drank - lather, rinse and repeat. It was a good night and we bid Tony and Virginia goodbye for the last time and returned to our hotel to sleep among the sounds of music all down the street.