As we race into the teeth of Summer, it is actually a wonderful time to visit New Orleans. We traditionally have fewer tourists here because (A) it is hurricane season and (B) the heat and humidity can, at times, make you think the weather gods are just messin with you. But, the truth is you can count on one hand the number of hurricanes that ever actually hit New Orleans over our 300 years as a city. For the heat, we have discovered this thing called air conditioning that works wonders at turning the dog days into mere puppies. Even before there was air conditioning, New Orleans was well situated for the hottest of days because of the proliferations of galleries.
In your city, they might be called balconies. We do have balconies. Here, a balcony is a narrow platform projecting outwards from the wall. Balconies are propped up by braces attached to the building. A gallery, on the other hand, is much wider than a balcony, overhanging the entire width of the sidewalk. They are supported by posts or columns reaching all the way to the ground. In summer sun or quick cloud bursts, we’ve learned to love galleries that keep us fully protected from the elements.
You can also completely ignore the weather by wrapping your senses in the comforting cloud of one of New Orleans’ signature drinks. I don’t think there’s a better use of your vacation time than to while away the hours on a rainy afternoon inside Napoleon House, sipping Pimm’s Cups.
The Napoleon House used to be the home of our mayor. He set it aside for Napoleon Bonaparte to leave his exile and come live in New Orleans. Napoleon intended to come, but he died before boats could pick him up. Napoleon House looks like it hasn’t been touched since. I have never been to Cuba, but Napoleon House looks like what I think Havana should look like. It’s all cracked plaster and sagging stairs and balconies.
The bar / restaurant does our comfort foods; red beans & rice, gumbo, jambalaya, muffulettas. They are best known for their Pimm’s Cups. The drink was invented in London but perfected in New Orleans. Napoleon House jumpstarted Pimm’s original recipe by adding lemonade, Sprite, and a cucumber garnish. You can find Pimm’s Cups in most any local bar. However, the Napoleon House website cautions, “Be warned, home concoctions of the Pimm’s Cup, no matter how accurate, for some reason never taste as good as those at the Napoleon House.”
A Pimm’s Cup is just one of our signature drinks. Antoine Amedie Peychaud escaped from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) during the slave uprising. He settled in New Orleans and re-established his pharmacy business. Peychaud would mix his medicinal concoctions in small French designed eggcups known as coquetiers. He would mix brandy, absinthe and a dash of his secret bitters, inventing what would be tinkered and improved into the Sazerac.
When Americans got a taste for his Sazeracs, they fumbled around with the pronunciation of coquetiers and would simply say, “Give me one of them cock-tails.” Nine tour guides out of ten will tell you the cocktail was invented at Peychaud’s home at 437 Royal Street. Now, some kill joy - stickler for details pointed out the term cocktail was used before Peychaud was even born, but we willfully ignore that fact.
The Ramos Gin Fizz was invented in 1888 by Henry C. Ramos at his bar, the Imperial Cabinet Saloon on Gravier Street,. It was originally called a "New Orleans Fizz.” Governor Huey Long so loved the drink, he brought a bartender named Sam Guarino from the Roosevelt Hotel to the New Yorker Hotel to teach its staff how to properly make the drink so he could have it whenever he visited New York.
The Sazerac, Pimms Cup, and Ramos Gin Fizz are all sneaky little buggers. The first drink will have you thinking, “Ahh, how refreshing.” Drink two, and you’ll have a hard time finding the exit door.
Bourbon Milk Punch is a New Orleans way to start your day that serves as an alternative to the ubiquitous Bloody Mary. It consists of milk, Bourbon, sugar, and vanilla extract. It is served cold and usually has nutmeg sprinkled on top. While you should be able to order one at any decent Creole restaurants or bars in New Orleans, the supposed best Bourbon Milk Punch is served at the Bourbon House.
The #1 champion most consumed with irrational fervor cocktail was created at Pat O’Brien’s bar. I personally find most Hurricane drinks much too sweet for my taste. I had one at the Victory Bar which held back on simple syrup and grenadine and instead used fresh passion fruit and lime which made a quite different drink.
O’Brien's is reported to have invented the hurricane cocktail in the 1940s. The story of the drink's origin holds that, due to difficulties importing scotch during World War II, liquor salesmen forced bar owners to buy up to 50 cases of their much-more-plentiful rum in order to secure a single case of good whiskey. The barmen at Pat O'Brien's came up with a recipe for the Hurricane in order to cut into their bulging surplus of rum. When they decided to serve it in a glass whose shape resembled a hurricane lamp, the Hurricane was born.
A newer and gaining in popularity drink is the Hand Grenade. It is billed as “New Orleans’ most Powerful Drink.” Hand Grenade Drinks are only served at Tropical Isle and the Funky Pirate locations on Bourbon Street. Pam Fortner and Earl Bernhardt, owners of the Tropical Isle Bar, created the melon-flavored Hand Grenade as their signature cocktail. They went so far as to register the trademark in 1987 for the name "Hand Grenade" and the unique green translucent plastic glass container in which it is served.
While they have legally secured the right to call the drink "Hand Grenade® New Orleans Most Powerful Drink,” I think they’d be challenged as the really most powerful. “The Jester” is another sweet melon flavored drink which masks enough Everclear to prep you for taxidermy.
Then there’s the Cherry Bomb, 13 cherries soaked in Everclear that you can inhale on your way to hangover Hell at the Dungeon Bar. But at this point it seems less about drinking and more about testing your manhood (from an 18 year old boy’s perspective).
Perhaps the best part of coming to New Orleans in a less touristy season is - no lines. I generally tell people wanting a beignet at Cafe DuMonde, “It’s open 24 hours. Three AM is an excellent time to come. No lines.” In August, any time is a good time.
Galatoire’s is famous for their lines. The restaurant opened in 1897 and has been stationed at 209 Bourbon Street since 1905. Until 1999, they took no reservations. You still don’t want reservations because that will put you on the 2nd floor. You want to be on the first floor with all our aristocracy. If you walk by Galatoire’s in the morning, you will often see people sitting out front on the sidewalk; college students and near homeless people. They are being paid to be placeholders so that when you walk up at lunchtime, you pay them a few bucks and walk right in.
Friday lunch is their signature, almost iconic, meal. Both Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote had their special tables where they sat for Friday lunch and drank their way into Friday dinner. Marian Patton Atkinson was a Friday lunch regular, usually joined by Mrs. Henri Viellere, known to her friends as Peachy. The ladies, now passed, have a bronze plaque identifying “their” table.
There are many tales of the famous and well-heeled from Mick Jagger to US senators trying to jump the line and being turned back. When Charles de Gaulle visited New Orleans, he was furious standing in line and accosted the maître d', “Do you know who I am?” They replied, “Why, yes, Mr. President. Do you know where you are?” He went back into the line.
During August, and almost exclusively August, you can get a reservation for a Sunday Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace the day prior. For other months, you should make your reservation now, as in before you finish this blog.
Shaya, honored by the James Beard Award as the Best New Restaurant in America (2016), is a tough reservation made considerably easier in August. The same holds true for Peche, honored as the Best New Restaurant in America (2014). We tend to get a lot of James Beard Awards. New Orleans is the culinary capitol of America. That’s not me claiming that, it’s Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Saveur Magazine, and I could go on.
One thing to rest assured; when it’s 110 degrees or we are hit with a summertime torrential cloud burst, the music sounds just as fine and the food tastes just as good.
When you visit New Orleans, connect with NOLA Tricentennial Tours and we will make your experiences memorable ones. Any of our scripted tours can be tweaked to focus on food, music, drink, or your individual passions. We are always willing and anxious to create completely customized tours.
THE CITY THAT CARE FORGOT REMEMBERS - MOMENTS IN NEW ORLEANS’ HISTORY
With our 300th anniversary upon us, each new blog will highlight important or improbable dates
August 1, 1952 Falstaff Sign
On Aug. 1, 1952, at exactly 8:00pm, a New Orleans landmark was lit for the first time. The Falstaff Brewing Company, at 2601 Gravier St., installed a 126-foot tower with an electrical sign on top of the new brewery. The sign would (and still does) forecast the next day’s weather.
The changing colors of the massive ball are green for fair weather, red for cloudy, flashing red for rain, white for intense showers, and flashing red and white meant get out your shrimping boots and store water and canned goods.
If the letters of FALSTAFF light top to bottom, that means falling temperatures. Bottom to top means rising. I find the Falstaff sign to be about as reliable as the weather reports on TV or on-line, i.e. not at all.
August 3, 1975 The Superdome
The Superdome held its official dedication ceremonies on August 3, 1975. New Orleans musicians Al Hirt and Pete Fountain played for the event. Between August 28 and September 14, the Superdome continued to celebrate its grand opening, with appearances by Bob Hope, Telly Savalas, Dorothy Lamour, Karen Valentine, and Raquel Welch. The Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker band, Wet Willie, the Charlie Daniels band, the O'Jays, the Isley Brothers, the Temptations, Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds, and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus also performed.
When Pope John Paul II visited New Orleans in 1987, he held the largest benediction ever inside the Superdome. He was outdrawn in the dome by the Rolling Stones. Both were outdrawn by the WWF, professional wrestling.
August 25, 1984 Truman Capote Dies
Truman Capote was born in New Orleans on September 30, 1924. Once a literary superstar, he lived most of his adult life in New York City, but came back to New Orleans pretty much every year to refresh his spirit.
After his death and cremation, his ashes were in the possession of friend Joanne Carson, Johnny Carson’s ex-wife. When she passed away in 2015, his ashes were auctioned off as part of her estate. They fetched $43,750. But the winner also got to keep the carved Japanese box in which the asses were stored.