What's So Special about Tchoupitoulas and Bourdeaux?
Cheryl Gerber Photographs
At first glance there’s nothing visually special about the 500 and 600 blocks of Bordeaux Street, between Tchoupitoulas and Laurel streets, but then it depends on when the viewing is being done. Sometimes the off-green metal warehouse that takes up most of the right side of the 600 block (facing Tchoupitoulas) offers no enchantment – unless one of the big freight doors is open, which they often are. The last time I passed by, the open door revealed a sea nymph that was staring back at me. At her feet were two men applying a fresh coat of paint. In the background was the silhouette of Carnival floats.
There are old warehouses clandestinely housing floats throughout town, what‘s different about this float den is the pedigree of the tenants. The history of the New Orleans Carnival passes through here where three “old line” krewes; Proteus, Chaos (originally Momus) and Comus store their antique floats.
Two of the krewes, Proteus and Chaos, still parade – creating activity along the block, such as guys painting nymphs, year-round. On the two nights a year when the krewes parade, the block is a bazaar of color, music and activity.
Left standing in the back of the den are a few surviving floats from the Comus parade. Comus is to Carnival history what George Washington was to the presidency. It was Comus that started, way back in 1857, the New Orleans Carnival parading tradition as we would know it. Though the “Mistick Krewe” no longer parades, its place in Carnival history cannot be taken away. Few people get to see the old floats as they stand through time, but that they exist adds to the mystique of the neighborhood.
At the end of the next block, at the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street, stands another New Orleans cultural treasure: the home of Hansen’s Sno-Bliz. There are snowball stands around town, just as there are lots of Carnival krewes, but like Comus, Hansen’s was a pioneer in its field. It was there that the late Ernest Hansen operated his own, personally made, one-of-a-kind ice machine that produced a snow so fine it made the Rockies jealous. Meanwhile, his wife, Mary, would create her own personal syrup recipes.
Grandkids of the Hansens are continuing their ancestors’ legacy, just as Proteus and Chaos do down the block. The Hansens had a motto that they clung to: “There’s no substitute for quality.” For those who appreciate having both their parades and snowballs authentic, the message reverberates throughout the block.
Amazingly, the cultural spillover flows throughout the neighborhood. Facing Tchoupitoulas Street from the front of Hansen’s, one block to the right, at Lyons Street, is F&M Patio Bar, a music club that competes with Tipitina’s for being the city’s most legendary.
Down the block, at Lyons and Annunciation streets, is another landmark, Grits Bar, known for its cheese fries and its dance floor. In a neighborhood rich with so much culture, what more could a person want?