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New Orleans Discoveries
In Search of Places and Activities You May Not Know About
Since funkiness is hard to define, so too is it hard to quantify. That didn’t stop two local guys, Michael Patrick Welch and Brian Boyles, who have prowled the haunts of the French Quarter, Marigny and Bywater in preparation for the third edition of their book, New Orleans: The Underground Guide. Here are some of their discoveries:
SLAVIC WHILE ROCKIN’.
You might be surprised at how amazing the Slavic cuisine is at loud downtown rock bar Siberia (2227 Saint Claude Ave., 265-8855, SiberiaNola.com). Owned by Luke Allen of Happy Talk Band and music booker Matt Russell of Classhole, among other local characters, Siberia features a menu of pierogi, kielbasa, blini, cabbage rolls and other Slavic foods served up by chef Matt the Hat, right, who learned to cook from his Ukrainian grandma and great aunts.
ONE MAN; ONE BAND.
When we eat in the French Quarter, it’s usually an excuse to hear one-man-band James Dee, Wednesday through Saturday nights at Star Steak & Lobster House (237 Decatur St., 525-6151, StarSteak.com). Star serves two lobsters, two salads, two sides and one dessert for $50, and often offers 50 percent off on Groupon. But it’s Dee’s gravely voice, reverb-heavy saxophone, 1980s Casio keyboard and catalog of original songs that keep us returning.
BEANS AND BLUES.
Rhythm and blues group the Special Men serve up their special red beans with sausage every Monday night in the Bywater at BJs (4301 Burgundy St., 945-9256). The Special Men agitate the dance floor with nearly forgotten New Orleans R&B “hits” from the likes of Roy Brown, Big Joe and Jimmy Horn himself. Back in the day, the Special Men used to convene Mondays at the Mother-In-Law Lounge, where Horn learned from Miss Antoinette K-Doe herself the secrets to perfect red beans.
Some mornings it’s back into the Marigny for brunch at Buffa’s (1001 Esplanade Ave., 949-0038, BuffasLounge.com). A dive bar in front, Buffa’s back red dining room features hearty cocktails, seafood and fat sandwiches, while the featured Sunday brunch attraction is the mostly female jazz band, Some Like it Hot.
AND SAUSAGE, TOO.
The free beans are likewise loaded with sausage at Checkpoint Charlie’s (501 Esplanade Ave., 281-4847), around the corner from Frenchmen Street. You never know what type of music Charlie’s will offer at what hour (probably either dirty rock, dirty blues or dirty folk), but count on red beans every Monday and a burger-and-fries-type menu 24-hours a day.
RAGE IN THE RING.
Though sports may seem art’s opposite, there are a few odd sporting events for more athletic-minded folks. For instance, the Friday Night Fights Gym (1632 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 895-1859) hosts actual Friday Night Fights every couple months with ring girls and live bands. Gym owner Mike Tata has trained fighters around the globe and carries the swagger of a man unafraid to put on a spectacle. Or, if you’d rather watch ladies rip each other’s arms off, New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling (NOLAW) (nolaw.org) hosts tournaments every other month, combining WWE-style entourages, costumed performers, celebrity judges, halftime shows and serious post-match dance parties. And the best thing about these feats of strength: All proceeds benefit women-focused projects in the metropolitan area.
A MAN AND HIS BOOKSTORE.
Anyone who loves writing and visual art as much as they do music must stop by FAB (Faubourg Marigny Art & Books) bookstore (600 Frenchmen St., 947-3700, FabOnFrenchmen.com). Though seemingly gay-focused from the outside, FAB carries one of the city’s best selections of both straight and gay New Orleans-bred literature, alongside a nice selection of new national releases and worn classics. When the original owner decided to call it a day in 2003 after 26 years, Otis Fennell bought the store, simply to save a cultural institution. Since then, Fennell has become the don of Frenchmen Street, standing beside his rainbow Napoleon statue outside on the corner of Chartres Street every single day from noon to midnight. “I’m open late because the street is a late-night spot,” he says smiling, watching the crowds pass. Fennell has added an overabundance of art to FAB’s walls, making it Frenchmen Street’s only de facto art gallery. FAB becomes more and more important as Frenchmen Street becomes more like the French Quarter; if Fennell were to for some reason give up, Starbucks would surely pay stacks for such prime real estate. “Now that Oscar Wilde in Greenwich Village has closed,” Fennell says, “FAB might be the only bookstore of its type in the states. You’ll go all over the country and not find anything like this.” Fennell also hosts readings by nationally famous, mostly gay authors almost weekly, and helps run the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival (SASFest.org) in mid-May, featuring top names in the gay and lesbian publishing and literary world.
A WORD FOR THE RAPPERS.
Rappers are another form of poet, and the SoundClash Beat Battle offfers up a slew of hip-hop poetry every month at the bar and restaurant Maison (508 Frenchmen St., 371-5543; MaisonFrenchmen.com). SoundClash founder Chuck “Lyrikill” Jones is but one of the many multimedia hip-hop artists involved in the series, as every SoundClash begins with an open-mike hour for local MCs. The main event, pitting fledgling beatmakers against one another for cash and prizes, is broken up with appearances by even more guest rappers. Or for those who like their rap music all the way live, Rapper Slangton Hughes hosts Uniquity, which pairs world lyricists, singers and spoken word artists with seasoned live band, Four on the Flo. The four-year-old event now happens on the last Saturday of every month at Dragon’s Den.
A GATHERING OF POETS.
When asked where the literary crowd hangs at night, Fennell suggests the Gold Mine Saloon (701 Dauphine St., 586-0765, GoldMineSaloon.net) in the French Quarter, where bar owner Dave Brinks has booked America’s best non-mainstream poets, from Lawrence Ferlinghetti to Andrei Codrescu to local wordsmith Bill Lavender, every Thursday and beyond for more than 10 years. If your significant other doesn’t like poetry, tell him or her that Gold Mine also boasts a huge, beautiful collection of classic video games, many from the early 1980s.
Dancing is the greatest way to burn off calories, and we suggest DJ Matty’s “Mod Dance Party” at Saturn Bar (3067 St. Claude Ave., 949-7532), a monthly New Orleans tradition for almost 15 years. Though his longtime partner, DJ Kristen, moved away, Matty continues to spin hundreds of upbeat 1960s vinyl soul and dance records from New Orleans and beyond. Then, every Monday at One Eyed Jacks (615 Toulouse St., 569-8361 OneEyedJacks.net), Matty and DJ Bunny also host “The Birthday Party,” spotlighting the music of one specific famous musician on their birthday, whether that’s Sam Cook, Johnny Cash or Iggy Pop. The Saint (961 St. Mary St., 523-0050, TheSaintNewOrleans.com) hosts dance parties for young hipsters almost every night of the week, with sets by the likes of DJ Otto, DJ Pasta and the ActionActionReaction team. Or, if only pure electronic music gets you twirkin’, the intimate, infamous Dragon’s Den (435 Esplanade Ave., 949-1750) hosts Bass Church every Sunday, where Proppa Bear, Unicorn Fukr, Carmine P Filthy and other Louisiana DJs spin original mixes of dubstep, jungle and drum ’n’ bass.
IN PRAISE OF THE DAIQUIRI.
The New Orleans Daiquiri Festival (NewOrleansDaiquiriFestival.com) was started in 2011 by OHNO Co (Open House New Orleans Company) event production company founder Jeremy Thompson. This annual celebration of New Orleans’ signature frozen alcoholic treat features a variety of frozen “craft daiqs” made with local Old New Orleans Rum and other fresh ingredients. Daiquiri competitions are judged by local daiquiri shop celebrities and cocktail world personalities, while local DJs such as Matty and Pasta spin New Orleans jazz, R&B, soul, brass and bounce. Accompanying local vendors selling homemade Daiquiri swag of all kinds, street food is provided by New Orleans’ quickly growing food truck movement. A pop-up “Open Container Museum” features everything from a survey of souvenir cups over the last 30 years, to educational diagrams explaining the mystery that is the brain freeze. The Daiquiri Festival doubles as an annual fundraiser for the Bywater Community Development Corporation. Though lacking a permanent home, the Daiquiri Festival is and always will be held in downtown New Orleans, generally the last Saturday in August.
BEST PLACES TO STEAL A KISS
• Top of the ferris wheel at City Park
• The swings UNDER the Crescent City
• right outside of Tipitina’s
• under the tree of life at Audubon Park
• the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel
(bonus points if it’s during Christmastime
when the lights are up)
• in the back of a pedicab
• in one of the booths at Bellocq at the
Hotel Modern (But keep in mind that
Robert E. Lee is watching you)
• Morning Call in City Park (with powdered
sugar on your faces)
• any dive bar with a stranger
• The Algiers ferry
– Sarah Ravits