New Year's Eve at La Casa
“Let’s go to La Casa!”
Growing up in New Orleans during the early1960s, bar-hoppers heard that sawed-off sentence often. It had a magical, mystical ring to it. An invitation to something exotic or even evil – ill-deserved or not.
“Going to La Casa” meant a night of boozing, conga drum banging and dancing dances you never thought you knew with women you never knew. It also meant rubbing shoulders with motorcycle gang members, anti-Castro Cuban revolutionaries (many of whom eventually wound up stranded or dead on the beaches at the Bay of Pigs), transvestites, physicians, nurses, high school classmates (nobody checked anybody’s ID at La Casa), strippers from Bourbon Street, Mafiosi and Mafiosi wannabes and characters who would become part of late District Attorney Jim Garrison’s “Kennedy Assassination Trial” circus. In short, anybody who was anybody – or nobody, for that matter – sooner or later wound up at the iconic bar, La Casa de Los Marinos, at the corner of Decatur and Toulouse. However, no need to go through all those tongue twisting gyrations. If you said simply, “La Casa,” you said it all.
La Casa was actually three bars under one roof. You usually entered on Decatur Street, grabbed a drink at the first bar and danced the pachanga with a woman who was either old enough to be your mother or young enough to be your kid sister (or actually was your kid sister – it was always too dark to tell). You moved your legs and glided to a corner where your partner dropped you off at the big conga drum in the corner. You pounded on the beat-up drum for a while, and then the crowd pushed you around to the second bar, where you inched your way through the wall-to-wall ocean of people toward the bar and another drink, never stopping, always on the move. The crowd pushed and you went along for the ride around the corner and on to the third bar. Here you polished off another drink and tried to hold a conversation with the face in front of you, but it soon disappeared. In the third bar, as in the previous two, you had a choice: Dance and keep moving or grab the ever-present conga drum. You tried to dance the meringue for a few seconds, but gave up on it because it was too complicated.
Soon the crowd pushed you out the exit of the third bar onto Decatur Street across from the Jackson Brewery. Here, you had another choice: If you were sufficiently soused, you may have wanted to drop into the Ptomaine Temple Chinese restaurant next door on Decatur, order the Moo Goo Gai Pan and end it all. Or if you were still sufficiently cocky, you’d walk back around the corner and re-enter La Casa on Toulouse Street where you first entered an hour before.
You weren’t alone on this night-long revolving trek. An entire circus recently inside drinking and dancing did this Latin snake dance into La Casa, out of La Casa, back into La Casa … all night long.
Esquire Magazine once did a “Greatest Bars in the World” feature. The No. 1 bar in the entire world? You guessed it: La Casa de Los Marinos in New Orleans.
It was a title well earned.
And where else would one want to be on New Years Eve?
This was world-class entertainment. No, it was more than that … it was the only place to be when the clock struck midnight and you wound up kissing a woman (hopefully, if you were a guy) who you couldn’t even see, much less knew.
You may not remember the name of your brother-in-law’s boss, the paunchy guy you met at last year’s New Year’s Eve party. But you’ll never forget a minute – or even a second – that you spent at La Casa: the cheap perfumes that wafted from those women you never saw but danced with or the semi-intelligent conversations you had with your buddy as the two of you made your way back into La Casa through the Toulouse Street entrance for the fifth time … or was it the twelfth?
La Casa is long gone.
But who can ever forget it?