Nights in Dirty Linen

We have something here in New Orleans that can turn ordinary wanderings into memorable nights. It’s something more than ambiance or atmosphere, though they certainly help to set the stage. Perhaps most of all, it’s the permissiveness and willingness of the people who live and visit here to play along with a good time and feed it with their own participation.

Another example is coming up this Saturday, Aug. 13, when Dirty Linen Night on Royal Street in the French Quarter will mark its 10th anniversary.

This event is part independent spin-off and part spoof of the much larger Whitney White Linen Night, the big open-gallery night held last weekend in the Warehouse District. The name sounds a little cheeky, but there’s nothing randy about this Dirty Linen Night. Evidently, the name came about as a funny way to entice people to wear the whites they had recently mussed up at the Warehouse District event and to let their hair down a bit in the Quarter.

The format will be familiar to anyone who’s attended these open-gallery nights anywhere. People turn up and stroll from one gallery or shop to the next in the evening hours, where they’ll find new exhibits up and most likely some open bottles of wine or a specialty cocktail at their disposal.

What makes these types of events work anywhere they’re held is a good density of destinations, so that you can easily meander from one door to the next. With any luck, a bit of a block party atmosphere will materialize outside. Sometimes that’s easier to envision than to pull off, though. I’ve been to cities where doing gallery night meant driving from one part of an embryonic, widely-spaced “arts district” to another or even taking a shuttle bus. It took some determination to complete a circuit, and spotting friends in line for the shuttle or the parking garage isn’t the same as running into them, go-cups in hand, under a Royal Street balcony.

Dirty Linen Night is much easier, so much so that people go despite the smothering heat one must expect when attending an outdoor anything in August in New Orleans. The remarkable setting along Royal Street is one reason, and it’s not just because so many galleries and shops are lined side by each here.

The evening invitation to poke through these establishments takes you through their carriageways and courtyards, whether following a collection of art or just searching for that open bottle of pinot grigio. Some of these shops host bands, and the street performers who regularly ply Royal Street often stay later to work the sauntering crowd. Everyone is walking from place to place toting plastic cups, enjoying the everyday allure of Royal in a different way thanks to the simple framework of a lightly organized, free event.

The point of Dirty Linen Night, of course, is to get wallets into galleries and shops. But I find a stroll along Royal rarely stays confined to any strict itinerary, and there are so many bars and restaurants on the street and just off it to offer pit stops. The invitation down to Royal can easily turn into an all-night romp across the Quarter.

Dirty Linen Night is held along the 200 to 1000 blocks of Royal Street from 6 to 10 p.m., though of course there’s no set ending time for whatever spinoff party or fun you get into yourself downtown.

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