Theater critic Rex Reed was once in town, and during a discussion he said of his hometown, New York City, that it was no longer a late night place. That surprised me for the town immortalized in song by the line, “I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps.”
Such a statement is hard to quantify, but I suspect it’s true – and if it’s true for Manhattan it’s probably true for all cities, except Las Vegas, but including New Orleans.
We are still mostly a late night town, though not as late as we used to be. Among the reasons people go home earlier, are, I suspect, the comforts of home, including TV and various videos with seemingly limitless options. Also, while in earlier days people would go out to escape the temperature, modern controls have made the home more comfortable. In addition, as people have sprawled to the suburbs and beyond they cannot stay out as late because of the commute. People may also feel more secure being home.
Nevertheless, New Orleans remains a late night town in reputation if not always in fact. Our cover story about late night dining shows that the spark is still there. That is appropriate because, by my count, the city has made three contributions to the culture of eating late. They are:
Reveillons. These Christmas dinners were not originally what they have become today, where they are featured holiday meals at restaurants. Originally Reveillons were bountiful meals served after Christmas Eve midnight Mass. In the days when Catholics would have to fast for hours before receiving communion, the thought of a Reveillon was worth staying awake for; that was the ultimate late night experience.
After Ball Breakfasts. This is a lasting custom where the most popular dish is grillades and grits served buffet-style to invited guests at a hotel or country club. There are usually pastries, too. Even here there has been a tug toward the earlier hours. Once, by tradition, the breakfast was never served until 1 a.m.; now it’s usually available closer to the more civil 11 p.m. Late night just got shorter.
The French Quarter. We are one of the few cities that has a genuine, functioning entertainment district contained within a few blocks. We natives spend little time walking the old streets late at night, but the French Quarter sets the image of the city for around-the-clock play. Far more civilized is the act of having coffee and beignets, a repast that’s available 24 hours a day. Enriched by the sounds of an occasional tugboat toot from the river, – the distant echo of a trumpet from somewhere and the clopping of mules – post-midnight dining in that setting can stretch toward sunrise. As the coffee steams, late night munchies can easily become early morning dining, too.