Life was as simple as powdered sugar over a warm beignet and a hot cup of real coffee blended with steamed milk. Those were the days when Morning Call was located in the French Quarter on Decatur Street.
A family drive through the French Quarter would include a stop for café au lait and beignets either at Café Du Monde or Morning Call, a couple of blocks down river. The stand was open 24 hours a day, providing a hangout for the French Quarter’s characters.
There was also automobile curb service, so the kids could be in their pajamas, which were destined to be sugar-coated.
Morning Call was a happy place that was as much a visual experience as a place for libation. Inside was a classic marble counter with a wooden frame lined with light bulbs. Waiters, wearing white jackets and paper service caps, would hustle the orders. There is no better aroma than that of café au lait and beignets. The essence of Morning Call was its own perfume.
Then one day something went wrong and this happy, simple place turned into a symbol of urban upheaval against the onslaught of the suburbs. The city announced plans to overhaul the French Market area. Whatever was to be done didn’t sit well with Morning Call’s management, and, in an announcement that would be equivalent to Mr. Bingle moving to Metairie, in 1974 Morning Call said it was shutting down its century-old location and moving to a hot new area called Fat City next to Lakeside Shopping Center.
To those who care about cities, the move was jarring. From historic Decatur to a street called Severn! Moreover, Lakeside Shopping Center across the street was attracting the big-name stores that once lined Canal Street. And Fat City! Some people were saying that the French Quarter was dead, and the future was there.
We know enough of the future to know that it’s never totally predictable. True, Mr. Bingle did move to Metairie when D. H.
Holmes left Canal Street for Lakeside. And downtown retail did, as in most cities, shift to suburban shopping centers.
Nevertheless, Fat City with its fake Vieux Carré facades, fizzled while the French Quarter, where the facades and the history are real, thrives.
Morning Call established a new niche on Severn Avenue mostly of locals. Meanwhile, Café Du Monde on Decatur never stopped serving beignets or providing its own essence of beignet fragrance to the riverfront, and received global publicity from being in the French Quarter. Where the downtown department stores were, there are now ritzy hotels (including one with the name Ritz), which, unlike the department stores, add weekend and night activity to the scene.
Where Morning Call used to be, there have been various restaurants though the years, but still, to those who remember, the ghost of what was there haunts.
Now the haunting is over. Morning Call has come back to the city, expanding to the structure best known as the Casino Building in City Park. There is no big river near it, like there was in the French Quarter, but there is the last remaining section of Bayou Metairie. And, if you count the nearby oaks as being living objects – which they are – the neighborhood has history that predates the French Quarter.
Better yet, the place, as a classic neon sign proclaims, is open 24-hours and there will be curb service so that a new generation of pajamas can get powdered in sugar.
Like the old spot on Decatur Street, this is a happy place – and it epitomizes urban revival.
As for the French Quarter, it isn’t what it used to be, but since it’s a living neighborhood, it never is what it used to be. While its architecture and culture have been preserved, it flows with life’s changes.
And Morning Call – it seems like it should have always been there in City Park. It just took 38 years to discover that.