In one of the many memorable moments from the movie Animal House, during the hilarious road trip scenes, the upstanding young men of Delta Tau Chi fraternity and their dates drive to the Dexter Lake Club. In the club’s parking lot, upon emerging from Flounder’s massive borrowed Lincoln Continental, they discover the featured band playing that night is Otis Day and the Nights and proclaim: “Let’s go in. Otis loves us.”

Let me share with you what I know about our city and its residents: important people from all over the globe love us. We crave that love. We seek affirmation. Most of the time, we get it.

When we don’t receive that love, which is fortunately not too often, we wonder and become concerned. A front-page story one day last week in the Times-Picayune was about Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson and why doesn’t he love us.

(Also check out Errol Laborde, our executive editor around here, in his column from this week.)

Seems Coach Jackson, on several occasions, has not passed up an opportunity to make some caustic, smarmy remark about our town and its place in his world. Thankfully, he is not in the majority of souls.

In my corner of the world, which concerns itself, in part, with wine and spirits, the citizens of those industries love New Orleans. On first glance, your comeback comment is: “Of course these producers of wine and spirits love us. We sure are good customers of their products.”

But you would be only partially correct with that thought.

The other ancillary answer to the suppliers-love-us discussion is that we are host to more than 8 million visitors every year, and our guests come here to have a good time and drink wine and spirits. That’s a lot of consumers in a relatively small space.

In reality, although that’s a big number compared to Memphis, Tenn.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Birmingham, Ala., it’s not that impressive compared to New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami. Even Las Vegas, back in its heyday, hosted many more conventions and trade shows than we do. That town really outdistanced New Orleans in terms of casual visitors.

New Orleans is a force in the hospitality industry but only one of many in this country. And our base population of about 1.2 million residents in the metro area makes us one of the smallest major-markets. 

Yet, go anywhere – and I mean anywhere – and mention you are from New Orleans, and not only do people know exactly where you are from but are also happy to share their experiences (“Yes, I was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, oh, I guess it was about 1992, and, man, did I have a great time!”) or say that our town is a place they have always wanted to visit.

When it comes to wine and spirits professionals and their thoughts about us, however, it’s a bit of a different story. It’s not only about the joys of Bourbon Street; it’s deeper than that. Wine and spirits professionals look upon New Orleans as a town that “gets it.”

They love us because we know how to deal with their products. Our liberal attitude toward wines and spirits means we have greater access to their liquids. The fact that we have that access 24 hours a day again is not the point.

The point is that we know how to enjoy what they create. We have unique and wonderful cuisines and experiences that place their efforts in the best light. New Orleans to New Orleanians is not a nonstop college frat party. It is a lifestyle.

The food that we enjoy and have created is still here because it is the cuisine of our combined heritage and the dishes are what Mama made for us every _______ (insert any night of the week here).

You can’t sit down at a meal with a group of friends and not get into a food discussion. Or a festival discussion. Or a drinking discussion. Well, at least that’s the way it is with my friends. But I’ll bet your circle is not that different.

We love to talk about the next meal or one from the past. We can describe ingredients and flavors in perfect detail and in such a way that the images and tastes are right there in your mouth. Everyone here can do that. And along the way, New Orleanians can tell you what the beverage was that accompanied that special paneéd veal or the osso bucco or even just a simply delicious roast beef poor boy.

That’s why the wine and spirits folks love us. We know how to correctly blend their products into our lives. For the most part, we don’t overindulge, although there are exceptions. And we don’t make a big deal out of it. What we do is live life, incorporating the beautiful ingredients in all forms and appreciating them, surrounded by history, culture and good friends.

You may think I am going on about something that happens in every city. Let me tell you: Other places have their advantages, but we are all about food and drink as a passion, and that’s a given. We have knowledge that we take for granted. And we are generous. We share what we have because that’s what people are supposed to do.

Our mama raised us that way. We are raising our children that way.

Years ago, I heard a comedian note that when you walk down the streets of New York, you don’t make eye contact. New Yorkers are nervous about strangers who look them in the eye. When you walk down the streets of Chicago, you acknowledge oncoming pedestrians, saying nothing but nodding.

When you walk down the streets of New Orleans, you say hello to people you see – and then you invite them home to dinner.

That’s why the professionals who comprise the wine and spirits industry love us. It’s not just about consumption; it’s about appreciation and knowledge.

It’s not like that everywhere. It’s like that in New Orleans.