Sober, I did not understand the appeal of Bourbon Street. The beads flew, the crowd staggered — and I was among them, clear-headed and annoyed. It was like being that person who arrives late to a party that has reached its boozy peak.
My drunk self? She understood. Indeed, Bourbon Street brought tears of joy to her unfocused eyes. So I am calling upon Drunk Nervous American to offer up thoughts and recollections from various points in the evening. A selection:
SHOTS! shotzzz yesssss. so many shots.
OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS SONG (dance it up! pop that shoulder! Shake that hip! yeah!)
SHOTS!! Come over here, girl selling shots! Here, take my money. What a nice girl you are! Capital! Top-drawer! (concentrate on speaking. must. ennnunn… enn… e-nun-ci-ate… clearly)
Bartender, I would like a gimlet please. (lean casually against the bar. I am totally killing it today. I am one classy gal.)
HEY, what am I doing on stage? I should prob get down.
And so on. Earlier that evening I had sallied forth, my stomach full of jambalaya and a sazerac to start off the night. I was accompanied by my friends, a rowdy bunch of dames ready to cut loose. We were in high spirits.
Even at that early hour (about seven o’clock), the wide boulevard of Bourbon Street had an orange-red-green glow, its people beginning to stir among the French Quarter storefronts and balconies. Gangs of partiers roamed, often divided by gender (a lot of bachelor/bachelorette parties), and most had a drink in hand. The music thronged — live bands, mostly, doing a bang-up job of covering Top-40 songs for the liquored-up crowds.
Bourbon Street is named for the royal House of Bourbon, the rulers of which presided over France and Spain when Louisiana was founded. These days, “Bourbon” is a party, pure and simple. You pop into a bar, grab a drink, dance to a song or two. If you like, you can move on down the road, walking and sipping.
It was probably my overwhelming sense of well-being (and that cohort of boisterous ladies) but Bourbon seemed friendlier than other party zones I’d witnessed. On the club streets in Kos, Greece and Marmaris, Turkey, I felt a bit like a spectator in the European crowd. They dressed better, for one, and a lot of people weren’t dancing. Here, I was wearing jeans and a hoodie and felt right at home. People were making fools of themselves on the dance floor, which I respect. It all seemed very welcoming.
Blurry, but you get a basic idea. I really was not focused on focusing at that point.
This all took place several weeks ago, well before today’s Mardi Gras celebration. As I write this, the city is no doubt awash in green, gold and purple. And probably a lot of booze and vomit as well. There are also family celebrations, events of huge cultural and historic resonance all over town… but yeah, mostly it’s famous for being a giant bacchanal. I don’t know that I would have loved Bourbon Street quite as much if it were absolutely choked with people.
Don’t miss Frenchman Street
Bourbon Street isn’t the only game in town; the locals all recommended we hit up Frenchmen Street.
Now, Frenchman street was named for a group of executed French Louisianans who had tried to defy the newly arrived Spanish governor in the mid-18th century. (Spain got Louisiana in a trade from the French, who’d recently had a spot of trouble that we now call the French and Indian War. Spain kept it for 40 years, then the French took it back, and then pretty quickly sold it to Thomas Jefferson). A group of Frenchmen rejected Spanish rule, so an Irishman called Bloody O’Reilly, who worked for Spain, put them in front of a firing squad. This had rather a cooling effect on things.
Anyway! Now Frenchman is where you go to hear original music (not Top-40 covers) of blues, jazz, some kind of bluegrass gypsy jazz and whatever else. We stopped in The Maison for a cocktail or two and had a listen, and caught some brass bands booming in the street as well.
That was our last evening out. I decided to turn in early that night, but half my group went back to Bourbon Street… and showed up back at the hotel at roughly 4 a.m., giggling loudly and full of new tales to tell. Such is the magic of New Orleans.
Happy Mardi Gras, everybody!