The bar at the Hotel Monteleone is now on my list of favorites. Itʼs famous for its Carousel Bar, which is good because every historic hotel should have a bit of history. But I prefer the adjacent area, instead.
The carousel is right at the barʼs entrance, which means that the spectacle and tourist book hype ensnares the chavs and attention-seekers before they can go any farther. This allows the rest of the establishment to be a more mellow, convivial place. The carousel area is for bros and the selfie-absorbed to watch sportsball and make a spectacle of themselves. The remainder, at least during the day, is a place where you can hide in a wingback chair and tuck into your newly purchased William Faulkner book. The adult beverages wonʼt help you understand the first three chapters, but at least you can enjoy the confusion knowing that this is the proper place to do this most proper of things.
U.S. chess master Jude Acers
Play the living legend
Itʼs nice to see that sidewalk chess is still a thing. I havenʼt seen it since I lived in Chicago. It makes one feel better about the neighborhood and the city to know that things that are both smart and random can happen in public.
Perhaps not so random, as there was a chess bar across the street from this scene. But still — New Orleans has a chess bar. What is this, Tyrol?
I find that wandering the streets at dawn is a good way to get to know a city.
New York wakes up to a sudden swarm of delivery trucks, bringing the day's supplies into the metropolis for consumption by its populace.
Seattle wakes up more slowly, to the sounds of ferries and grinding beans, and crusty-eyed baristas bracing for the morning onslaught.
Chicago wakes up to the march of civil servants — transit workers, garbage men, traffic aides — putting things in order for those who will follow.
New Orleans… New Orleans wakes up with a hangover.
Other cities tidy their rooms before they go to bed. New Orleans wakes up weighed down by heavy air, drifts of garbage, and the slow-moving rivulets of other peopleʼs bodily expulsions.
From west to east comes a brawl of cleaners — both human and mechanical — to shift the debris, sweep the horizontal, and hose down everything that will take a wet. Within 90 minutes, even the hygiene abomination of Canal Street exhales in relief, ready for another assault from the next shift of tourists.
PJʼs Coffee is one of New Orleansʼ hometown brews. Itʼs basic, but has the virtues of being consistent, pleasant, and ubiquitous. Food offerings seem to vary widely from store to store, but a bit of hyper-local flavor is a good thing.
A lot of people compare it to Starbucks, but itʼs a different animal. Itʼs more akin to Peetʼs Coffee, or a better grade of Dunkinʼ Donuts.
PJʼs is also one of the very few coffee companies that sells beans specifically for cold brew. It has the virtues of being consistent, pleasant, and in my refrigerator.
What you see above is the result is my inability to clearly communicate what I wanted. I wanted an iced coffee in a paper cup. The reason was simple: Mr. Wolfʼs cold drink cups are boring unadorned plastic, and lack the cool wolf logo. I wanted the dapper wolf on my drink.
The baristas were nice enough, but perhaps it was heat stroke that prevented me from explaining what I wanted.
In the end, we compromised on the pictured frankendrink: Iced coffee poured in a plastic cup, and the plastic cup jammed in a paper cup. Close enough. Still good.
I am sad to report that time, economy, and pandemic have not been kind to the place. It seems to have lowered its standards in order to bring in more foot traffic.
There are dinner specials. The wait staff is spread thin. Tourists are allowed in all dining rooms not only without a jacket, but in T-shirts and sockless. Any of this would have been absolutely unthinkable not that many years ago.
The food remains solid, if smaller. On the plus side, the baked Alaska remains among the best I've tried, even if it's been tarted up for the Instygram age.
Then again, when Iʼm 182 years old, I will probably make some concessions, too.
Curation is the key to quality. It's the difference between a disc jockey and an iPod on shuffle mode. It brings order to chaos. It allows the best things to stand out in a way that makes sense.
Curated in probably the best way to describe Faulkner House Books. Perhaps, curated to a fault. This isn't a place you go to explore the unknown. It's where you go to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. To buy important books by important people. To re-read all the things you were assigned to read in high school, but were too young to appreciate.
There probably isn't a bad book in the entire store, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's good to know that no matter what you buy, your money won't be wasted. But at the same time, the only kind of undiscovered fringe writers you will find are people who were undiscovered and fringe half a century ago, and are now so mainstream their books are covered in school.
I ended up with Soldier's Pay, because it's the book that William Faulkner wrote when he lived in this building, which is why Faulkner House Books is called Faulkner House Books. It's a good book, once you burrow through the first few chapters and get used to the writing style. In high school I was given the choice of a Hemingway book and a Faulkner book, and I chose Hemingway. Now my education is complete.
Even for K-cup coffee in a two-star hotel, Metropolitan by Farmer Brothers isn't a very good coffee. It's the sort of coffee that you make in your room on your first morning in town, which then causes you to wander the streets each subsequent morning looking for better coffee.
Considering the catalog of cost-cutting measures employed by the Hotel Saint Marie, perhaps this was a deliberate choice to keep from having to spend an extra 75¢ servicing the room.
I donʼt know if lunch at Galatoireʼs was the finest meal Iʼve ever eaten, but it is certainly in the top two of all time.
Part of it was the food, which was excellent. But most of it was the people. Both the staff, and the other customers.
The wait staff were the most professional Iʼve ever seen. They have mastered the art of being exactly where they should be at exactly the right time. Of being invisible, yet always on hand. Of being friendly, while being anonymous. Of putting the “serve” into service. And not just the ones attending my table. Watching the others around the dining room, I could see similar attention being given to everyone.
When the entire staff from the butter-and-rolls guy to the manager visits a pair of regulars over the course of an hour and greets them like old friends, it shows why those people keep coming back.
And thatʼs just it — this was a room of regulars. Each part of an individual knot of friends, but in a room full of friends new, old, and not yet met. And everyone so interesting to look at and listen to that my wife were silent with each other as we eagerly devoured multiple conversations from multiple tables at the same time.
There was a table of what looked like old school lawyers and politicians discussing local issues in a way I couldn't comprehend.
One of them went over to the table behind me to congratulate a debutante who was celebrating becoming a newly minted lawyer with her friend.
There was a gaggle of ladies who lunch, celebrating the 70th birthday of a woman who didnʼt look a day over 45 — a good 45.
A pair of 30-something gentlemen in subtle but designer clothes with impeccable table manners, looking like a cross between old plantation trust fund babies and rock stars.
Plus a scattering of people who looked like writers, playwrights, bankers, fashion designers, and a 30ish woman eating alone that the staff ensured was never lonely during her meal.
An in this age when too many American restaurants think “hospitality” means putting a time limit on your visit so they can “turn” the table for a new revenue source, my wife and I never felt rushed. We were there for two-and-a-half hours, and could easily have stayed longer. That was also true for everyone else. Most of the parties were already seated when we arrived, and when we left were still there talking, reminiscing, conspiring, and engaging in fruitful human-to-human contact in a way that has been largely lost elsewhere.
As a restauranteur, when a hundred people gather in your room, and nobody takes out their smartphone, you know youʼve done your job right.
For a coffee shop with “beignet” in its name, beignets seem to be an afterthought at Cafe Beignet.
The coffee is fine. Good, even. Itʼs below Starbucks, but above PJʼs. However, the pastry offerings are paltry, even when it comes to its namesake.
I suspect that this chain does well because it has excellent placement, magically appearing at the right time in all the right places. But if beignets are on your mind, keep walking. There are better options.
Café Du Mondé coffee is an acquired taste. And try as I might over the years, I haven't acquired that taste yet.
Millions of words have been written on and about chicory coffee, and thereʼs nothing I can add to that volume. You either like it, or you donʼt. I drink it when Iʼm in New Orleans, because itʼs the local flavor, just like the kick in the kidneys of Turkish coffee in Istanbul, or the diabetes-in-a-cup that flows on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.
I think Café Du Mondé persists, in part, because it is the location where a lot of peopleʼs good memories were begotten.
If youʼre drink Café Du Mondé under the original expanse of awnings late on a rainy night with someone you love, youʼre bound to be in a good place, even if for only as long as the coffee lasts. And in the future, when you think of pleasant memories, and the pleasant places where they were spawned, just like the rain, sticky powdered sugar, and inadequate napkins, the coffee — as bad as it is — is part of that memory, and elevated in oneʼs mind.
Café Du Mondé coffee was special when I first had it, but today itʼs available in almost every supermarket in America, and in places all around the world. So itʼs not unique. But that doesnʼt mean it isnʼt special. If not on the tongue, at least in the mind; which is usually all that matters.
Using a pay phone requires three things that are increasingly scarce:
A public payphone
Knowing the number of someone to call
There are still lots of payphones in the world, but theyʼre generally not on the streets where they can be easily noticed. Coins are so scarce that even banks have a hard time getting them. And while it used to be the case that most people knew a dozen or two phone numbers by heart, today they use a gadget to remember for them.
I understand why these things happen, but it seems like there should still be some kind of “infrastructure of last resort” for emergencies, misfortune, and those on the margins of society. New technology is great, but it still breaks too easily for us to rely on it enough in many situations.
Museum cafes are almost universally overpriced. I figure that Iʼm paying a premium for the convenience of giving my feet a break, having a snack, and then resuming my mental stimulation with minimal delay.
A lot of museums think their food has to look like art, cater to waifs, and embrace the ”less is more” cliché.
But the New Orleans Museum of Art is different. Portions are large, prices are reasonable, and its fried chicken sandwich is quite good.
Also, thereʼs paintings and stuff in the other rooms of the building.
Would the worldʼs last smoker, please empty the ashtray
Tuesday, May 24th, 2022Alive18,655days
Such a nice, elegant French Quarter courtyard. Or, at least it would be if the Hotel Saint Marie didnʼt use it as a smoking lounge. I had to wait five minutes for the drifting smoke to clear to get a nice picture of the fountain.
Honestly, though, this is among the least of the Hotel Saint Marieʼs sins. Never again.
CCʼs Coffee House is another local slinger of joe in Louisiana. The “C” and the other “C” stand for “Community Coffee,” the Baton Rouge company from which this small chain originated. So, really the full name is “Community Coffee's Coffee House,” which entirely fails to roll off the tongue.
CCʼs is good, and the Pelican State could use more of them. Itʼs a reliable cuppa, and the cafes I visited are both spacious and low-pressure.
Since theyʼre both local, itʼs natural to compare CCʼs Coffee with PJʼs Coffee. CCʼs is perhaps a scosh below P.J.ʼs in terms of flavor, but while P.J. seems to aspire to replicating the Starbucks proliferation model, CCʼs has a serious local vibe. Even its drinks have names like Mochasippi, embracing its location in a way that PJʼs only does in a token fashion, like offering café au lait. Even Dunkinʼ can do that.
I did purchase beans from CCʼs, and they were unremarkable. Not bad. Not good. Diner grade coffee, if thatʼs what youʼre into.
The Eighth District police station in New Orleans has an unusual feature. Iʼve seen lots of police stations with gift shops and museums before. But inside the gift shop in this police station is a vending machine that spits out swag.
I slid my credit card through the reader, punched a button, and out popped a New Orleans Police Department ball cap. Very cool.
I think that many people donʼt know that the New Orleans P.D. sells hats, shirts, tote bags, and other branded items. At least it seems like the people who live in the Eighth District donʼt.
Early the next morning, I went to a bodega near Esplanade to get a newspaper. It was raining, so I wore my rain jacket, which is kinda-sorta safety yellow, and my new N.O.P.D. hat. There were some locals sitting around drinking coffee and shooting the breeze. The store was out of newspapers, so I asked if anyone knew where I could get one because none of the stores near my hotel had any.
“Near my hotel” let them know I was a tourist. But until then, they said they thought I was a cop. When I told them I got the hat out of a vending machine at the police station, they were not happy.
I can understand why they were upset. If I can unintentionally make people think Iʼm a police officer, imagine what someone could accomplish if they were actually trying.
I've seen hitching posts outside of supermarkets in rural Pennsylvania. I've seen hitching posts in half-dead mining towns in Nevada. I've seen hitching posts outside Post Offices in California. I certainly didn't expect to see hitching posts in New Orleans, but there are quite a few of them.
Considering how they are artfully cast from iron and not just a bunch of scrubwood timbers nailed together, I expect these are for fancy horses, and not desert mules.
Two historic downspouts, crafted in the shape of grotesque fish. Between them, a boring corrugated plastic tube. All serve the same purpose, but two of them are signs of an advanced civilization, while one is a sign of people being cheap.
The bar at the Hotel Monteleone puts out quite a nice meat-and-cheese tray. “Charcuterie” if youʼre trying to be fancy-schmancy.
There are a dozen reasons to waste four to six hours in the Monteleone bar: Watching the people on the carousel; watching the tourists perambulate outside; absorbing the art, music, and food New Orleans proffered throughout the morning. But the smörgås-on-a-board encourages you to linger, to sip your drinks slowly, and to chew as often as youʼre supposed to.
I wonʼt pretend to know or like every item on offer, but thereʼs enough variety for both me and my wife to find things we like, and we have very different tastes.
My wife and I had dinner at The Court of Two Sisters. I got the pork chop, with came with a side of cornbread and a drizzle of pecan syrup.
O.K., maybe not a drizzle. More like a deluge. Perhaps a flood.
There was so much syrup in the dish, that I couldn't taste the pork, so I canʼt even say if it was good. With the cornbread absorbing the syrup puddle, it was more like breakfast than dinner.
I have a rule about meat: The only reason to drown it in sauce is to hide a bad cut of beef. I donʼt know if that applies to pork, as well.
All that said, The Court of Two Sisters deserves credit for at least being open. The pandemic has ruined dining in New Orleans. If you don't want fast food, or to eat in an ear-splitting bar, or something made of alligator, there are startling few options. Of those that remain, very few are open during the week; and even fewer on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays.
The Sisters isnʼt excellent, but itʼs open. And when everything else is closed, that makes it the best restaurant in New Orleans that night.
My wife has a thing about restaurant ceilings. She tries not to look at them, because they might ruin her meal.
After learning this, I've developed a habit of always looking at restaurant ceilings, and her fears are not unreasonable — some of them are disgusting. Smoke-soaked corbels, brown-stained drop ceilings, mysterious holes that could be entries for any number of creepy-crawlies.
I think the ceiling above the bar at The Court of Two Sisters is among the worst. It's like the backdrop for some kind of over-the-top Disney pirate ride, but in real life, with real cobwebs, and real who-knows-what. It was very easy to imagine a spider dropping down and adding just a bit of crunch to someone's cocktail. Ick.
The restaurantʼs web site claims eating there is a “one-of-a-kind experience.” Well, it was certainly memorable.
Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger. No Coke. Pepsi.
Sunday, May 22nd, 2022Alive18,653days
Amtrak makes a better cheeseburger on a train than I can make in my car. Almost as good as I can make on a grill. It's a hefty sammitch, with good char and flavor. Chips, though, not french fries. I guess vats of boiling oil are a bad idea in a moving conveyance.
I have often said thereʼs no such thing as bad ice cream. The same cannot be said for coffee.
Amtrak coffee is bad. I've had it on the Empire Builder, on the Coast Starlight, on the Hiawatha, on the Lincoln Service, on the Texas Eagle, on the Sunset Limited, and on the Cascades. I keep trying it, but itʼs bad every time.
Government train coffee may be the only drink worse than bank lobby coffee.
If you drive into downtown Houston via I-45 from the north or I-10 from the west, you will be greeted by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen F. Austin, and Sam Houston.
Each of them weigh two tons, and are the work of exurban sculptor David Adickes. He made them, and 39 others, in 2004 for a theme park in Virginia that never opened, so the entire bustle of busts never left Houston.
These four were relocated to a cut-off corner overlooking the freeways at 1400 Elder Street. Officially, itʼs called American Statesman Park. But most commuters know it as Mount Rush Hour.
Part of the Amazon Music screen says “purchased.” Another part says I canʼt download the music I paid for.
Trying again in 15 minutes didnʼt change anything. Nor did trying again in 30 minutes, or 45. An hour after my purchase I got on the blower with Amazon customer service, and was told to wait 24 hours to download the music I paid for.
Thatʼs OK for me, because I'm patient. I was able to download the music when I tried a couple of days later. But isnʼt the whole point of Amazon Music that people are supposed to have immediate, unlimited access to their music?
It was just this morning I was thinking that I donʼt see so many cowboys in Houston anymore. Then, just before lunch, a clown car full of them drove up to the roof of my parking garage and belched out a whole passel of dudes.
Those are not lampshades in the foreground. Those are the kinds of cases that are used to transport big-ticket cowboy hats on planes. There are cowboy hats that cost more than a MacBook Pro.
Sometimes Iʼm a little slow before Iʼve had my sixth cup of coffee in the morning, so it took me a bit realize that “Specs-a-doodle” is a play on snickerdoodle.
Does the coffee taste like a snickerdoodle? Maybe. Kinda. Sorta. As much as any coffee thatʼs been sitting in a see-through plastic bin under florescent lights in a liquor store for the last dozen months or so. Or, perhaps the idea is that this is the perfect brew to sip with an actual snickerdoodle. Iʼll have to try that.
Specʼs coffee isnʼt great tasting. But it has other redeeming qualities. Primarily, that it exists and is easy for me to get to by train. Also important is that there are over a 120 varieties of the stuff available. Yes, I counted the bins.
Thereʼs something about chocolate fudge that makes it the go-to flavor when coffee companies want to flavor their beans.
Itʼs no secret that chocolate pairs well with coffee, but so do lots of other flavors. I wonder if chocolate flavor is really cheap and easy to find since so many things in the food industry are flavored with chocolate.
Like every other beanery with flavors on offer, Specʼs has a chocolate fudge coffee. In my experience, chocolate-flavored coffees tend to be smoother than regular coffee, but not this one from Specʼs. It manages to have a tinge of chocolate flavor while still retaining the bitterness and acidity of plain old dark roast.
If thatʼs what fills your cup, bully on you. For me, the current chocolate-flavored coffee champion remains Piñon Fudge from Piñon Coffee in Albuquerque. Strong chocolate flavor, and itʼs smoother than Mel Torméʼs satin pillow case.
3Fibs is the sort of coffee joint that Iʼd love to love, but I canʼt. Itʼs just not for me.
Although I consume about a hogshead worth of coffee each month, itʼs rarely of the highest quality, never made correctly, and certainly not tasted with the care and respect it deserves. I brew with a Keurig, for Godʼs sake.
I like sweet, and chocolate, and filberts, and all those things that made Starbucks famous, and drive absolutists absolutely mad.
3Fibs is expert-level coffee. The menu is sparse. There are no flavorings. There is no Frappuccino, or its equivalent. Itʼs coffee for people who are serious about coffee. Thatʼs not me, but I'm glad that there are people out there who are defenders of the faith. Without them, there would be no caffeine coattails for sots like me to ride upon.
The space has a good vibe. Very much a coffee house, and not a café, or a store. And the baristas manage to be both friendly and knowledgeable without also being condescending. Those three attributes rarely go together, and disappear altogether as you progress northwestward within the continental United States.
The coffee was good. I think. Very strong. But it was obvious that this was a drink that I donʼt have the refined taste buds to appreciate.
Itʼs still a bit strange for me to see people leisurely recreating along and on top of Buffalo Bayou. When I lived in Houston twenty years ago, it would be unthinkable. The bayou was considered so filthy that people treated it the same way children do when they play the hot lava game hopping around on the living room furniture.
Now I see people boating, fishing, and generally having a good time along a waterway that a generation ago was verboten.
According to the bayouʼs 2001 Master Plan Project document, itʼs 13½ feet deep downtown. That same document also states that there is an E.P.A. Superfund hazardous waste site a half-mile downstream from this location containing “arsenic, chromium, cobalt, lead, copper, and nickel.” Yum.
Maybe thatʼs been cleaned up in the last 20 years. Maybe the document is correct in stating that somehow, in spite of regular bombardment by hurricanes, tropical storms, and other severe weather that the bad stuff somehow never leaches into the bayou. Or maybe Iʼll just stay out of the water for now. If the hazardous waste doesnʼt get me, a buffalo gar will.