Cocktail Hour

As I leave the Royal House, it starts to pour, rain lashing the streets and gurgling through the gutters. I’ve packed an umbrella because I know the Big Easy. It’s like Costa Rica. Rain is inevitable, and you can’t let it spoil your good time. Just duck into the nearest bar!

Well, I can’t exactly do that on Bourbon Street. Walking down it turns out to be a tad… claustrophobic. I’m too old for this scene, man. I really don’t remember there being so many strip clubs. Tourists scare me more now that I’ve been woke by David Foster Wallace. Tempting fate, I hurry scurry along the sopping streets, nearly biffing it several times on the slick wet bricks until I find my destination: Fritzle’s.

I duck in and collapse my umbrella with a smile. The same bartender lurks behind the bar as he has for all of my other visits, a short black-haired man with a slick bun. When he isn’t slinging drinks, he’s watching the Discovery Channel on the grainy TV above the bar. Always a nature show, or a computerized showdown between two ancient warriors. I allow myself another Abita Purple Haze and settle in at the end of the bench-like table near the door where I can watch the rain and the people.

An old-timey white dude who looks like he might be named Gary (it’s actually Richard Scott, which is pretty much the same thing) is playing 1900s-1930s piano ditties and doing a Louis Armstrong impression with his voice. It is at first novel, then annoying.

This booze hall is small, symmetrical, cozy, and dilapidated in the best way. I’m trying to think of a country or a style his bar is “going for” or mimicking, but I think the title says it all: Fritzle’s European Jazz Club. It’s just… vaguely European looking. One wall is shingled like an English cottage. The three arches of the partition separating the front from the back are rimed with heavy, Germanic wood molding and the bricks and fireplace seem Bulgarian, or Eastern European in some way. The walls are plastered with beer signs and Christmas lights, but they have this ancient, crumbling feel – Old World crumbly.

I’m at table by myself. I should be at the bar on a stool if I’m by myself. I’m anxious because I don’t want people to be salty because I took a whole table and they have nowhere to sit unless they join me.

Well, hear this. I’m a woman and I’m taking up space. A big dude would sit down and do this and nobody would think twice. He certainly wouldn’t. I’m taking up space and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m alone. I’m existing. I’m taking up space.

Dinner

I choose Muriel’s because it’s on Jackson Square, and I’d planned to eat there last time but never got around to it. The restaurant is absolutely beautiful, restored to its state as a residence in the mid-1800s. The walls are warm brick, plastered with old-timey portraits of glowering Victorians. You can read here about the history and here about the alleged haunting. Doesn’t seem too haunted to me. In fact, at 5:30 there’s nobody but me and another lady having dinner by herself, though she appears to be listening to a baseball game on her headphones.

The service wows me immediately. Each table has a bar server for beverages and a food server. Both of mine were are attentive and great with their suggestions. In typical Francophile fashion, I cannot resist the rather affordable prix fixe menu.

For the appetizer, I try the house special: goat cheese crepes with shrimp. Two small crepes came crisscrossed on my plate, surrounded by a few shrimps, with everything covered in a tomato crème sauce that contained members of the Creole Holy Trinity: bell peppers, celery, and onion. The goat cheese is flavorful yet mellow, and the sauce divine. I scarf this also with the complimentary herb bread and butter. The bread contains traces of what I think are sage, perhaps rosemary. Fantastic and fluffy!

To drink, I choose a white from the Alsace region – a Trimbach Gewurtzraimer 2013. Light and playful, it actually pairs perfectly with my whole meal somehow, even though I picked it out myself.

For the main course, I select the “Bayou-baise” (obviously a play on boubillaise) containing mussels, shrimps, and whitefish, orzo, and seafood meatballs. Alas, it does not taste of saffron, which I was looking forward to. As I eat, though, more subtle spiciness comes forward from the red sauce. The seafood meatballs are very unique, but after 3 or 4 were too fishy for me.

Last, I devour the most scrumptious bread pudding drizzled in caramel sauce. It smacks of a “bread pudding meets praline” feeling.

Homecoming

I won’t bore you talking about the lackluster ghostly pub crawl I attended that night. The Raiders were in town for a Sunday showdown with the Saints, and some extremely tacky Raiders fans really put a damper on the experience. Plus it was hot, and I could tell the guide wasn’t having much fun.

Regardless, I got a boring but nourishing shrimp po-boy for some late night eats and drank almost the rest of the wine in my room while watching old episodes of Batman and The Golden Girls.

I arrive at the airport way too early, in NOLA solo trip tradition, but this time of day “Ye Olde College Inn” is open for business, and I’m having yet another crawfish omelet and grits. This time the crawfish isn’t as fresh, because I can taste the gamey-ness of it. The Gouda grits, however, with world-famous Crystal hot sauce, are heaven. My waitress says, “Enjoy, my love!”

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I’m super happy. Okay, let’s try some amped up words (that’s what we’re learning in English Comp right now). I’m elated. Content, Blissed out. It feels like Christmas Day Eve as a kid after you’ve spent all morning opening presents. As a kid, mind you. Christmas Day Eve as an adult is the big letdown – when you realize that no Christmas will ever be like what it was when you were little, and that you blew your diet eating and drinking too much.

Here, I’m recapturing that feeling. Because New Orleans is a gift. Sure, it’s got its problems, and as a tourist I’ll never see the authentic nature of its soul, but it serves an essential function in my life. It’s full of culture, diversity, memories, and it helps me remember who I am.

I feel enlivened and rejuvenated form this trip. I’m choosing to focus on that, my joy and my gratitude, instead of the fact that fifteen years ago I was in chemistry class sitting by a German exchange student when the towers fell. The day everything changed.

Everything about going home is sweet. Alyssa, here I come, baby girl! Can’t wait to kiss Lee!

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