Date night in New OrleansWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
As my wife Shannon and I made recent arrangements for a night out, our 8-year-old son Evan and 6-year-old son Sean picked up Lego blocks and prepared for their babysitter to arrive.
“How come you have dates?” Evan asked. “You’re already married!”
I caught my wife’s eyes and said, “And we stay married because we still have dates.”
Evan nodded and went back to his blocks. I doubt the boys truly understood but they will one day. Shannon and I have maintained a strong friendship as our marriage has evolved. That strikes me as an obvious thing to state but we see too many couples who seem to be together more out of habit and obligation than from friendship, much less love.
A recent invitation to a baptism in the New Orleans area offered an opportunity for what we viewed as an extended date night. I had never been to New Orleans and Shannon’s sole experience was based around a conference, so a weekend away on a long date held great appeal.
We haven’t planned it that way, but we have taken weekend getaways without our sons just about every two years. A weekend in Las Vegas for Shannon’s birthday four years ago and a revelatory weekend in Grand Rapids, Michigan, two years ago have been woven around family trips and work trips to Chicago, Miami and many points in between.
We arranged for the boys to stay with my wife’s youngest sister and her husband; they have three kids in our sons’ age range and I suspect Evan and Sean were as excited for their weekend as we were for ours.
We landed at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport on a cloudy Friday afternoon, diving into a humidity that caresses skin and envelops clothing in a steamy embrace.
We knew we were in Las Vegas when we saw slot machines at the airport. Our first confirmation we were in the Big Easy was when our airport rental car agent’s first recommendation for the weekend was to make sure we tried two local drinks, the Hurricane and the Hand Grenade. I bemusedly commented on the irony of a rental car agent encouraging us to drink alcohol. She offered the warm sugary smile I would see on many faces that weekend and said, “Hon, we have drive-thru daiquiris here; you just be smart as you party this weekend.”
The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOCVB) found accommodations for us at The Hotel Modern in the central business district (the NOCVB made the hotel contact but we paid all costs).
The Hotel Modern faces the monument honoring Gen. Robert E. Lee (as he once said he would never turn his back on the North, his statue resolutely faces straight into Yankee territory). It is a 12-foot statue on top of a 60-foot tall column surrounded by wide stairways, decorative urns and a traffic circle.
The Hotel Modern is easy walking distance to the French Quarter, and is just steps from the St. Charles Avenue streetcar that ventures to Canal and Bourbon streets. Its staff was uniformly friendly and patient with tourist questions. The hotel is acutely attuned to tourist needs. How attuned? The sleeve that holds the electronic door key folds out into a walking map of the French District and central business district. The room we stayed in was designed more like the apartment bedroom of a friend than a cookie-cutter hotel room. It was clean and homey, with a modest library of books and a blessedly effective air conditioner. We could have stayed at the Hotel Modern and been perfectly happy; its restaurant, Tivoli & Lee, offered a wide range of specialty drinks and such regional food as Dirty Spaetzle (over easy eggs with crispy greens), a Two Run Farm Burger (pimento cheese, pork belly marmalade and spicy house-made pickles on a pretzel roll) and cinnamon doughnut bread pudding with coffee ice cream.
The hotel’s Bellocq Lounge, named after a photographer who captured the madams in the red light district of Storyville, offers creative cocktails, wines and small plates crafted by Chef Marcus Woodham.
But as tempting and exquisite as The Hotel Modern’s offerings were, the night beckoned.
Beignet there, done that
We knew Bourbon Street was going to be a part of the weekend, so we decided to ease into the party with a walk along St. Charles Avenue. It’s mostly residential, dotted with a few hotels and restaurants near Lee Circle. The houses are close together like those in many Washington, D.C., neighborhoods. The architecture, accented with remarkable lush landscaping, columns and fountains, is worth a mile or two walk. We found The Irish House, with live music and warm scents of food drifting onto St. Charles Avenue. The fish and chips were fresh and well seasoned, and it was there we tried our first drink, a Frozen Leprechaun (Absolut Citron, Midori, blue curaçao, sour and lime juice).
The next morning, we set out in a light rain to walk the two miles to the French Market, nestled against the Mississippi River. We enjoyed a fine breakfast at Stanley’s (Shannon ordered an Eggs Benedict Poor Boy and I had a mimosa and about one-third of a delicious Stanley Classic (scrambled eggs, smoked bacon, Creole breakfast potatoes, and whole wheat toast). I do not usually associate breakfast with dessert, but we were just a block away from Café Du Monde, which had a three-block wait for its chickory coffee and beignets. Beignets, which parents may remember as Tiana’s culinary specialty in “The Princess and the Frog,” are basically doughnuts on steroids, deep-fried twists of dough seemingly smothered in equal parts powdered sugar and crack cocaine.
I have never killed a man, but if one stood between me and a Café Du Monde beignet, that man better hope I am not within arm’s reach of a knife, revolver, wrench, lead pipe, rope or candlestick.
We shopped along the many windows on Decatur Street, from the fairy tale backdrop of Jackson Square to the Old U.S. Mint. We were exhilarated, overstimulated, exhausted and wired.
And it wasn’t even noon yet.
Next week: Qualia, Marie Laveau’s tomb and the premature death of Fats Domino.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and news director for Newsradio 1370 WSPD. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Bellocq Lounge, Café Du Monde beignet, Chef Marcus Woodham, Chicago, cocktails, Dirty Spaetzle, French Quarter, Frozen Leprechaun, Gen. Robert E. Lee, Grand Rapids, Jackson Square, Las Vegas, Lee Circle, Louis Armstrong, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Miami, Mississippi River, New Orleans, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, NOCVB, Old U.S. Mint, Storyville, The Hotel Modern, Tivoli & Lee