Gentle reader, I have no more to write but a little – our time is at an end. O long year’s labor! And short year’s memory… drowned as rainwater in the ocean. But I will resist nostalgia as I might. For a celebration of 52 weeks of penning the "Drinking Culture" column is at hand. And sending out a call to those who would come, I determined to achieve the acme of my credit limit and begin anew the cycle of paying off my debts throughout the approaching busy season. Come with me now, back to a beginning of sorts. We’re off to see some old friends, meet some new, and drink and dine and generally blow-it-up at the finest all-around joint in the French Quarter: Cane and Table.
All the invitations had been made. I’d even worked up the courage to call our favorite New Orleans burlesque performer, Angie Z. Thanks be to god it had gone to voicemail…
And in my best sport coat and shoes, I picked my way down the sidewalk of Lower Decatur. The customary gutter-punks and generically-lunatic swelled the walkway like a Roman victory parade.
“Good evening!” I waved to the throng as I passed.
“Got fifty-seven cents for drugs?”
“Good show, old bean!”
“Indeed, and be well!”
For rich I was. My pocket was fat with a splendid gratuity from serving The Table the night before. And together with that trove, I had a modest wiggle-room on the ol’ credit card. I was armed, my friends, for extravagance.
Truly, nothing is so prodigal and depraved as a service industry employee with funds. Trained to know the finer things. Handed large chunks of cash at random. We give it all back and more like to some Steinbeckian company store.
I passed by the now defunct Maximo’s Restaurant, gutted and being prepared for a new eating establishment. And I came upon a long, brick building. Coop’s Place emanated the smells of fried chicken beyond. And before me, unassuming with a simple sign in the door, was Cane and Table.
“Toman,” Editor Mintz greeted me flatly, literary-looking satchel slung over his chest like a bandolier.
“Let’s get a drink.”
An attractive young hostess greeted us at a podium just inside the door. But we were just headed to the bar.
Memories were thick like smoke around my head as Mintz and I moved toward a pair of stools. Years ago, this space was called Pravda, and had been like a living room to me.
All around, I could see the past of dirty red velvet, tattered furniture and eerie paintings of starveling children and absinthe fairies. I could still hear the artists and poets, writers and weirdos holding their nightly courts around banquette tables. But they were only shades now.
This new space had become wholly its own. Elegant and simple. Clean exposed brick. Mirrors and finished wood. A beautiful bar brimming with specialty spirits. The change had been interesting to watch.
Mintz and I grabbed some drinks at the bar. Cane and Table is billed at a rum bar, and offers a giant list of tiki-esque cocktails. But their Spanish wines and ciders, and eclectic collection of spirits from across the globe always held something of interest.
I went in for a pastis. Herbsaint on the rocks with ice water. Editor Mintz requested some kind of flip. And we walked through the doors into the back.
A long, brick courtyard revealed the purple clouds like hallucinatory planetarium. Strings of bare bulbs lit the way past metal tables, plants. And in the back, a great square opened to long wooden tables covered by a canvass pavilion.
“This place has really come along over the past couple years,” I remarked to Editor Mintz as we sipped our drinks.
And he nodded his agreement and drank. For indeed, sitting and watching over the past year had been like watching a bar being born. Every week something new was added to the walls or the courtyard. A new customer was made that would become a regular. And the space began to take on a personality of its own.
“To fifty-two weeks,” Editor Mintz offered, raising his glass. And I followed suit. And we reminisced until our drinks were gone and we needed more.
“There you are!” yelled our old friend Bill D as we reentered the barroom. “We were gonna get started without you!”
DJ Dino and Your Cousin Dimitri, our two favorite WWOZ DJ’s came smiling through the door. “Hey!!!”
No Angie Z yet, but these drunken bastards would certainly suffice.
And the mood picked up as we sent in huge orders to bar and kitchen. Bottles of Basque rosé! Herbsaint Frappés by the handful! Sherry and cocktails. And if you have never had a piña colada at Cane and Table, my friends, you’ve never had one at all.
“When did you get here?!” I jumped, surprised at our old friend and favorite Scotsman, Richie Wolfe beside me.
“I was measuring how drunk you are by seeing how long it would take you to notice. I’ve been here all night!”
“Lies!” I replied, hugging the old Scott. We each pulled back a moment, realizing we were wearing the same sport coat, then set to laughing again.
The food started to arrive.
The truth, I suppose, must eventually out. The secret was already beginning to spread. The finest food in the French Quarter is to be found within these walls. But it pains me now to write this. For Coop’s Place stood so close, like a cautionary tale against the dangers of over-recommending.
Duck paella. Miso broccoli. Rare Wagyu beef bowl with spicy chilis. Swordfish curry. Tostones. Peas and rice. The food piled high on the bar as we ordered bottle after bottle of wine.
“To Lil’ Matty!” I raised my glass, toasting our good friend who had passed on. (Not dead, mind you: just moved out of New Orleans, which I assume is much the same.)
And the night wended on. And new friends arrived. Our favorite New Orleans actor, Douglas Smith, even put in appearance, returned from his projects abroad.
I stood to the side, conversing wildly with a pair of Brazilian filmmakers our actor friend had brought along. And things felt a bit like the old days as I stopped and took stock.
I am not counted a man of many friends, kind reader – I’m a bit of an asshole, I suspect. But indeed I felt as a fellow rich in fellowship as I looked around me and saw… wait a minute… was that…?
Our old pal Billy D was about his old tricks again, my friends. For there, at the end of the bar, was the beautiful Miss Angie Z. Stunning! Radiant! And with Billy leaned and talking close like a villain!
And time stopped for a moment. Just before I bolted over to wedge myself between Billy and only female guest. And a whole year unraveled before me like single, great scroll.
Drunk in an ecstasy, I have seen a picture of this city. Of the bars and the people. The businesses closed and the new ones opened. The resilient residents who feel their roots. And the new arrivals destined to either dig deep with their own or have their slender vines broken and cast into the South wind.
And displace one element. One face or bar or hipster or old man grumbling. Displace one new idea or old way of conduct. Displace one bit of progressive, unitary philosophy or antiquated world-view. And the snapshot is a different one.
The human and the inhumane. The balance of our lives need not balance – for life is a static thing. A portrait of now. And all things are present.
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The text above is a column and expresses only the opinion of the author, not NOLA Defender or NOLA Defender's Editorial Board.