In addition to the late-night events at the conference, I made of exploring other aspects of New Orleans’ famed night-time culture.
While the French Quarter at night is a rather unique experience, there’s only so much one can take of endless streams of loud, drunk tourists. One of the concerns after Katrina is that this would become the only story in New Orleans. There are, however, good opportunities to hear local music at small venues outside the tourist district.
One neighborhood that stood out was the Fauborg Marigny district. This is small triangle area to the east of the French Quarter, a lot funkier, with a feel more like a trendy “up-and-coming” neighborhood in New York or San Francisco. It seems to be the main hangout for the local crowd as well as local musicians outside the standard tourist circuit. I kind of “adopted” this neighborhood for many of my evenings – in particular, I found myself at a club called The Spotted Cat several times. It’s a cozy place, with interesting artwork and decor, and what is often described as some of the “best local live jazz in New Orleans.”
It’s a rather small operation, cash only – and it looks like their website “thespottedcat.com” is offline and (like more of New Orleans’ real estate) apparently in the hands of speculators. But it seems like a safe bet to just drop in a see who is playing. I heard quite a variety of music, a local character known as “Chaz Washboard” who played, not surprisingly, a washboard, but one augmented with a couple of resonant metal cans and a hotel bell. As someone interested in homemade and alternative instruments, this was a little bonus. The following night I heard an ad-hoc group playing jazz standards, but featuring a remarkable pedal-guitarist named “Dave” who could make his instrument sound like a “strummed piano.” The next band that night was a set of local jazz musicians doing an extended bebop jam – musica gratia musicae. One regular group, the New Orleans Jazz Vipers, plays old swing and popular jazz every Friday. I went with a couple of friends from the conference at the place was packed, spilling out into the sidewalk (where drinks are of course legal). This club was also a great place for socializing, and made friends with a few recent arrivals to the city.
I did finally get a chance to visit the Circle Bar last night. This is also a funky little place for local music, in this case more rock than jazz, and in a lot of ways felt more like a New York club than something unique to New Orleans. But from a local perspective, one can see how this fits into the scene. It’s located away from the tourist areas at the edge the Arts/Warehouse district, not too far from the freeway. It’s even “cozier” than the Spotted Cat, with the main room being a “parlor” of sorts, with it’s notable feature the overhead “k&b” clock – I believe this was a hold-over from a previous club at the same location (?).
I was keen to try the special of the night, Good Riddance Rummy (Baccardi and Coke), but opted for a nice safe Guiness as I was driving that night. The band playing was a local group called the Bipolaroids – straight ahead driving rock, with a bit of 60s British influence in chords and rhythm (e.g., triplets a la Penny Lane, flat seven chords, etc.) The keyboard player had a Minimoog along with a standard keyboard, but I could barely hear any of it with the band being as loud as they were.
So in summary, one should go see the French Quarter at night at least once, but then explore elsehwere in the city for something more real. Spotted Cat gets my strong recommendation for jazz! Circle Bar is cool as well for a funky, alternative night with local musicians.