More Blues, Less Booze, Please

by Gray Cargill on January 15, 2009

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

When people think of New Orleans, they think of Bourbon Street. It is the most well-known tourist destination in the city. Naturally, when I went to New Orleans, I had to go see what all the fuss was about. I spent my first night (and part of my third) on Bourbon Street. I started at Canal Street and walked all the way down to the Funky Pirate (727 Bourbon Street) between Orleans and St. Anne Streets. That’s as far down Bourbon as I cared to go, as the rest of the street seemed kind of dark and sparsely populated to me.

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

Between Canal and the Funky Pirate, Bourbon Street was well-populated with tourists and bars of all kinds, from small shops selling drinks in to-go containers to bars with live bands or karaoke to strip clubs. A few people were already staggering drunk at 5pm. The drinks I had were fairly cheap. I had a $7 Jack and Coke at one bar and a couple of $5 iced coffee and Baileys at Pat O’Brien’s. Great prices compared to Vegas. I know everyone says you have to try the Hurricane or the Hand Grenade, but I try not to get drunk when I travel alone.

Piano Bar at Pat OBriens

Piano Bar at Pat OBriens

After sampling quite a lot of music up and down the street (mostly rock, to my disappointment; I had expected more jazz and blues), I went to Pat O’Briens Piano Bar.  I stayed here for 45 minutes to an hour and saw two different piano duos during that time. I really liked this place.  It was fun.  There’s just nothing like a bar full of people singing the same song.

Mark and the Pentones

Mark and the Pentones

I left a little after 7:30 and made my way to the Funky Pirate so I could get a seat for Big Al and the Blues Masters. I was early, to I got to enjoy the previous act, Mark Penton. He was very good. I sat at the bar and ordered some sweet potato fries and a water. The fries were good, but the only dipping sauces they provided were ketchup and syrup. Neither is a good choice for sweet potato fries. (Here in Vermont, they’re usually served with a sweet and tangy honey mustard sauce.  Mmm.) Shortly after I sat at the bar, a man and a woman sat down on either side of me and both lit up cigarettes (without asking if I minded).  I hate when that happens. I got up and moved to the other end of the bar, closer to the stage.

Big Al

Big Al

I really enjoyed both acts at the Funky Pirate. They sang my kind of blues, the kind of blues I came to New Orleans to hear. Once Big Al Carson took the stage, the tables and bar filled. It was immediately clear why. He’s got a terrific voice. If you’re going to New Orleans, you owe it to yourself to check him out at the Funky Pirate. He plays weekends starting at 8pm. Get there early, though, to get a seat. This is a popular band.  Actually, get there even earlier and enjoy Mark Penton, too.  Make a night of it here.

By the way, if you have to use a bathroom on Bourbon Street or nearby, make it Pat O’Brien’s.  Theirs was by far roomier and cleaner than any other I used in the vicinity.  This is probably because they have a bathroom attendant.  The other bathrooms I used were small and skeevy.  Worse than a gas station bathroom.  Shudder.

Pat OBriens

Pat OBriens

I went back to Bourbon Street on Sunday night when Harrahs didn’t pan out, but Bourbon Street was just as crowded as Harrahs. I couldn’t get near the Piano Bar at Pat O’Brien’s or the Funky Pirate. I finally found a seat at a bar featuring a Cajun Zydeco band. I can’t remember the name of the bar or the band, I’m sorry to say. I tried an Abita amber beer—a Louisiana brew—and it was very good. The band was fun and the Cajun beat infectious. I would have stayed longer to enjoy it, but I kept getting hit on by a drunk and creepy older man. I finally had to leave just to get away from him.  I saw a really terrific group of street musicians as I neared Canal Street and stopped to watch them for awhile. They were better than many of the bar bands I heard on Bourbon St.

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

I’m really glad I visited Bourbon Street so I can say I did, but I found the whole experience to be very over-hyped. I would have enjoyed it more if it focused more on the music and less on the alcohol.  Locals on TripAdvisor had advised me before I left that I might enjoy the music scene on Frenchman Street more, and I think they were probably right. I wish I had taken their advice. But there’s always next time.

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