I love New Orleans. I love the food, the music, the architecture, but most of all, I love the resilience of the city. From a fire in 1788 that burned down the French Quarter to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, New Orleaneans are survivors. And this spirit of overcoming hardship combined with the rich history, Cajun/French/Creole/Haitan influences and indulgent decadence of the culture creates a fascinating, free-spirited group of people.
So when I was sitting at the Lobby Bar one Friday evening and overheard that the gentlemen next to me were from NOLA, I was ready to throw down mint juleps like we were on Bourbon Street for Mardi Gras.
Or, at the very least, sip a Miller Lite and listen to their stories.
David and Jay came to Milwaukee on business, specifically to visit Johnson Controls. It was not their first time in Milwaukee, but their first stay at the Pfister.
“I like the ambiance here,” says David. “The people are great.”
Jay has lived in New Orleans for 14 years and David is a lifer.
“I’ve lived in New Orleans for 54 years, my entire life,” says David. “Born and raised.”
I ask them what it was like to live in a place so deeply affected by weather. High-profile hurricanes and malfunctioning levees have ravaged the city throughout history and some now wonder why anyone would live so close to a large, moody body of water.
“Well, you could freeze to death here,” says Jay.
“I would be more afraid of tornadoes, like in Oklahoma,” says David. “In New Orleans, you have plenty of time to get out.”
Both David and Jay lost a home to Katrina. Today, they have new homes in the city. Jay lives in suburban Old Metairie and David lives in Lake Vista, about 100 yards from Lake Pontchartrain.
Both of them spend time in the French Quarter, which is arguably the heart of New Orleans but certainly the heart of the city’s tourism. David says he goes to the Quarter frequently, about once a week, but Jay, who still has young children, makes it there about once a month.
For visitors, they recommended Restaurant Stella, Bourbon House and Dickie Brennans, the birthplace of the flaming bananas foster dessert. For drinks and jazz, they like the Davenport Lounge inside the Ritz Carlton, the Absinthe House (also known as “The Pirate Bar”) for something different, and the Carousel Bar inside the Hotel Monteleone which features a vintage, 360-degree rotating, real carousel as the main bar.
“They should put a carousel bar in the Pfister,” says David.
Where’s the suggestion box around here?
I then ask them if Mardi Gras, which brings in hundreds of thousands of tourists to the city every February and March, gets annoying to the natives. They both say no.
“It’s a part of life, a part of the culture,” says Jay.
Jay participates every year in a parade with a group called the Krewe of Endymion, one of only three Super Krewes involved in Mardi Gras. A Super Krewe is determined by celebrity Grand Marshals for their spectacular floats. Endymion’s parade is also the largest of the 80-plus parades that take place during the celebration.
As a member of the krewe, Jay has to “mask” (wear a costume, including a mask that covers his face) at all times. The mask changes every year, depending on the theme of the parade, but are always made of a durable material in case someone throws something at your face.
“You have to be masked or you’ll get in trouble. No one can know who you are, it’s part of the Mardi Gras tradition,” says Jay.