Football NFL

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

 
 
 

As soon as the 2013 NFL schedule was released, the game that immediately popped out for me was the Bills at the Saints.  Not only is this one of the most iconic venues in the NFL, but the date was the weekend before Halloween, making this a very attractive roadtrip.  But the question always lingers for me – do I want to travel to see the Bills lose.

My buddy Greg was planning on making New Orleans the annual roadtrip along with his University of Rochester buddies.  That’s the same crew that we typically meet up with for Bills road games.  Hartzy, Lips, LL, Kevin and Rick.  We checked out flight options and potential plans, but I was holding off on making any commitment until I saw how the year would progress for the Bills.

As the season unfolded, I was less enthusiastic about the Bills chances of winning and more excited about the roadtrip in general.  The thought of visiting the Superdome along with tailgating with hundreds of Bills fans on Bourbon St was almost enough motivation to make the trip.  But I needed more.

The Bills fans travel well.  I have to imagine they are one of the top travelling fan bases in the NFL.  So of course, as the date drew closer, the Bills Backers lined up a couple of party spots on Bourbon Street for the entire weekend.  On top of that, New Orleans had announced that the “Krewe of Boo” parade would be happening on Saturday night before the game.

As the date drew near, Greg ended up with a conflict that would prohibit him from making the trip.  So I now had a choice to make.  Do I forgo the trip and wait for the Bills to return to New Orleans or do I turn it into a birthday present for Lisa – whose birthday just happened to be the week before.

Easy decision.  Lisa, like I, had been to New Orleans before, but for a conference and without each other – and neither of us had fully experienced the French Quarter.  After I suggested that we go to New Orleans for her birthday, she said, “let me get this right, you want to take me to a Bills game for MY birthday”.   She quickly said yes and we started making plans.  Fly in Friday and back home Monday.

After checking in to the Sheraton on Canal, we headed straight for Bourbon St.  You have to, right?  It was immediately obvious that the Bills fans, once again, came to represent!  The casual greeting for the weekend was “Go Bills!” – a simple acknowledgement that meant so much –  hope for the future and pain of the past.  As Bills fans, everyone shares the frustration and agony of the past 12 years of playoff futility, let alone the run of Super Bowl losses, but there’s a feeling that we’re all in it together.  The best shirt we saw for the weekend was one that read “Just One Before I Die”.  That pretty much sums up how most Bills fans feel.

I know, dinner on Bourbon St is not the best option, but we wanted to have as much time as possible taking in the spectacle that is Bourbon St.  We ended up at a place called Desire.  Given the atmosphere and types of shops on Bourbon St, you would think that Desire would mean something different than it’s actual reference to the Street Car.  As it turned out, this place wasn’t too bad.  We were able to knock off quite a few regional staples from our checklist – Jambalaya, BBQ Shrimp, Fried Green Tomatoes, a Hurricane and a local brew.  All accompanied by crispy French bread and topped off by a hug from our waitress as we left.

The walk down Bourbon St is amazing.  Bars, strip clubs (not Gentlemen’s Clubs here), shops, balconies, drunks and homeless people lined the streets.  Young people, old people, bar hawkers, acrobat troops and musicians were everywhere.  We even saw a van selling “weed lollipops from California”.

On the far side of Bourbon, there was a very clear end to the madness.  As we approached the street, there were tons of people hanging around with none other than a transvestite wearing a purple bikini-like get-up, directing traffic while blowing a whistle.  When she/he smiled, the “meth teeth” or lack thereof, were obvious.  Classic.

One you cross over, the bars go away and you enter a more residential area.  We used to call this type of neighborhood “alternative lifestyle”.   Today, it’s just a neighborhood.  Given the sites in New Orleans, I think “alternative lifestyle” takes on a whole new meaning these days.  Just past this gay friendly area sits Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, which is supposedly America’s oldest bar.  This place was awesome.  Lit only by candles at night and sunlight during the day, it dates back to 1772.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop

With Halloween around the corner, Lafitte’s was decorated for the occasion, but I’m guessing it looks like Halloween any time of the year.   We took a seat at the bar for drink and watched groups of “Haunted History Tour” groups come and go.

As we made our way back down Bourbon, we stopped at the adopted home of the Bills Backers for the weekend, The Swamp.  For as many Bills fans as we saw throughout the night, not many had set up shop at the Swamp yet.  We went up to the second floor and ordered a beer – Abita Amber, another local brew.  When the bartender returned with 3 bottles cracked open, I said I only ordered one.  His reply, “they’re 3 for 1”.  $6.75 for 3 local beers.  Not bad.  That doesn’t get you one beer outside of Bourbon St.  Competition for revelers is fierce along this strip of debauchery.

 
View of Bourbon St from The Swamp Balcony

After checking out the sites from above the crowd, we made our way back down towards “Music Legends Park”.  This is a little open air strip that tucks back in from Bourbon St where Jazz musicians play for free while you sip your coffee and indulge in the local dessert – beignets.  We grabbed table and an order of this fried dough creation and just kicked back for a bit.

After a little respite, we headed back to Swamp to see if we could meet up with Hartzy and crew.  By this time, only about 10pm, the place was packed with Bills fans.  You couldn’t get out onto the balcony, the dance floor was hopping and 3 for 1 was still in full effect.  After hanging out for a bit and no sign of the gang, we headed back to the hotel.  We later found out that the crew not only made it out there, but stayed until breakfast for most normal humans.

Saturday morning we were total tourists.  Getting around the French Quarter is so easy.  Everything is within walking distance.  We headed to Jackson Square in the morning to check out the artists and shops lining the Square.  St Louis Cathedral, sits on the north side of the square and is absolutely beautiful – inside and out.  The Cathedral is the oldest continuously operated Cathedral in the United States – dating back to 1718!

St. Louis Cathedral with Andrew Jackson Statue
Ceiling of St. Louis Cathedral
 

Lisa lit a candle, but she said it wasn’t for the Bills.

Continuing our Streetcar Named Desire theme, we had breakfast at Stanley’s, right on the Square.  Of course, I had to try the Eggs Benedict Po Boy and a Bloody Mary.  The Po Boy was your traditional Eggs Benedict served on a light and airy French bread .  Lisa called for the Classic Breakfast of eggs bacon and home fries and a Mimosa.   Both dishes were fantastic.  After dinner last night, I wasn’t expecting much from a restaurant smack dab in the middle of the tourist zone, so it was a great surprise.  It was worth the 45 minute wait – time that we used to walk the Square.

After breakfast we toured a little more around the French Market – an open air flea market including several restaurants.  Some of the more unique things we saw on the menus were Swamp Dogs, aka Alligator Sausage Po Boys, and Cajun Eggs.  No thanks.

 

We headed back toward the Square and picked up a drink at “River’s Edge Restaurant” before boarding a Carriage Tour.  As we boarded, the tour guide, Jeff, asked where we got the drinks and when we replied he said “that place has a 22% approval rating on Urban Spoon”.  I checked it out later and sure enough, he was right.  I’m glad we didn’t grab lunch there.

The Mule-Drawn carriage took us around the Quarter and out to the oldest above ground cemetery in the US – St. Louis Cemetery.

As we approached the cemetery, Jeff gave us the background and a couple of interesting sites within it, including Nicholas Cage’s recently constructed digs.  Yes.  Nick Cage somehow was able to buy the last remaining footage and built a new modern resting place for himself.

The vaults in this place date back to 1789 and include the most famous VooDoo Princess, Marie Laveau.

Of course, no trip to New Orleans would be complete with a stop at Café Du Monde.  This is the place that made beignets famous.  So, after the tour, we hopped in the long line for takeout.  After this treat, it was time to get back to the hotel to get cleaned up and ready for the parade and Penn State/Ohio State game.

As nightfall came, Canal St was lined with people all waiting to see the Parade.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but knew I wanted to see it.  The problem was, it conflicted with the Penn State game.  We headed to Lucy’s Retired Surfer Bar & Grill along the parade route in an attempt to grab a table, watch the game and when the parade came by, pop out to see it.

Little did we know Lucy’s would be jammed by the time we got there and, on top of that, they weren’t even showing the PSU game because the World Series, LSU and Oregon/UCLA were all playing at the same time.  Someone made a suggestion to try Ernst’ Bar and Grill a couple of blocks away and off the parade route.  After finding Ernst’, they weren’t showing the game either.  ARGH.  Penn State’s biggest game of the year and I’m stuck in LSU country during the World Series with a top PAC12 matchup at the same time.

We went back to Lucy’s and as luck would have it, I got a table in the back under a TV that we got them to change to the Penn State game.  Score!  As we settled in, Penn State was already down 7-0.  We planned on having dinner here, so we ordered some Shrimp and Grits and a couple of beers as Penn State was methodically working their way down field.  As they were, the parade started to come by.  Timing!  Now what?  Parade or game?  I didn’t know how long the parade was or how long it would last, so I ran out to grab a couple of pictures.

When I came back in, Hack had just thrown an INT in the endzone.  Now it was Lisa’s turn to go out to the parade.  We traded on and off for bit, but this wasn’t working.  Before you know it, it was 28-0 and Penn State was getting destroyed.  Had I know this, I would have just watched the parade.  On top of that, the Shrimp and Grits were awful – inedible.  Bummer.

That said, the table worked out great.  Hartzy texted me that they had just left a Bills party and just arrived at Lucy’s.  We invited them back to join us.  We knew this night would be interesting by the number of people already in costume at Lucy’s.  After a few beers it was back to Bourbon St, but not before Lisa and I grabbed something to eat.

As we meandered back towards the Quarter, we chatted with a couple of guys.  One was a local, and two visitors, one that happened to be a Penn Stater.  At this point, it was already 10pm and most restaurants were closed, so we asked the local for suggestions.  He was quick to respond with the Clover Grill on Bourbon – past the madness, but before Lafitte’s – yep – in the heart of the gay neighborhood.  Off we went.

On our way to the restaurant, we snapped a picture of this little gem making its way through the French Quarter.  Nothing unusual here.  Just a gorilla and a large “woman” looking at an LSU Tiger painted Lamborghini.  I had to look it up.  Ah the power of Google.

 
 

We finally made our way to the Grill and ordered up a couple of burgers.  Nothing spectacular food-wise, but I always say that atmosphere is half of the meal.   Their claim to fame is that they make the burgers under an American made hubcap.

I talked to the guy next to me, who was wearing kilt and said he flew in from Pittsburgh for the weekend with his friend from St. Louis.  They both shared some stories about the town and that Halloween is nothing compared to Mardi Gras.  He went on to say that he travels the world for his company and nothing beats the people of New Orleans for their friendliness and kindness and so far I must agree.

After our late night eats, we started down Bourbon.  If we thought Friday night was a freak show, tonight was off the charts.  Never have we seen so many drunk people in one place at one time.  The transvestite from last night couldn’t hold a candle to some of the revelers on this night.  This is a family blog, so I’ll reserve comment on what we witnessed.  If I can only strike it from my memory…

We ran into Hartzy and crew outside the Swamp again, but we weren’t up to the task and kept making our way through the throngs of people, back towards the hotel.  Tonight, the police presence was obvious and I’m guessing, required.  How an ambulance made it down Bourbon St, lights and sirens blaring, was a feat unto itself.

Sunday morning it was up early and over to the Bills designated pre-game party on Bourbon St, the Beach.  As we walked in, we saw none other than Pinto Ken/Ron.  If you don’t know who he is, visit my entry on “Back to Buffalo”.  This place was already packed with Bills fans when we got there at 9.

Back Bar
 
 
 
Front Bar

With the lines being so long at the bar, I ordered a Bloody Mary to start and a Bud Light chaser for after to save a trip back to the bar.  The bartender came back with, you guessed, a Bloody Mary and 3 Bud Lights – once again (or still I guess), 3 for 1.

After hanging out there among hundreds of Bills fans, it was off to the Stadium and Champion’s Square.  It’s less than a mile from the quarter to the Superdome.  As we approached, the Blue and Red of Buffalo was quickly washed out by the Black and Gold of the Saints.

Champion’s Square is a relatively new area outside the stadium that has beer tents and food trucks.  It’s tucked in between tall buildings and the dome itself.

Champion’s Square
Superdome from Champion’s Square

After having already downed a Bloody and a couple of Beers, it was time for eats.  We jumped in a relatively short line for the Food Drunk food truck that was serving up Burgers and Pork sandwiches along with Crab & Crawfish Mac & Cheese and Duck Fat Fries.  Just as I decided on the Mac & Cheese, they updated the board to “Sold Out”, so we picked up a the Burger, Pork and Fries.  This was a fantastic meal.  Food Truck or not, it rates up there in my book.

We met up with Hartzy and the crew to grab our tickets.  As we were standing there, the band broke out next to us and the place was rockin’.  Some people were dressed up in costume, but I don’t think Halloween had anything to do with it.  These folks would fit in during any game.

Of course,  Hartzy’s an easy target, so he got pulled into the middle of action.  Check out the guys face as Hartzy demonstrates his moves. Not impressed!

 

We got our seats through one of Kevin’s friends in the Raven ticket office.  These were lower level, clearly in the Saints season ticket holder area.  The seats were actually pretty cushy.  I guess that’s how FEMA rolls.

 
View from our seats
Zoom from the seats

The fans around us couldn’t have been nicer.  The cheering and banter went both ways early on and there were no stares or dirty looks when we tied it up 7-7 on a Stevie Johnson TD catch.   The chatter continued as the Bills held their own and were still in control 10-7 with under 4 minutes to go in the half – even after a couple of turnovers and missed field goals on both sides.  But then, it all turned.

The Saints scored 14 points before the half and took a 21-10 lead into the locker room.  Then 28-10 in the 3rd quarter.  OK, so now is when the trash-talking home team starts digging in I thought.  Nope, just good-natured ribbing from everyone – even the custodian.

We thought we had a chance when Feddie punched it in to close the gap to 28-17 with almost 11 minutes to go in the game.

But it wasn’t to be.  The Saints put up another score after a Thad Lewis INT to make the final score 35-17.

As the game came to a close, the guy in front of me with his young son turned to him and said “son, these are some of the best opposing fans you’ll ever meet” referring to our group.  What a great compliment!

Heading out of the stadium, several people thanked us for coming and spending our money in their town.  They commented on how many Bills fans were at the game and were amazed.  Not one, and I mean not a single person, harassed us or trash-talked us before, during or after the game – except for the Giants fan we ran into Saturday night.  For as much partying that goes on in New Orleans, I was expecting something different, as alcohol tends to bring out the worst in people.  Every fan base should learn from the Saints.  You shouldn’t have to be afraid to wear your gear to a game – ever.  After all, it’s a game.  Are you listening Philly?

Sunday night was pretty tame for us.  Back to room to get cleaned up, then out for dinner at Mr B’s and some shopping for the girls.  Mr B’s was fantastic, but could have been even better if I wasn’t exhausted.  Garlic Truffle Oil Fries for an appetizer and Bacon Wrapped Shrimp and Grits for me – to make up for the huge miss at Lucy’s – and BBQ Shrimp for Lisa.  Lisa’s shrimp took some work to enjoy.  Full shrimp, head and all, floating in a buttery BBQ sauce with the trademarked French Bread. Killer.

I’m sure there’s so much more to New Orleans than what we enjoyed.  Great place, great people, great food.

Laissez les bon temps rouler is more than just a saying in New Orleans, it’s way of life.  It’s hard to imagine the devastation left behind immediately following Katrina back in 2005, but in the French Quarter, there was no sign of impact.  The people people truly do “Let the good times roll”.

Let the good times roll!
 
Even with the loss for the Bills and Lions, this was an outstanding trip.  Sorry that Greg didn’t go, but thrilled that I was able to spend the weekend with Lisa.  Happy Birthday Dear 😉
 

 

Stop wondering. Start Wandering!

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