the writers tour … involving a wee drink in historic places

August 13, 2009 § 7 Comments

It was a bit of rainy day. Enough to make a person want to tour some of the city’s haunts where writers of remark and reknown had trod before.  Enough to incite bookish activities.  Think bookish thoughts. See what other writers might have seen.

It began with a hop onto the streetcar which runs the length of St Charles Avenue right smack into Canal Street which edges the French Quarter.  I will never pass up the opportunity to buy St Charles again during a classic game of Monopoly. It is a beautiful street stretching from urban fringes into the gorgeousness of the Garden District. 

There is much to behold along the streetcar route. But you must keep your head and fingers inside the window. There is no air conditioning, so the windows will go up and down as you like. Sometimes there’s nary an inch between you and the branches, streetcars and trucks just beyond your window.  Sometimes the branches of the crepe myrtles flick right inside the window.  It’s $1.25 to ride the streetcar.  The driver is nice, affable though ready to yell and smile at other drivers who unwittingly drive over the tracks in front of him or swoop close at a corner. It’s entertainment of a sort.  He opened the door to the car to yell at a woman in a BMW who was pinching his access and he coached her, with a yelling voice, to back up, while offering some humor as an aside to us, his passengers. He let a bum get on the streetcar and ask others for enough fare to pay his way. We rattled from stop to stop. And got off at Canal and Bourbon.


This is the ritual of absinthe.  Certain size glass. Fancy silver salver laid across the top. Sugar cube placed on top. Absinthe poured over the sugar. Sugar cube then lit and burns, carmlizing the sugar cube which drips into the absinthe in the glass below. When the flame goes out, the bartender gently scrapes sugar off the salver and drops it into the drink. Now ice water is slowly poured through the salver into the glass and the absinthe slowly, slowly “turns” color (gets cloudy), known as the louche effect.DSCN6906

Yeah, it’s legal now. Not too trippy unless you drink several I guess. I dunno. 

DSCN6907Above, a glimpse of the interior view at Jean Lafitte’s Absinthe House. Hundreds and hundreds of business cards are taped, tacked and tucked on the wall. There are plenty of historical pictures framed and hung on the wall as well, yet (oddly), there are football helmets on long strings, hanging from the ceiling. The helmets are very dusty.


Don’t be fooled. There are plenty of places that call themselves the “absinthe house.” But this one, Jean Lafitte’s, might have special meaning to writers. One reason: O Henry lived across the street on Bienville, reportedly while hiding from the police for embezzlement charges in Texas.  General Andrew Jackson and pirate Jean Lafitte were said to have met in a secret room on the second floor of this building  to plan the defense of New Orleans. Chances are, Tennessee Williams wandered into the place as well.

Just like the Court of Two Sisters.


Above, the sign of the famed restaurant/club with its famed sunday brunch. Below, just inside, the courtyard entrance to the lovely place. We didn’t go in. We didn’t fill like another drink (yet) nor sitting at a linen-ed table. So, who hung out here? Well, our goodl Mr. Williams loved it, especially sitting at the patio bar and made reference to it in his work Vieux Carre. It’s also referred to in Ann Rice’s novel  The Witching Hour.


Above and below, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon has always been a hang out. Built in 1772 it is seemingly falling in on itself. It’s an odd little place. Walk in and feel as though you belong or as though you really don’t. A huge old stone fireplace is smack in the middle (the smithy’s), loud music plays and find your spot at the bar or table. One wall has photos of celebrity visitors. There’s Nick Cage, Jason Alexander, James Dewhateveritis (Tony Soprano). Very cool. We didn’t stay here, though. Just stopped in to check things out.  But duly note that Tennessee Williams liked this place. Surprise.

The picture below is in the lobby of the Monteleone Hotel. Yes, Williams stayed here, with his grandfather. He also worked on Camino Real. He also rec’d a basket of fruit after the staff realized who he was. It is also safe to say that the author may have had a drink here.


Truman Capote was almost born here at the Monteleone where his father had procured a suite. But no, as it happened, Baby Truman was born at the Touro Infirmary.

Do you recognize the “reference” in the picture below to John Kennedy ‘Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces?


It’s “Lucky Dogs,” which figure in the book bigtime. (I only know from HM. I did not read the book. I started it and stopped somewhere around page 15. )

And this is only a very teeny, tiny tip of the literary iceberg in the Crescent City. Laissez les bon temps roulez.


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§ 7 Responses to the writers tour … involving a wee drink in historic places

  • oh wow. How cool! And I would love to try Absinthe.

  • ds says:

    That sound you just heard was my glass of absinthe crashing to the floor at the mention of O. Henry (O Henry!!!) being on the lam in NO. For embezzlement, which explains the pseudonym. Say it ain’t so… Williams, Capote, no surprises there. But you’ve got to finish A Confederacy of Dunces. It is so funny. Also its primary locales (9th ward) were those particularly hard-hit by Katrina…I kept thinking of Ignatius and his neighbors…

  • oh says:

    Scarlet – I’m not an absinthe fan. It tastes a bit like licorice which is not something I like to drink. But it was interesting to try. I’ll take a Coke Classic any day!

    DS – Indeed O Henry wrote letters to his wife in code so he couldn’t be found, in fact, he drew pictures rather than writing…interesting little story there. I should investigate further…
    And you’re right – I should go farther into Toole’s book. Drat. OK. Especially if it’s funny!

  • jeanie says:

    Oh, what a wonderful and rich post! I didn’t know all these stories, and it’s so magical to walk where others walked. But what stands out is your terrific writing, which I say holds up to folks like Williams, Capote and O Henry! Do they give you a map that takes you along or are you just smart and do good homework? The absinthe ritual is really interesting! Oh, I loved this one!

  • oh says:

    Hi, Jeanie – so good to hear from you, you traveler, you! and happy birthday! BTW, no, I didn’t have a map but gleaned all kinds of info from wall placques, people who work in the shops and pubs, and from a little book I had read a while back about writers in NO.

    It’s Friday as I write this. Phew. Long week. I will catch up more this weekend because I think I still missed a few of your earlier Paris entries!

  • Ruth says:

    I forgot absinthe became legal. It would be fun to try a sippy. I remember one summer when I took college students to study abroad in Ireland in 2007 – before it was legal in the U.S. – I got on a Cork city bus with my colleague after an evening in town to head back to the university dorm. There was a small group of our students, with one of them brandishing an entire bottle of absinthe which he had purchased – legally. Picturing these youngsters heading back to their room with this bottle gave us pause, but what could we do? Basically we told them we expected them to be in class the next morning.

  • Nora says:

    Still a bit jealous I was cooped up in the conference center (with minimal lights!) while you guys were galavanting around town. I was at Lafitte’s Blacksmith shop in Jan 2008. I think I took a picture of Tony Soprano/James Gandolfini… thanks to the darn hurricanes they have there!

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