“Wow!” was all I could say.
The drink was 80% rum. No doubt about it. “There’s a hurricane blowin’ in, and it’s off the charts, baby!”
Despite what many people will tell you, especially the locals, Bourbon Street is a place you simply must see on any visit to New Orleans.
I might even go so far as to say that if it’s your first time in the Big Easy, there’s no reason to go if you aren’t planning on checking it out. Of course, I’m a party animal at heart. Not everyone is. But I suspect that most of you reading this are, since I talk about it all the time.
There’s nothing particularly wonderful about the street, unless you keep walking. Mostly it’s just a flashy, drunken brawl, sprawling with bars. Not judging. I love bars. But there are bars, and then there are bars.
The best of the street is on the eastern end. You have to keep walking.
If you pass the barricades, and all the neon, tit-flashing, drunk college students, and keep walking down the street, taking in the aromas—beer, bad food, piss and vomit, as well as garbage—then eventually you emerge from the chaos of the west side of Bourbon to the eastern side, which is immediately quieter, darker, and far less chaotic. There’re still a few drunks, of course, stumbling along to who the fuck knows where, but for the most part, it’s a massive transformation.
Ancient houses and apartments line the street, much as they do on every other street in the Quarter. They’re amazing and beautiful, even when they’re dilapidated. Hell, especially when they are.
One of the charms of the Quarter is its age. And these places are really fucking old. Well, for America they are. In European terms, they’re brand new. But here in the colonies, these are some of the oldest buildings you’ll find, unless you’re in Massachusetts or St. Augustine. But in those places, most of the oldest structures have long fallen down, burned down, or were destroyed in that appalling, stupid movement in the 50s and 60s when Americans lost their fucking minds and embraced all things new and abhorred any hint of history. Places in the East, like Boston, Plymouth, and St. Augustine, still have very old structures, a few, but they are either isolated in ‘historic districts’ or surrounded by modern skyscrapers, or fucking strip malls.
Not so in the Quarter.
The Quarter has managed to maintain its oldness. There are no strip malls in the Quarter, or at least I didn’t see any. No, it’s all still very old, and retains that charm, even on Bourbon Street.
Once you emerge from the neon, booze-soaked west-side of the street, you enter the eastern, residential section, and you keep walking.
We’re looking for pirates.
At the end of the 18th century, New Orleans was a haven for those who lived according to their own laws, shall we say. Privateers, mutineers, smugglers, and pirates loved the city, and why not? It was an ideal spot to sell off all the crap you just looted from the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. Unload and sell it in shops all around town.
And the most notable and famous of all new Orleans’ pirates, was Jean Lafitte.
This ain’t a history lesson on Lafitte, pirates, or the city for that matter. That’s best left to people who actually know what the fuck they’re talking about. No, I’m just mentioning him to give context to our stroll down the eastern length of Bourbon Street. Because that’s where you’ll find a place where history, mystery, legend, fact, fiction, candle light, music, and kick ass booze are all stirred into a sort of gumbo of goodness.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
The building, on the corner of Bourbon and St. Philip Street is one of the older structures in the Quarter, thanks to sheer luck.
It wasn’t burned down in the great fire of 1788, even though it was a place known for starting fires: a blacksmith shop.
The shop lays claim to loose ties with the infamous buccaneer. According to the legend, friends of Lafitte owned the shop, and it has been reasoned—and not unwarranted, I reckon—that he probably sold goods through the shop, or at least spent time hanging out there with his buddies.
Why not? I’m going with it, because it doesn’t really matter, in New Orleans, whether or not the story is true, as much as whether or not it’s good. And the story that old Lafitte used to hang here is a pretty good one: good enough for me anyway.
The ancient shop looks like something that you’d find in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies, or the old theme ride in Disney World—which, by the way, is one of my favorite rides of all time from my childhood. Hey, it was indoors—which is a great thing in Florida in August—and back in the 70s, there was never a line. You could just run in, jump in one of the boats, and float through a world of pirates for ten or fifteen minutes, watching snaggletoothed swashbucklers, sword fight, dodge bullets, cannonballs, and irate women wielding brooms and bats, and see several swarthy buccaneers attempting to lure a dog into fetching them the key to their prison cell to aid in their escape of both the prison and the inevitable neck stretching their future certainly held. And don’t forget the song, “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!” Fuck yeah!
Anyway, I digress. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar looks just like something you’d expect to see on the ride, but there’s a difference: it’s a REAL FUCKING BUILDING from the 18th century, not some facade that old Walt threw up to fool you into thinking it’s a real pirate bar.
The walls are grey stucco or plaster, covering brick, which is exposed from actual weathering in places. There are gas lamps burning outside; yes, I said gas, real gas lamps. They’re everywhere in the Quarter, but here they give a particularly kick ass effect, flickering and showering orangish-yellow flame-light upon the rough and dirty edifice.
You could hear and smell pirates.
Seriously, you could. Or was that just the sound of drunken college students and the scent of urine, again? Fuck it. Let’s just go with pirates. It’s a better story.
Outside were dozens of patrons, of all ages, in various degrees of inebriation, chattering aloud and creating a ruckus, even if it was a bit reserved in comparison with the neon end of the street that we left on the west end of Bourbon. Lafitte and his sea-legged companions would approve, I’m sure.
The doors were wide open, as well as the shutters on the windows. A breeze blew down the street and through these apertures, bringing a cooling effect upon those inside, and blowing those outside, in. Paysh and I were swept inside. Into the darkness.
It was very dark in Lafitte’s, which I’m sure the pirate would applaud. I mean, what pirate wants to be exposed to the authorities by fluorescent lights?
Fuckin’ none of them, I reckon.
And they wouldn’t have to worry in this place. While there were a few electric lights behind the bar—I suppose bartenders need light to mix drinks—and a blasphemous television in the corner behind the bar—don’t even get me started on fucking boob-tubes in bars–in the rest of the place, there wasn’t a single electric light. Not. Fucking. One. There was nothing but candles everywhere, on every ancient wooden table, in the windows, on shelves.
The effect of all this flame is transformative. It helps to enhance the illusion and the backstory: this is a fucking Pirate bar, man! Hell yeah!
We ventured in and began the search for a table. It’s kind of like looking for buried treasure. Okay, that’s a stretch, but I’,m workin’ the metaphor man, or the simile: whichever. We didn’t immediately find one, until we rounded the bar to the back room, where there was a piano hammering away. I don’t remember what tune, probably Hey Jude, like a scene from a Stephen King book.
Behind the ivories was a young guy, well, he was younger than I, playing for tips and taking requests. And there were two empty barstools, right at the piano. Treasure found! Paysh and I boarded them like bloodthirsty pirates, and I went back to the bar in search of New Orleans’ famous cocktail: the Hurricane.
Now, I don’t know if you know what I’m talkin’ about, or not. If not, I’ll refer you to one of my earliest articles and recipes: Hurricane Steve, Category 6. In the spirit of brevity, it’s a fruity, rum drink made famous by another hot spot in the Quarter, Pat O’Brian’s. I didn’t’ get to O’Brian’s this time, but from what I’ve heard, their hurricane is a bit on the sweet side.
Whatever I’m gonna say about the ‘canes I found at Lafitte’s, they were NOT sweet. Fuck no. I watched the bartender pour them. I’m sure the rum wasn’t premium shit, but there was a LOT of it. I mean, they must have been about 80% booze, plus a splash of some pinkish mix from a plastic gallon jug, topped with even more rum. Throw in a plastic straw and the operation was complete!
Boom, two hurricanes!
I paid the ‘tender, tipped him, grabbed my large plastic jugs of pinkish colored rum and stumped my way back to the piano.
When I banged the drink down in front of Paysh, I gave her the following warning: “Bebe, you better be careful, and verrrry slow with that one! It ain’t no fuckin’ joke!”
I then turned my attention to my own cup and tuned into the man on the ivories playing an Elton John ditty, while a handful of ladies at the piano, shouted out request and tossed dollars into his little basket.
Mr. Pirate Piano-player would nod, look up the song on his iPad—an addition since Lafitte’s days, I’m sure—and sail into the next tune with abandon. Paysh sipped her ‘cane, while I surfed mine to the beach. I’m quite certain it was a rough ride, complete with sand and salty water in the nose, but it was a hell of a ride, for sure. I mean, if you’re gonna drink with Lafitte, you cain’t be askeert of a bit of rum, my friend!
Yo, ho, yo ho and a bottle or two of it baby! ARRRGH!
I was all in on the pirate’s life at that point, and commenced to shouting out requests for every piano tune I’d ever heard, including Evil Woman, Cold as Ice, and Crocodile Rock.
I avoided Piano Man, even though it’s the best of the bunch. I didn’t want to sound like a fuckin’ tourist after all, or be labeled a cliche, so I abstained from the obvious. Strangely enough, so did everyone else. Fuckers. I wanted someone to request it. But alas, I guess everyone else was just as afraid of being a tourist and just as avoidy of having ‘cliche’ tattooed on their foreheads, so I never got to hear Mr. Joel’s greatest hit.
Paysh totally geeked out and requested some Beethoven: Moonlight Sonata, of course.
Petey the Pirate Pianist managed to find the sheet music on his iPirate, I mean iPad, but after a glance at the masterpiece, quickly and judiciously reasoned that a couple of dollars from two, out-of-town pirates, was a poor substitute for years of instruction in classical piano technique, and instead took a request from an older gentleman pirate for Skynyrd’s Simple Man, to which I shouted, “Fuck yeah man!”
I guess I was a bit too enthusiastic, because all the ladies and the ivory-tickler pirate all laughed and turned to me to judge is the old, fat guy in the kilt had a screw loose or something, I figured that two outburst were better than one, so added,
“Hey man, that song is ‘bout as close to church as I ever get!”
This seemed to amuse them even more, and satisfied them that I was indeed a bit looney, which was, I reckon, to be expected in a pirate bar on Bourbon Street.
Petey broke into the song, and I sang backup with him through the whole thing, which was pretty fuckin’ amazing, if I do say so myself. Who knows? I was most of the way through a second Hurricane by then, so feeling very little in the way of pain, and probably even less concerned about my singing voice.
Fuck it! I’m a fuckin’ Pirate, man! I rule the fucking high seas! I get paid for raiding the Keys, not singing within them. (footnote: that was an allusion to the southern Floridian islands, if you didn’t catch it)
And the night went on.
By the time we left, I’d weathered three hurricanes, and sailed through the last half of Paysh’s—which she definitely didn’t need—as a traveler (that’s a ‘drink-to-go’ in N’Orleans), and we launched off in search of other adventures.
To say that the next day was a bit rough is both an overstatement and understatement.
I was a bit slow in moving, for sure. I slept in to 10am, which if you know anything about me, never happens. Of course, I didn’t go to bed until about 2:30, so seven hours sleep after drinking that much booze might be excusable.
For Paysh, however, the night didn’t end very well. By the time we got back to our base camp, she was feeling poorly, and that carried over into the next morning and day. In fact, she was out of commission all day.
I was sure I’d pushed too much of Lafitte’s Revenge on her—that’s what I’m gonna call those ‘canes from now on. But she was still sick the day after, and the next, so I’m pretty sure she picked up some kind of southern sub-tropical gut rot, a piratical parasite, somewhere. And on Bourbon Street? Fuck. It could be anywhere! The place isn’t known for its sanitation.
Why didn’t I catch it?
I have two theories. One, is that she got it somewhere else, even before we left Yankeeland. Of course, I still should have picked it up from her. It’s not like we don’t have contact, right?
The other theory is the one I’m going with. Paysh only had a half a hurricane. I drank three and a half. Alcohol kills germs. I had more of it. End of theory.
So, if you’re ever on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, head on down to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar. But either avoid the restrooms altogether, piss in the street like a college student, or drink yourself into oblivion like a true-blue buccaneer and execute those fuckin’ French Quarter, piratical parasites before they have a chance to jump your ship and force you to walk the plank.
If you enjoyed this one, check out my other Big Easy Adventures: