As former residents and frequent visitors, we have fond memories and a big ol’ soft spot in our hearts for all things New Orleans; especially when Mardi Gras rolls around. Because no matter where we are, we have our own mini-celebration on Fat Tuesday.
Most tourist cities struggle to be unique, but NOLA doesn’t have to lift a finger. Even in the 1720’s Nouvelle Orléans was a one-of-a-kind party town, and it didn’t wait until a holiday came along to let its hair down.
From its humble beginnings as a mosquito-infested village surrounded by swamp, New Orleans had the reputation as a delivery device for the pleasures of music, food, and drink.
And along the way, the mix has been “kicked up a notch,” with a few fun vices added in.
Not on the vice list, but certainly on the party list is jazz. Most music lovers know that Jazz was born in New Orleans, and they can probably name a few native sons and daughters who have gone on to world fame. And there’s a good chance these aficionados enjoy their jazz with drink in hand. Which brings me to another pleasure introduced in New Orleans … the cocktail.
In addition to being a pharmacist, Antoine Peychaud was a gracious host. In the 1830s, Masons held lodge meetings in his simple and centrally located drug store on Royal Street. Legend has it that after meetings adjourned, Peychaud would whip up a few libations by combining cognac, his own bitters recipe, a drop of water, and a pinch of sugar. He served his tasty concoction in small egg cups called coquetier. As frequently happens in America, the pronunciation was mangled, and the “cocktail” was born. Incidentally, Peychaud’s drink is called “The Sazerac,” which is available at just about any bar in the city.
Actually, there’s a long list of cocktails which allegedly originated in NOLA, including The Hurricane, Ramos Gin Fizz, The Obituary Cocktail, and the Vieux Carré Cocktail. There’s another famous adult beverage that supposedly originated in The Big Easy, but I’m reluctant to include it: the Mint Julep. My Kentucky Brethren would tar and feather me if I stated definitively that this Derby favorite didn’t originate within sight of a thoroughbred race horse.
And the final float in this New Orleans vice parade is gambling and the dice game craps. According to gonola.com,
“Bernard Marigny de Mandeville is usually thought of as a Creole dandy who brought the dice game Hazard (we now call it “craps”) to North America.”
As for the name, “craps,” there are a couple of stories, each involving the French word crapaud, which means frog or toad. One story is that the hunched position required to shoot craps makes the gambler resemble a frog. Another, less generous version blames the gauche American nickname for their French compatriots. Either way, it all started in New Orleans.
Good music, lots of booze, and gambling. They don’t call it a party town for nothing.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!
James & Terri
1. Tulane Public Relations via Wikimedia Commons
6. Rick A. via Wikimedia Commons
7. Antoine Taveneaux via Wikimedia Commons