The following is an op-ed by Luisa Dantas, producer and director of Land of Opportunity, an organization based in New Orleans exploring connections between Hurricane Sandy and Katrina.
On the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we were documenting the rebuilding of New Orleans after the storm. We spent about four hot days traipsing around the city with our cinematographer, Michael Boedigheimer, filming events that showed how contested the rebuilding of the city had already become.
This week, Untapped Cities reader @caseytweeted asked us “Any good suggestions for exploring New Orleans aside from the abandoned Six Flags?” It got us thinking that it was high time we put together a guide to New Orleans from an urbanist perspective. We asked two NOLA experts, Mary Rowe of the Municipal Art Society who was formerly at the New Orleans Institute for Resilience and Innovation and Michael T. Martin of St. Claude Main Street, a non-profit organization in New Orleans.
We asked them for places that tell the story of New Orleans from an urban planning and architecture perspective:
European influences are hard to miss in this city. In New Orleans, street names are in French or Spanish. I spent my first few hours in the city on foot, with my camera. The air was humid and thick, everyone was waiting for a thunderous rainfall.
In the New Orleans Garden District, impressive and expensive properties caught people’s attention. But I was more interested in the grand mansions that have long been left unmaintained. With large balconies and tropical greens overgrowing on the front porch, it is not hard to imagine these houses in their previous glories. The New Orleans Garden District receives its name from the large houses – and large gardens – in the area. The secluded and relatively inexpensive area is home to many celebrities like the Manning brothers and Sandra Bullock.
Across town, Brad Pitt has a property in the French Quarter where jazz clubs and bars line the narrow streets. As I strolled pass the shops, I was greeted by the southern hospitality that I had heard about and find myself drawn to. For a moment, I was surprised at strangers smiling at me and saying hello, but quickly adapt to the local warmth. I smiled back at the restaurant owner who called me “miss sugar” and “baby”.
I’d like to thank the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau and Maison St. Charles for helping me arrange a wonderful trip down south. Don’t miss the New Orleans Garden District when you visit the city next.
Pop-ups aren’t just pizza and burgers in New Orleans. Aron Chang, Karen Wang, and Sergio Padilla, all architects by trade, have been serving vegetarian fare in a number of different venues across the city as a pop up called TSAI. Local blogger Nora in Nola has covered their activities over the past few months. TSAI started in the Dragon’s Den on Saturday nights and have since been holding a number of “TSAI House” house parties for close friends, serving up a mix of Taiwanese street food and vegetarian dishes with a New Orleans twist.
They hosted a BYO(Bowl) noodle event in August. The most recent TSAI House event in the Garden District focused on polenta, serving two different types of sauce ”” roasted eggplant walnut and blue cheese mushroom. Both were hearty and savory and were matched nicely with fresh side dishes.
The space, a friend’s shotgun house, was wonderfully illuminated, and the interior decoration really paired nicely with the food.
Two weeks ago TSAI had Brunch on the Bayou. The weather was perfect. The sky was completely clear, and the temperatures were warm but not sultry. The team set up a long table on Cabrini Bridge, which crosses Bayou St. John right in front of Cabrini High School.
The menu consisted of Taiwanese breakfast goodies that aren’t available at restaurants in the city:
The highlight of the meal was the salty soybean soup, which was created by curdling soymilk with vinegar and then adding sesame oil. Chang made shiitake mushroom beignets to substitute for the normal soup topping of pulled pork or crullers. The result was a tangy, slightly spicy soup filled with soft tofu-like soybean curdles and a savory beignet that had the rich aroma of shiitake mushrooms.
If you missed Brunch on the Bayou, make sure to follow TSAI on Facebook. The next TSAI House event is on Saturday, November 5, and they are also planning a Thanksgiving event at Zeitgeist.
Pretty much every set of directions in New Orleans can be given in relation to the Mississippi River, Canal Street, or Lake Pontchartrain. Part of the justification for this is the practice of building long avenues in the city – some streets, like Magazine Street, are more than six miles long, and often travel through several neighborhoods as they progress.
Ursulines Avenue, a thirty-block stretch that runs between the river and the Mid-City bayou, is one of these streets. When I lived there, the changing character of the micro-neighborhoods evident on Ursulines always fascinated me: parts of gentrified Bayou St. John, Esplanade Ridge, the Treme, and the French Quarter are all represented. And even though Ursulines Avenue isn’t exactly prime tourist territory – you probably won’t catch groups of tourists being herded down this road like you might in the Garden District – I think it’s a lovely example of the off-kilter beauty of New Orleans.
At its end in Bayou St. John, Ursulines is a broad, two-laned true avenue, lined with ferns, oak trees, New Orleans’ ever-present palm trees, and grand old homes.
No neighborhood in New Orleans is too proud to be flying Saints-related banners.
Though I’ve never quite figured out what the legal interpretation for this is, New Orleans’ zoning regulations are somewhat”¦lax. It’s not at all uncommon for residential neighborhoods to contain barbershops, nail salons, and convenience stores. At the end of this somewhat bourgeois section of Ursulines Avenue, the convenience store Soprano’s sells all manner of downmarket goods: single tall boy beers, condoms, miscellaneous dry items in curious packaging, and hot lunches.
Soprano’s also marks a change in character for the avenue. At Broad, Ursulines crosses into outer Mid-City/Treme-Lafitte (the line of demarcation is not clear).
Here, homes are smaller and less well-maintained, litter and debris becomes more common, and the neighborhood becomes more working-class. Abandoned homes also have a greater presence.
At the end of this section of Ursulines Avenue sits the historic St. Ann Grotto. The original National Shrine of St. Ann was also in the area, and the building is still there, but the parish moved to Metairie in the 1970s due to changing demographics (also known as “white flight” ).
Across the street, at a vacated and decrepit church, a mural is in progress.
Ursulines then gets temporarily cut off by the Interstate-10 overpass and Claiborne. This is one of the strange things about the continuation of the avenues. You can’t bike or drive directly along Ursulines from Mid-City to the river; you have to go around the exit ramp and pick up Ursulines on the other side. Why call it the same street?
People often congregate under this long overpass, particularly on Mardi Gras day: it’s a common gathering place for New Orleans’ large African-American community.
After you cross this barrier, you arrive in the true Treme, now nationally famous after its appearance on the HBO show of the same name. The Treme is a small, eccentric neighborhood with an odd cultural flavor, home to African-American families and artistic types who can’t afford to live in the high-rent French Quarter.
In the Treme, Ursulines becomes one-way, and the streets narrow.
Houses in this neighborhood are almost universally “shotguns,” or long, narrow one-story homes, often divided into two units.
The dividing line between the Treme and the French Quarter is Rampart, another broad two-lane artery. In a car, you can’t actually make this crossing on Ursulines – the street is one-way the wrong way. On foot, you get the opportunity to gaze up into the burned-out shell at the corner. The building was vacant when it burned.
On the Quarter side, Ursulines starts to look more like the New Orleans people recognize from postcards: iron-wrought balconies, charming patisseries, and high fences around (presumably) enchanting courtyards.
Near the end of Ursulines lies the Ursulines Convent, New Orleans’ “oldest and most historic” building (the sign says so).
The avenue then ends at Decatur Street, which is, aside from Bourbon Street, the epicenter of New Orleans tourism. If you could see past the buildings and the levee, you’d see the river – the end of our walking tour. Time for a cocktail.
New Orleans is a Miller High Life kind of town for the most part ”” we like cheap, light beer, especially when it’s hot. In the last four years, however, the wave of the craft beer boom has crashed here, bringing with it some of the great beers from the East and West Coasts and abroad. Local craft brewers have also started to produce competitive alternatives to macrobrews.
Enter The Avenue Pub. Once a 24-hour dive bar, in the last three years, the bar has become the center of craft beer activities in the city thanks to the tireless efforts of owner Polly Watts and her devoted staff (and it’s still open 24/7). On Saturday, September 17, Avenue Pub hosted one of only 21 Zwanze Day events to celebrate a limited batch of lambic beer released by Belgian brewery Cantillon.
Zwanze began in 2008 as a way for owner Jean Van Roy to “make a distinction” between his experimental beers and Cantillon’s regular products:
Taken from the Dutch dialect spoken in Brussels, the word «zwanze » describes the typical humour of the city’s inhabitants, which is characterised by a finely-balanced mix of self-deprecation and exaggeration. I quite like the idea of my lambic «Made in Brussels » having the same jovial and slightly derisive spirit as the people of Belgium’s Capital City, and of it also taking a light-hearted look at these blends, which I admit can seem a bit strange at times.
Unfortunately the joke was on Van Roy last year. When he released the Zwanze 2010 in bottles for 6 Euros, it didn’t take long for opportunists to scoop up the tasty brew and put it on eBay for upwards of 80 Euros.
To combat this, Van Roy decided not to sell Zwanze 2011 in bottles. He selected 21 bars around the world in Brussels, Stockholm, Paris, Fougà ¨res sur Bià ¨vre (France), Rome, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Nicorvo (Italy), Bergamo (Italy), Washington D.C., Montreal, Louisville (KY), Cambridge (MA), Philadelphia (PA), Portland (OR), Brooklyn (NY), Chicago (IL), Santa Rosa (CA), Escondido (CA), New Orleans (LA) and Itami (Japan) at which he released the beer on September 17. Only a few bottles will be kept for tastings at the brewery.
At Avenue Pub, the celebration ran for an entire week. On Wednesday, the bar held a tasting event for sour beers, and on the Friday, they tapped a cask of Cantillon’s St. Lamvinus ”” an unblended two- to three-year-old lambic that is fermented in Bordeaux barrels and then has Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes added. Watts was on hand to pour the first glasses.
The result is a puckeringly sour beer that reeks (in a good way) of “funk” produced by the yeast Brettanomyces, the special yeast that lambics use to achieve their unique flavor palate.
Pourings were six ounces each for six dollars. Although lambics are beers, they deserve to be enjoyed more like wine.
On Saturday, the bar was already crowded when I arrived at 11:30, and the first person to enter the official queue arrived before 10. Many of the customers had traveled far for a taste of the rare beer ”” I spoke with people from Mobile, Lafayette, and as far as Houston.
T-shirts commemorating the event were available.
Watts took names as folks arrived, and by the 2pm tapping time there were over 150 people waiting. They were allowed up to the second floor balcony bar in groups of 30.
At 2pm, the first group swarmed toward the bar, and Dylan Lintern, vice-president of NOLA Brewing, hesitantly took the first pour.
Zwanze 2011 makes use of Pineau d’Aunis grapes from organic winegrower Olivier Lemasson:
In 2010 we tried something new by blending lambic with Pineau d’Aunis. The result was quite surprising and wine-like with specific accents of fruit, pepper and other spices, both as regards smell and taste. With Olivier’s approval, and despite a substandard harvest due to poor weather conditions, we recreated the same beer for Zwanze 2011. I subjected it to some very limited cold hopping using Bramling Cross hops, which yields a slightly bitter fruitiness. My friend Rob Todd of the Allagash Brewing Company calls it the «kiss of the hops », and I’ve decided to use this fantastic expression. The balance struck between the lambic, the grapes and the delicate bitter fruitiness is surprising yet very pleasant.
The resulting blend of Pineau d’Aunis (which Van Roy mistakenly labeled Pinot d’Aunis in his brewery for a while) and Cantillon lambic is a rich, grapey beer that features some aspects of the Cantillon range of lambic beers ”” a tart taste, not overly sweet, and a nose that shows some of the effects of funk but doesn’t hide the grapes as much as the St. Lamvinus. It’s extremely quaffable, and a number of tasters compared it to a rose wine.
The Zwanze 2010 is the beer that started the Zwanze craze and resulted in the formation of the current Zwanze Day setup, and it was available in bottles. It’s a witbier that underwent mixed fermentation ”” in addition to the ale yeasts, it was also naturally inoculated by lambic yeasts. The lemony and spiced notes of a witbier were present alongside oak from the aging in barrels, giving it a very complex flavor. One astute taster compared the aroma “dill,” which was very much a compliment.
Now that the event is over, it’s likely that the only Zwanze 2011 left is whatever Van Roy decided to keep in bottles at the brewery. Beer geeks will have to wait until next year to see what results from further experiments in Cantillon’s beer laboratories.