That being said, this game is in New Orleans! The Big Easy, baby. With little or no concern over the outcome of the game, fans still have the excuse to grab a cheap Southwest flight or take the drive down through the delta to watch the game and enjoy all the dining and nightlife fun that NOLA has to offer. With that in mind, your intrepid correspondent has put together an itinerary for you which, like last year's tour, will keep you out of the touristy French Quarter.
This year during Tales of the Cocktail, I again eschewed staying at the convention headquarters hotel. No matter how charming the Hotel Montelone is, I've learned that several hundred bartenders staying in the same place do not have the same need or appreciation for a good night's sleep as I do. Stories of midnight hallway bowling (and balling) are not apocryphal. Unlike last year when I stayed at a casino hotel where I learned that the best deal on a room rate is not necessarily the cheapest lodging solution. ($50/day parking! And apparently the dealers have some sort of mathematical advantage on those table games.)
This year I stayed with a friend in Mid-City, which is an older neighborhood about a 15-minute streetcar ride from the Quarter. At $1.25 per ride, the streetcar was the best bargain in town and provided for some great people-watching as we cruised up and down the middle of Canal Street. If you find yourself saving a chunk of lodging cash by staying out in Mid-City, here's a guide to some of the funky, fun stuff you can do either pre-game, post-game or instead-of-game.Blue Dot Donuts at 4301 Canal St. You're not going to believe me, but in the most stereotypical development imaginable, Blue Dot Donuts is a doughnut shop started and owned by three New Orleans police officers. As soon as you get past that twist, make your way to the display cases and marvel at the 50 varieties of doughnuts that are available to help you eat off last night's hangover.
Then just go ahead and ignore 49 of those options and order the Maple Glazed Bacon Long John. This sticky smoky treat is exactly what all the Internet bacon-loving uber-nerds are dreaming of when they write their odes to their porcine gods.
Also delightful are the ice cream sandwiches you design for yourself by ordering any flavor of dougnut to be sliced in half and sandwiched around a scoop of New Orleans Ice Cream Company's finest products. It's up to you to figure out how to deal with the hole in the middle of your sandwich. Hint: eat faster.
This being New Orleans, after breakfast, it's time for lunch. I recommend Mandina's, a few blocks back toward town at 3800 Canal St. Mandina's is the kind of place where you hope that there's a little bit of a wait when you arrive so that you'll have time to order an expertly made cocktail while you wait at the bar for a table. The bar is located right in the middle of the main dining room, so you'll have the chance to see visual evidence of the unbelievable variety of Creole and Italian dishes parading past on the trays of white aproned servers.
The Italian heritage of many of New Orleans' best restaurateurs manifests itself in a worshipful reverence for spicy dishes and red sauces. At Mandina's, you can find excellent Italian options, but most of the best dishes are based around seafood. The turtle soup topped tableside with a healthy splash of sherry is an incredibly rich treat that is not to be missed. The house specials are catfish, trout or softshell crab served either meuniere or amandine, which I have eaten in rotation just about every time I've visited the friendly confines of Mandina's. You can't miss with any permutation or combination of seafood and sauce.
It is quite common for the main topic of conversation over lunch at a New Orleans restaurant to be about that evening's dinner plans. Personally, I prefer to wait until happy hour to start that talk. So if you're looking for a good Mid-City spot to tip pack a pint and maybe watch a different sort of football match instead of the Titans/Saints tilt, may I suggest Finn McCool's at 3701 Banks St. We happened to visit during the bar's ninth birthday party, so the mood was particularly raucous and convivial. A live band played Irish singalongs and '80s hits while soccer matches played on big screens hanging on every wall. Drinks were cheap and plentiful, and Finn McCool's is the kind of place where a guy can walk around carrying a 10-foot python draped across his shoulders without attracting too much attention. Except of course, for some of the ladies of the group I was with, who came down with a powerful case of the willies. So unfortunately, we had to exit before we could enjoy any of their reportedly delicious Boo Koo BBQ.
The chefs at Ye Olde College Inn have created a menu of upscale New Orleans classic dishes with the freshest of ingredients and the deftest of touches. They have actually started an urban garden plot across the street to ensure the quality of their produce and to encourage development in this fairly run-down neighborhood. As a bonus, the menu includes a fried oyster po' boy with bacon and Havarti cheese that may very well be the best sandwich I've ever taken a bite of. I wasn't the one who ordered it, darned the luck, so a bite was all I got.
As a lagniappe, the same folks who own Ye Olde College Inn also bought and moved the Mid-City Lanes bowling alley to next store to the restaurant. For the uniformed, Mid-City Lanes is the home of Rock n' Bowl, the greatest place in the world to roll 10 frames and listen to live zydeco and rockabilly at the same time. In fact, the combination of bowling, booze and boppin' music would have been a great fit for the old Melrose Lanes had it not been necessary to tear them down so that they could build a BIG HOLE IN THE FREAKIN' GROUND. (I'm not bitter or anything ...)
After all a full day of eating, drinking, bowing and listening to great music in Mid City, it's probably time for a nightcap. Oh, and more food. Grab another cab and tell the driver you want to go to 500 S. Telemachus St. You could tell the driver that you're headed to a bar called Twelve Mile Limit, but he's probably never heard of it and you won't see any signage once you get there, anyway. Make sure you get in before the cab drives away, though, because it's in a neighborhood where there's a reason why you have to ring an inconspicuous doorbell to be buzzed in. That's not any sort of speakeasy affectation; they're trying to keep patrons safe.
The young mixologists have all the talent and flair of their downtown counterparts, but with none of the attitude and half the price. The other specialties of the house are really good barbecue and brisket, house-baked cupcakes and the best jukebox in Mid-City. I know I suggested this for you last stop of the evening, but you might just want to make a return visit to spend a little more time once you finally find this hole in the wall diamond in the rough.