I’ve known my brother his whole life, and my best friends for almost as long, so it was no question that they’d be my groomsmen when I got married. We’ve had some excellent adventures together in the past, so a few months before my wedding, I raised the idea of a bachelor party weekend trip. I wanted to go someplace we’d never been for one last adventure before I settled into the married life. I even offered to plan it (because I’m a planning freak), but my brother, the best man, and the rest of my groomsmen assured me that they had it under control. I left it in their able hands, and they came through in a big way.
It was mid-January, the 3 day MLK weekend, and I still had no idea where we were going. I was given instructions to pack a bag for “all kinds of weather” and get to Paul’s condo on Friday after work. Once everyone was there — my brother Adam, and my friends Will, Eric, and Paul — we all settled into a few hands of cards and sipped on some beers. It was kind of strange sitting there, not being in on the secret that everyone else was smiling and laughing about. After a few drinks, I had to pee. I stood to go to the bathroom and that’s when everyone got up and followed. It seemed like this unusual situation had suddenly gotten a lot weirder, until I realized how they’d decided to inform me of where we were going. This was going to be amazing.
We got on a Southwest Airlines flight out of Newark first thing in the morning and landed before lunch. We hopped a cab to the hotel, dropped off our bags and hit the town. First impression: this place was for the senses. Sights – sounds – smells – and tastes… the whole place even felt tangible.
Despite it being January, the weather was just cool enough for a sweater or a shirt: my favorite weather. The buildings immediately caught my attention. Most of the houses and shops were two or three stories, with those classic Big Easy balconies hanging above the streets that you always see in photos. There was music playing, pumped outside from the big casino across the street, and as we headed into town we realized just how hungry we were. We whet our appetites with some free samples of really spicy Louisiana hot sauce (Paul had a little too much for comfort because I played a dirty trick), and then Will said that he’d looked up a place he knew we’d love.
It was the Verti Marte, a corner grocery with a large sandwich counter in the back. Once the guy making the food got over our Jersey accents, and once we got through his Creole one, we ordered some famous Oyster & Shrimp Po’Boys with dressing (or the works, as we put it). This place was amazing, and we ended up eating there for almost every meal — usually at Will’s insistence. Cracking the first beer of the next million to follow and dropping it into a paper bag (legal, here), we headed on our way. I knew that this trip was about my lingering bachelorhood, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out some local history while we were right there.
The St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 was established by Spanish Royal Decree in 1789, replacing an older cemetery built in 1721. To my understanding, the graves here are built above ground because when the city floods, the bodies left underground tend to float down the street. This particularly famous cemetery is believed to house the remains of Marie Laveau, along with several other 19th century Voodoo practitioners, though it’s not certain that this is her actual final resting place. Regardless, modern day followers still pay homage to the noted witch. Earning the nickname “Voodoo Queen” for granting wishes of love and money in her day, people still visit her supposed grave to ask her favors. To make your wish: mark three x’s on her grave, knock, leave an offering, and wish very hard. Marie just then might be able to help you from the great beyond. I played along (without defacing her grave!), but at that moment the whole trip was a dream come true, and I couldn’t think of anything to wish for.
We didn’t go immediately to the center of town next, but instead headed the opposite way and checked out Barcadia, a bar slash arcade with classic video games and craft beers where we all played a few games, and then Capdeville, a quiet place where I officially had the last beer I would fully remember. Wishing everyone thanks and so long as I drank the final sip, we then made our way to that famous boozy drag: Bourbon Street. I know that we hit all the best joints, because Will had done his homework and knew what I would like best, but don’t you dare ask me what order they were in! We stopped into The Alibi, Spirits on Bourbon, Fat Catz Music Club where they had live music going, and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, one of the oldest bars in America. There were other random things, too, like Marie Leveau’s House of Voodoo Gift Shop where the guys behind the counter were very serious about NO PHOTOS, and stopping to watch the street performers and one-trick vagrants earn some money from tourists like us. Of course, we had late night drunk sandwiches at Verti Marte again, where plenty of people were just hanging around.
Now past midnight, the party was just getting started. We trekked all the way back to Harrah’s Casino because I felt lucky, and sure enough, I started to win over $300 at the craps table. Sweet! I must have lost track of time, though, because after awhile they’d all gone, spread out, and started raising hell around town on their own. Pocketing my winnings, I headed back to Bourbon Street. Was it a mistake? Probably, but not one with lasting consequences, so far as I can remember. The rest of the crew was lost for the night, but Will and I managed to meet back up at Fat Catz, then headed over to Erin Rose for our last few drinks. The locals there congratulated me on getting married and bought me a shot before we headed back to the hotel. It was almost daylight.
But It Wasn’t Over Yet
I got up before everyone else the next day and decided to walk down to Cafe Beignet (ben-YAY) for some breakfast around 10:00 or so. No one else seemed interested in going with me. Go figure. When I arrived, there was a long line out the door, but there was live music in the street, and the smell of those delicious pastries wafting out of the place made it a whole lot easier to wait. Sure enough, they were worth it. I chowed down on a craw fish omelette and a few of the beignets: dense, doughy and fried like a zeppole (a Jersey shore staple) or an airy donut, then powdered with sugar.
After my solo brunch, I went back to the room and got everyone going. We took a walk to try to find some lunch and ended up passing through Jackson Square. It’s a beautiful plaza with a lot of monuments around, dedicated to the seventh president, and Battle of New Orleans hero, Andrew Jackson. For those of you who can’t recall high school history off the top of your head, that was the fight in the War of 1812 that had been fought and won by the Americans after a truce had already been settled with the British: word was slow and just hadn’t gone as far as Louisiana by then. The square is filled with artists selling paintings and other artworks, now. Most were out of my price range, but it was great to wander among such talent and beauty before finding the restaurant Sylvain for a sit-down meal.
After a couple of drinks at an Irish pub, this whirlwind of a weekend finally caught up with me, and when we made it back to the hotel I had to lay down for my own first nap. I always feel like I’m missing something during a nap, and that’s just what happened this time. The guys went down to Manning’s Sports Bar (owned by Archie Manning, father of Peyton and Eli) and watched the Broncos versus the Patriots Sunday night game. They said it was crazy, but I know that I needed the sleep: I didn’t stir until they came back into the room.
We all headed out together again for another crazy night. Like I said, Will had done some homework and was planning on taking us a little further off the grid than just Bourbon Street on our last night. First, we stopped at Pat O’Brien’s, birthplace of the Hurricane drink. It basically tastes like alcoholic Hawaiian Punch. From there, we walked past Lafitte’s again, which I had thought the night before was a pretty far walk. Tonight, it would be our starting point. We headed out to Flannagan’s Pub, where a big yellow dog walked around, and seedy video poker machines lingered unused behind a curtain. It seemed like it was full of locals for the night: folks kept asking us where we were from. For dinner, I had a simple but delicious plate of red beans over rice, a NOLA staple, and after Will got something to eat at Verti Marte (again!) and I picked up a beer for the walk, we all headed out to Frenchman Street.
Only “steps” away from Bourbon Street, but seemingly worlds away from the party scene there, Frenchman is a two block row of music clubs and bars. We walked up and down and landed at the Apple Barrel. Drink in hand, I wandered around the old place and managed to make my way upstairs where there wasn’t anything going on. I sat down at a table, sipping my beer and watching people walk by outside, listening to the woman downstairs sing her bluesy heart out. It was beautiful, but a bit of a downer: maybe just what we needed, though, as the last few hours of the trip wound down. When we left, we found an outdoor market of people selling crafts and art.
The rest of the night is kind of a blur. Will was moving us further along residential roads into the Marigny neighborhood, trying to end up at a dive he had read about called the Saturn Bar. The later it got, the fewer people we saw on the street. Finally, it was just us on a block of abandoned buildings, and we’d found the Saturn: closed. We went to nearby MiMi’s instead for a nightcap, then took a cab to the hotel at four in the morning.
In the End…
In planning our wedding, Sarah and I were skeptical of a lot of the preparations that the now ubiquitous wedding industry had been trying to convince us were absolutely necessary. From save the date mailings to extra favors for hotel guests, we didn’t buy into so many of the “necessary” extras that, as far as we knew, hadn’t even existed a couple of generations ago. With that said, I’m aware that a big, crazy bachelor party trip along the lines of something you’d see in The Hangover is not something that my grandfather or my father would have been a part of: to them, a bachelor party was watching a stag film and getting drunk the night before the wedding. But I’m glad that some things change. I love travel, and I love my brother and my friends. I wanted to go away with them for one last adventure before I headed out on my own life’s biggest adventure: marriage. We knew that after this one, things weren’t going to be the same. I couldn’t have asked for a better time.