8/28/09: Heading Way Uptown


I decided to eat breakfast at a place called the Oak Street Cafe, which was in the far uptown neighborhood of Carrollton, so I walked up Canal to Carondelet, and caught the St. Charles trolley line there. The weather was sunny, but not particularly hot, and with the windows open, it was actually quite cool. The St. Charles route through the Uptown was quite an unusual one. Past Lee Circle, it passed boutique hotels and restaurants, beautifully-landscaped Garden District mansions, historic college campuses like Loyola and Tulane, and Aubudon Park and zoo. I also noticed New Orleans’ famous Exposition Boulevard, the street that never was , a “street” that can only be walked.
When the trolley line swung northward at Carrollton Avenue, most people got off at the famous Camellia Grill where I had eaten last year, but I continued further north to Oak Street, whose brightly colored row of shops and cafes was quite welcoming. On the corner with Carrollton Avenue was an old bank that had become an Indian restaurant, and another ancient building on the opposite corner (also perhaps a former bank) had become a coffee bar. Down the first block westward on Oak were a gelato bar, a snowball stand called Belle of the Ball, a independent book shop and the Oak Street Cafe.

The latter was fairly crowded, in keeping with its good reputation for breakfast, and, as I had heard, there was a live blues pianist performing, but what intrigued me more was the terrific local art work on nearly every wall. On the east wall was a vivid painting of a University of New Orleans basketball player, so realistic that I almost expected him to move at any minute. On the west wall behind the pianist were captivating paintings of jazz bands and tuba players. Unfortunately the prices were all rather steep. As I was eating breakfast, a blues singer from our conference came in wearing a big cowboy hat, and he got up a sang one song with the pianist. Before I left, he told me about a hit song he was getting played on blues radio stations, and, after walking further west down the street, I heard it playing on WWOZ from the speakers out in front of Squeals Bar-B-Que.
The Maple Leaf Bar area had been completely fenced off due to road construction, but I still walked down there to see it, and the Jacque-Imo’s Restaurant next door. After I had walked back toward Carrollton Avenue, I ducked into the bookstore for awhile, and then I went across the street to the gelateria for a cold dessert before getting back on the trolley.
An older couple sitting behind me were talking about going to the shops on Magazine Street, so I decided to get off where they did and walk down to Magazine, a five-block walk past a large former orphanage called St. Elizabeth’s that now belongs to Anne Rice. But five blocks in the heat of the day is stifling, so by the time I got to Magazine Street, I was both tired and drenched with sweat, and none of the shops in that area interested me much. But there was a store called McKeown’s Books and Difficult Music another few blocks to the south on Tchoupitoulas, so I walked down that way, past a place called Rose’s Jazz Hall, where a young women who had just walked outside called to me and asked me if I was J-Dogg. I thought perhaps it was someone from our conference, but it turned out to be the Shreveport music journalist and musicologist Kathryn Hobgood, who had moved to New Orleans a few years ago, and was now working on her masters at Tulane. She was about to get married, and had been checking out the jazz hall as a possible reception spot. I thought about what an odd coincidence it was as I walked on into the bookstore, where I bought an interesting book about the spiritual churches in New Orleans.
Still thoroughly hot, I walked across to the opposite corner to enjoy a snowball at a place that Kathryn had recommended, whose sign boasted of 70 years in business. With that refreshment, I began the long walk back northward to the trolley route, and then I rode the trolley back into the Quarter. After hanging around the conference events at the hotel for awhile, I got my car and drove out to Bud’s Broiler on Calhoun at Claiborne, where I had a charcoal burger with hickory sauce that was delicious, if a little small. Actually, it was small enough that I decided to head down the block to the Frostop and try their Lot-a-Burger with bacon and cheese. The Frostop burger was big, and all right, but I had to say that Bud’s Burger won the competition in my opinion.
At the coffee bar across the street, the talk on the outside tables was about the death penalty, perhaps because a New Orleans jury had imposed that ultimate penalty on a young man convicted of shooting five teenagers in the Central City neighborhood last year. The owner had been one of the debaters, but when I walked inside, he soon joined me, and I ordered a cappuccino to go.
Back in the quarter, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. The hip-hop showcase was scheduled to be at Peaches Records, and the DJ had set up there, and the New Orleans hip-hop artist Truth Universal was there, but there was little crowd, and the show hadn’t really started yet. The record store had a lot of interesting books about New Orleans, but I really didn’t have much extra money to spend, so I got tired of looking, and walked down past Jackson Square to the French Market where other acts were supposed to be playing for Cutting Edge. Those events had ended at 9 PM, however, and now the French Market was largely dead except for the Cafe Du Monde, where I stopped for coffee and beignets. Finally, with nothing else going on, I walked back to the hotel.

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