Tag Archives: new orleans

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Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, Mid-City, New Orleans

On the back patio. Birds chirping. A fine, wet day. Wet, but no rain. At least not now.

Voices from over the fence. Through the gate people whooshing to and fro, and waiters in white linen aprons carrying boxes to the cafe across the street; children’s toys, and bicycles and tricycles interspersed with the potted plants and the dog bowls filled with water which the birds drink from. From inside the cafe comes the muffled noise of conversation and people jabbing away at their laptops. And I’m out here sopping this all up like a sponge, sipping my okay coffee, nibbling my decent muffin, and feeling strongly nostalgic for my early days of cafe culture back in Annapolis before I, and much of the world, discovered that coffee could be as good as an excellent bottle of wine or a great cocktail, that with care the most extraordinary flavors could be coaxed out of that little seed. Those days for me weren’t so care-free—I was broke and in debt at the time, working jobs that barely paid me enough to live on and pay the minimum amount necessary on my credit card statements to keep from getting charged those absurd fees that do so well to keep people in financial manacles (as if being poor and in debt isn’t enough)—but it introduced me to a life, a culture that has shaped my life and acts now as a key on a map advising where to go. And I’m eternally grateful for that.

I like this little cafe with its mediocre coffee and pretty-tasty baked goods. There’s not much care that goes into the technique of the making of the drinks and food here, but in the right place where exists the right atmosphere that doesn’t matter. This is a coffeeshop for the everyman. People of all stripes, all lifestyles, all walks of life are of course welcome here, and do come here, but it’s the common, average Joe who is most familiar to this place, as well as the many varied inhabitants of the neighborhood and any visitors passing through. It is like a great river which winding, winding, winding back on itself becomes a great pool that all the plants and the animals may water themselves at. It is a home, a destination, and a stopover point during migration. It draws all to its fecundating nexus with its mystical energies. Some stay for hours, some drift in for only a moment, but when they all leave they are better off than when they arrived. And now they know on their next migration, when the next chapter of their life is set to commence, they may stop here and begin the long process, or continue that process, of mutation, evolution, growth (caterpillar to butterfly.)


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12-29-18, NOLA

First espresso of the day. First COFFEE of the day. Still no sustenance in the form of solid food. Wondering what to do about that. Had planned to get beignets at Cafe Du Monde but I refuse to wait in that line even if it “moves fast” as I’ve been told; it’s a good thirty or forty yards long.

The espresso was okay. Long creamy body, balanced sweetness, but still just meh. That’s my experience with Nicaraguan coffees though, even if it’s not a very longstanding experience. Anyway, the coffee shop is Spitfire. A hole in the wall with four stools to sit on in front of two planks of wood anchored to a wall. Two women on staff currently. Espresso, pour-over, cold-brew, and some specialty drinks make up the menu. It gets crowded in here quick. Simple L-shaped counter with an espresso machine and POS, wood laminate floors, and a stucco like wall finish.

I leave Spitfire with either Mammoth or Stumptown as my next destination. Strolling down Royal St.—a tiny one lane lined with antique shops, jewelry stores, and bad art galleries, I come to an intersection where opposite me looms a Walgreens. It seems so anachronistic, so foreign to this place that I am strolling through (which itself is a bit anachronistic to the current century) that I am for a moment quite taken aback. Like while wandering through this living theater I somehow stumbled backstage, to the real world as it were. I stand here staring at this anomaly for a short while until I am accosted by a crazy African-American guy looking for money for McDonald’s. I offer to buy him a sub at Subway in exchange for a photograph. He agrees but won’t stop moving around, creeping here and there, turning his head this way and that so that getting a portrait is like trying to pin down with a needle a squirming worm. I get one though. Quite magnificent too. A portrait of the maniac in the midst of his mania. Something is wrong with his foot or leg so that he has to limp alongside me, all the while he’s talking about things I don’t even remember. Certainly nothing important. Likely nothing at all. Just talking to talk. Like he has all this verbal puss building up inside of him that this continuous chatter is a squeezing of the pimple which then just reseals and builds up again immediately. If he doesn’t talk, no matter what it’s about, all this puss just backs up and becomes an even greater abscess, and then God only knows what he might do. We arrive at the Subway and all he wants is a six inch tuna salad on wheat, plain. Then asks me to get him a beer across the street, something he very plainly does not need, to which I decline. He’s rather unpleasant to the Subway staff, but clearly he suffers from a mental condition. He seems quite irritated with everybody, and has an acerbic, vitriolic temper. He starts talking to someone else and I take that as an opportunity to escape.

At Stumptown on the ground floor of the ACE Hotel. I remember reading in a coffee publication when this place opened to much fanfare and interest. Now, looking around, it just seems old and outdated. A bit abused. Worn out. It’s lost its sheen. Lost its luster. There is a door inside the cafe that opens onto the hotel lounge. Everyone in there sitting on the couches and chairs looks bored, like a bunch of monkeys sitting in trees waiting for something to happen. It’s a strange sort of motionlessness in there, like at any moment a bomb could go off, and that’s almost like the most likely thing to happen. It’s a period of subdued pandemonium, like this moment’s just been wrapped up in a straight jacket that a nut in a madhouse might wear, before the dinner bell goes ring-a-ding-ding, and once that’s done its drunks either at the table or at the bar or at a different bar, and the riots and the whoopee!, and the dynamite and the sex and the headache the next morning, and some more sleeping in soft beds with soft pillows and the room service bringing up breakfast and coffee and lastly the question of are any of us happy? because if we really were what reason would we have for carrying on in this way.

I’m going out for a drink.

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New Orleans at last! Currently at a little, ramshackle cafe, Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, with colorful tables and chairs; and walls of painted wood boards, the paint worn completely away in places so that the bare, old wood showed through, and faded nearly colorless everywhere else; horses and their jockeys in mid-race form painted across the top, and a couple of old ceiling fans connected via a belt to a pulley on each. It is a decidedly second-wave shop. One of those fair trade joints serving coffee that “tastes like coffee”. It’s comfortable, warming, welcoming, and they serve day-old baked goods for a dollar. There is a strong community vibe here. I actually like it a lot. It’s sort of my ideal coffee space, and is reminiscent of the feel of an old cafe I frequented when I made my first forays into coffee shop culture. I just wish the coffee was better. That said, like the ubiquitous American diner with it’s $1.50 unlimited refills, the coffee quality or lack of, is part of the experience.

Across the street at Cafe Degas, a woman is picking glass out of her car from a smashed rear window. Crimes of opportunity are pretty common in the area according to my friend. She doesn’t seem upset, merely resigned. I wonder what, if anything, was stolen.

Back at the laundromat. Lost track of time at the cafe. I haven’t been to a laundromat in years. Forgot how I missed it—the people coming and going; the noises of all the machines, some rather surprising so that you think they might explode, or maybe just breakdown and stop mid-cycle. Walking tentatively, and slightly bemusedly, into a laundromat after having been away for years is an awkward experience. Where are prices for the machines? Where is signage with directions? Where is the change machine? Is there an ATM? Where are the detergents because I don’t have any of my own? You’re like a blind man clacking around with his cane. But once you get everything sorted—once you withdraw your money from the ATM, once you exchange it for quarters, once you figure out how to get the detergent you want from the dispenser, and once you’re tossing your clothes into the wash, it feels like home again, then you walk over to the cafe and read a book or write about your experiences entering a laundromat again for the first time in years, or you walk home, or you just stay at the laundromat and read or write there.

I particularly like, at the laundromat, the notes stuck to the machines proclaiming them “out of order.” Some of these are just sticky notes applied to the drier window perhaps, or a scrap of paper taped over the quarter slot on a washer. There are other reminders too; reminders to remove things from pockets, or to check for gum and other sticky substances because we, the laundromat, are not responsible; and notices that your clothing will be removed from the drier and you will be charged if they sit for too long. And many of the signs appear to have been designed in the 90’s. A combination of hand-written lettering and MS Windows clip-art. It must be a sort of laundromatist’s unwritten code because I’ve never been to one thats signs were designed any differently.

It’s 7:30 and I’ve found a bar I like: Bar Tonique. Ordered a Veux Carre. Never had one before but it has things that I like: brandy, whiskey, vermouth, etc. Should be interesting. You know, new drinks, new experiences and all. I feel like I should be paying $16 and not $9, though, so I’m skeptical about the ingredients’ quality. It’s a nice place, regardless. All warm brick; warm, worn wooden bar; warm, low lighting; weird sort of teal ceiling that isn’t really teal; and a chandelier of sorts that looks like it was made from the same part of various of the same model lamp; a bit disjointed and lopsided. Like they had eleven of a thing and cut each thing off at the same point and took those cutoff parts and stuck them together, all radiating from a sort of central rod. It’s one parts Beetlejuice to one parts Alice Through the Looking Glass to one parts Frankenstein. The menus are written in big letters, colorfully, on chalkboards mounted on opposing walls. There are two ceiling fans turning slowly, as if they know they’re supposed to be working but also know there’s no damn point in it so they’re just going to give the least possible effort. And just like the motivation of these fans, there’s a guy on the opposite side of the bar from me with a blank look on his face, and he’s sitting in front of a basket of citrus and his face is brilliant red so that he looks just like a juicy piece of fruit himself, and I can just imagine the bartender picking him up thinking he was a piece of fruit and placing him on her cutting board and slicing a piece out of his cheek or lips or nose to garnish a cocktail.