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Party Perfect in the Big Easy : This Reveler's Tour Through Clubs, Restaurants and Jazz Spots Is Just a Practice Run for Mardi Gras

January 23, 1994|DAVID HERNDON | NEWSDAY

NEW ORLEANS — "Kick it into neutral and let it happen," said a fellow named Bob I met someplace along the line on New Year's Eve in New Orleans. If this is neutral, I remember thinking, it's scary to imagine what this town's like when they get around to putting it in gear.

Anyplace else you'd have to call the same behavior an all-out mass bender, but in New Orleans, the New Year's Eve weekend celebration is just the gateway to the party express, now steaming toward Mardi Gras on Feb. 15. After that, it slows a bit, only to rev up all over again at the end of April when it's time for 10 days of the Jazz & Heritage Festival.

In comparison to sustained blowouts like Mardi Gras and the Jazz Festival, New Year's kind of pales. The crew I was hanging with, for instance, had no particular place to go, so it rallied in this great big old former brothel where I was staying. The host and hostess served duck soup, which quickly gave way to a split-sized bottle of a Swedish concoction called glogg, which is made with stupid quantities of flaming grain alcohol.

Then we piled into a couple of cabs, destination the Howlin' Wolf, a rock club in the Warehouse District downtown (828 S. Peters St.), not far from the French Quarter. The quirky and delightful singer-songwriter Victoria Williams was onstage backed by the Continental Drifters, a pedigreed band--composed of a dB, a Bangle, a Cowsill, a couple of Subdudes and a guy from the Dream Syndicate--that has taken up residence in the Big Easy.

High spirits and cigarette smoke had no place to go in this low-ceilinged club, and as 2 a.m. approached, I rounded up a quartet of open-minded fun-havers to migrate over to GiO's late show on Bourbon Street in the heart of the Quarter.

As these things go, the Bourbon Burlesque is a clean, well-lighted affair. Arriving a bit late, we took one of the few remaining tables, and by this time the stripping portion of GiO's performance was history. Supremely self-possessed, generous, gymnastic, capable of doing things you probably haven't seen before and pierced and tattooed in ways you probably haven't thought of before, GiO has been called by Esquire magazine "the premier stripper of her generation." Seeing is believing.

A woman like GiO, who has gained local celebrity as a legit stripper with her own radio show and national exposure with her video "How to Strip for Your Man," has secrets to reveal about her adopted hometown. If you're fortunate enough to have been referred as a friend-of-a-friend, as I was, she'll tell you, for the price of a lunch, "how to have more fun in 16 hours in New Orleans than you can possibly imagine." Not just a bunch of naughty stuff, either: She's a real N'awlins booster.

Thus we had met 13 hours earlier at a very popular lunch spot called Uglesich's (1238 Baronne St.) in a slightly out-of-the-way neighborhood. ("It's not just unsafe," GiO said of the area, "it's ugly.")

We ordered raw oysters, barbecued oysters, crawfish etouffe, crab cakes, a softshell crab po' boy, a couple of Barq's root beers and a couple of Buds. (Uglesich's is the unlikeliest little lunchbox you ever did see. It's got a badly weather-eaten wood plank exterior, neon beer signs, hand-scrawled notices on the walls, three kinds of hot sauce on the Formica table tops.) Seats about 30, max, with standing room for about 20 waiting on line. A very yeeee-haaa! buzz was alive in the place, which inspired the 70-ish proprietor to every 15 minutes or so put his tape player on one of the tables and sing along with "You Made Me Love You," complete with the full Jolson repertoire of knee bends and arm gestures.

GiO took out a list of places to go and things to eat. She'd also brought along a copy of the Lagniappe, the Times-Picayune's Friday entertainment guide that helps negotiate the ridiculous bounty of musical offerings in town on any given weekend.

Eats

I'm no foodie, but I know what I like, and I like spicy seafood. I put salt and pepper on just about everything before I even taste it, but in New Orleans that's not necessary. What's necessary is to eat lots, because it's so good and because, let's face it, partying in New Orleans usually includes more than the usual amount of drinking.

One of the buzz restaurants in town is Emeril's (800 Tchoupitoulas), in the Warehouse District. The airy, expansive feel of the room is very Downtown New York (minus the attitude), but the menu is very New Orleans eclectic. Emeril used to cook at the more traditional Commander's Palace and his own menu is rather more . . . exotic. For starters, you might have tried Emeril's savory cheesecake of Louisiana lump crabmeat with a New Orleans style ravigote sauce and garnishes, or perhaps a caramelized medallion of gulf yellowfin tuna with a sesame ginger vinaigrette and fried squid ink noodles.

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