56. Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler--with Beer!
Thoughts on solo travel and brewery-hopping, beer variety, and things that matter in life in New Orleans; plus buckle your seatbelt, this tarot's got turbulence.
Drinking, Thinking, and Exploring in…Does Anyone Actually Call It the ‘Big Easy’ Anymore?
Writing to y’all this week fairly fresh off a visit to New Orleans, and as per usual, finding it hard to shake off the escape of being somewhere really special and get back to the grind. I have a lot of thoughts, so like I did after a May trip to California, I figured I’d let this mini adventure guide a few quick reflections.
The Whole “Solo” Thing
We’ve gone deep on what it means to go to a bar or taproom alone and feel really, truly welcome, safe, included. The whole “who gets to do that” and “why” of it all. In this life of freelancing, visiting these spaces alone, sometimes partially traveling alone, and writing about the world of breweries and bars especially looking at inclusivity, I think about this a lot. I often don’t feel as safe or comfortable as I think we should all be able to because I am a woman, yet I also know I have a lot of privilege and experience more safety and comfort in a lot of places because I am a white cishet woman. The atmosphere a bar or brewery creates must be completely safe, welcoming, and inclusive to all; it should go further to actually feel comfortable and enjoyable, even when the obstacles to that for people are more invisible and nuanced, like social anxiety. I’m taking the temperature of places I go even when I’m not alone, thinking, “How would I feel hanging out here by myself?”
There was an interesting dynamic at play in New Orleans. I was visiting my friend who still had to work a bit, so I had some chunks of time to explore solo. When just walking around the French Quarter or the Garden District, doing touristy stuff like visiting the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, eating alligator at a stand in the French Market, and popping into iconic bars like Erin Rose, I don’t think I ever saw another tourist by themselves. That’s rare, I think. I’d attribute it to the fact New Orleans is such a party town and no one’s going to paint the town red on their own, I suppose. But, unexpectedly when you consider this, I never felt uncomfortable. This is probably due to people being so goddamned lovely in that city, like genuinely nice but not overbearing, just easy to chat with if you feel so inclined. And also because yeah, everyone’s there to have a good time, and is in a relatively chipper mood—the vibes are good, I guess I’m saying. (I should note I did all this wandering during the day.)
Safety is of course a much, much bigger conversation when you’re talking about an entire city as a whole. New Orleans is like many other cities in which there are certainly places you wouldn’t be meandering about at certain times. But if I’m judging the sort of spirit of the place in the way I would a bar or taproom, too, I just really am pleasantly surprised how at ease I felt, and how much fun I had, being alone in different areas, markets, shops, bars, restaurants, etc. Interestingly, it was the breweries that I found some different outcomes in.
I visited Brieux Carré, Port Orleans Brewing Company, Urban South Brewery, and NOLA Brewing Company sans accompaniment—I was with my friend at Miel Brewery and Parleaux Beer Lab but, again, I kept an eye out for factors that would shape my experience if I was alone. What stood out the most is that many taprooms here don’t have bar seating. I can’t find anything about why this is, so if anyone knows, I’m intrigued. (I’m also now trying to think of taprooms here in New York that don’t, and I’m only coming up with Other Half…?) It doesn’t seem to be mandated, as NOLA Brewing and Brieux Carré were exceptions. I don’t know if it’s up to the breweries or not, so let’s keep in mind it might not be a choice, but wow, does that make a difference in how comfortable you feel alone! At Urban South, I felt the most uncomfortable I’ve felt being alone in a taproom since I can remember. It might have been nicer outside, where there were four-top tables, but it was raining, and the inside was all big neon picnic tables, save some high-tops no one was going near. Every occupied table had big groups, and I felt like a parade float weaving my way through them to take up an entire table by myself. I considered the smaller high-tops, but they made me feel like I was David Attenborough observing the behavior of human beings at a brewery.
I also had to take over a bigger table at Port Orleans, but I’ll note I felt better there because the layout there was pretty lovely. As we’ve talked about in discussing inclusively designed taprooms, this one was done in warm colors with cozy touches and featured lots of pockets and corners to take refuge in. There was bar seating at NOLA Brewing, so I felt quite at ease. I also felt super comfortable at Brieux Carré, where one of the beertenders spotted me exiting my Uber and waved—the curmudgeonly New Yorker in me wondered if they thought they knew me, then I realized they were doing a thing called “friendly”; it was like someone welcoming you to their home. Brieux Carré is compact, has bar seating, and when I visited, I found it warmed up by lively conversation between the staff and some locals. There was the retreat of a really cute and shady backyard where I went and read—heaven. And for Parleaux and Miel, I counted things like smaller tables, quiet and leafy outdoor areas with different kinds of seating, and friendly staff as key factors that would have made me feel comfortable had I been alone.
My time exploring the city in general was good proof that tone goes a long way, and even a brewery without the space or resources to make a perfect taproom space can make up some of that by intentionally welcoming guests (I do not mean “customer is always right” bullshit; too many people are indeed monsters—I mean an intrinsic foundation of equity and inclusivity from leadership, at least starting interactions off on a level and friendly plane, not making assumptions, etc.). And my time exploring breweries was good proof that the simplest design decisions go a long way, like smaller table options and/or bar seating if it’s possible.
Variety is the Spice of Beer, or Something
Breweries in New Orleans are making all kinds of stuff, and it’s fantastic. This is something I noticed in Vegas, too, which makes me wonder if there’s something about being a major tourist destination that motivates brewers to offer eclectic, something-for-everyone ranges. It’s just that, the New Orleans breweries I visited felt much too authentic and dedicated to pander to touristy demands if they clashed with what brewers wanted to make, so I think it’s safe to assume this city just has some really top-notch brewers who aren’t resting on their hazy-IPA laurels.
Every taproom I went to had a menu of different German-style lagers, Belgian-style and English-style ales, American standards, and their own innovations and interpretations. Cold IPAs, foeder-aged Vienna lagers, barleywines, peanut butter stouts, grisettes, bière de gardes, maibocks—there seemed to be a real focus on traditional styles, reviving them and doing them well so even someone not that into beer can meet them at their best, with a little nod to more modern styles and experimentation.
I think in the past, New Orleans hasn’t really been known for its beer scene—like New York or Las Vegas, it’s a city incredibly influential in food and drink and one that attracts a steady stream of visitors, but is known for spirits and cocktails. I think that stands to change, the more attention we can get people paying to these versatile breweries.
The Little—and Very Important—Things in Life
When people are describing New Orleans, you’ll hear a lot about how it’s truly unlike any other American city. And maybe about some parallels to some European cities. One of those parallels that I definitely found was: no one really cares what you do or wants to talk about work. This city is about eating, drinking, music, art, celebration—life. I feel very “college student who just returned from a semester abroad in London and is now saying ‘flat’ instead of apartment” but the attitude really does get to you and warm your cold, dead heart. People care so very much about food and drink and music in New Orleans. They’re driven by it, excited about it, and brought together by it. It’s a beautiful fucking thing, tbh.
Obviously, romanticizing these kinds of life perspectives when referring to an entire conveniently glosses over dire socioeconomic problems; this is very typical tourist behavior. But, one, I do think to not highlight the seemingly shared priorities of living life with loved ones in New Orleans would be doing it a disservice, and two, I think there are two important takeaways in reflecting on this. Thinking about these kinds of life outlooks can make you remember why you love your own city and want to fight for it to be a better place for its people, and, this life outlook in particular reminds us that while everything is awful and hard right now, and the work we need to be doing to fight that is exhausting and constant, we need the little things—geeking out about drinks and music, coming together with friends—to inspire us to keep going, and to make this whole life thing worth doing.
This week, I pulled The Tower.
I know what you’re thinking: “Uh, this does not look great?” And…yeah, you’re basically right! Some tarot cards are like, “Yah, it’s Death, but in a good way,” and then there’s The Tower, which is like, “Okay, so, some shit is about to go down…” The Tower speaks to chaos, a sudden upheaval—but also, because tarot does always have a silver lining / positive takeaway, there’s also a message of an awakening, like that whatever catastrophe is about to happen, you’ll learn and come away from it better.
The Tower can translate personally or on a larger scale. It can mean break-ups or divorces, getting fired or businesses closing, health issues or loss, unexpected financial burdens; or natural disasters or…truly any of the political and humanitarian disasters that have been rolling out day after day. The Dobbs ruling? Major Tower shit. Heck, even—on a very different and lighter end of the spectrum—the Stone sale is Tower shit. Basically, The Tower represents a very abrupt crash into some or all of your safety and comfort. But—there’s always a “but”—as the dust settles, you will realize that that security was at least partially built on misconceptions and false truths. Whatever shakeup you experience, it will directly lead to an “aha!’-style seeing the light. You will rebuild, or start down a new path, with a clearer head, more information and more accurate information at that, and that will take you to a better, safer place. So, the key here is to embrace the change, confront its discomfort head on, and know you’ll come out of it better off as you white-knuckle through this.
New Realm Brewing has a New England-style pale ale called Unexpected Turbulence, which feels perfect here. Not only is this a nice style to treat yourself to after a hard day of, um, chaos, but its message is appropriate—think of how sudden, major turbulence on a flight jolts you awake or out of your sappy rom-com-viewing stupor; even when you know it’s not leading to some crash, your mind can’t help but race and you end up remembering things you love and truly value all before things settle back into calmness (or maybe you’re not compulsively dramatic but the message remains the same).
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
And here I was thinking the topic of dairy-based alcohol was a pretty limited conversation. I thought you had your White Russians and Bailey’s Irish Cream on one hand, and on the other hand, the joking about what WILL they booze up next, MILK? in regard to the alcohol-ization of every other beverage under the sun—the end. Dave Infante’s piece “Of Bovines and Booze: How Dairy-Based Alcohol Is Finally Gaining a U.S. Hoof-Hold” for VinePair proved that assumption wrong. Reporting on how whey is making its way into spirits and hard seltzers, Dave digs into the science, the huge sustainability element, the economics, and consumer behavior. This is fascinating stuff, and I won’t be lol-ing off dairy-based booze anymore.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
Since I already discussed breweries in New Orleans, let’s give a shout out to the absolutely perfect Avenue Pub. I went here based off of several recommendations (thanks, beer buds!) and knew from heading into this pub in what looks like a beautiful old home that I was going to like it. It was one of those good, creaky-floored, sunlight-filled spots, kinda quiet in a chill way and very friendly, and the beer list was stellar. I got a Parish Brewing Dr. Juice NEIPA to start because it was hot and I wanted something tropical—I only later noticed they had Tilquin on draft(!). I may move to New Orleans just to become a regular here.
By the way! Have you listened to last week’s podcast episode yet? You don’t want to miss this conversation with Katie Muggli, founder of Infinite Ingredient. Infinite Ingredient will bring mental and emotional resources and support to individuals in the craft beer and beverage industry—it will make such an important impact, so learn all about it and also how you can help.
Until next week, here is Darby getting ready for a recent-ish road trip, in one of her summer ‘fits.