The Uber driver drops us off in a quiet street of Central City on a sunny Sunday morning. If it was our first visit to New Orleans I would have second thoughts about walking alone in this neighborhood. But today we’re not walking, we’re visiting someone. A guy we’ve never met before.
»Join French 75’s bartender and local character, Chris Hannah, as he takes you through his neighborhood, Central City,« said the description in the »Faux/Real New Orleans« festival event schedule. Since we always try to discover the hidden sides of every place we travel to I didn’t have to think twice: We’re doing this!
So here we are – standing in front of what we hope to be Chris Hannah’s house. I thought there would be some kind of sign that he was expecting a group of tourists. A small »Faux/Real« badge would do the trick, so would open door. But the house looks quiet, almost deserted. We decide to knock anyway, hoping that the person answering the door would have some understanding if we misread the instructions and came to the wrong address. »Hi! Are you here for Chris Hannah too? Come in, he’s not here yet!« welcomes us a 50 plus something guy.
We get inside to find a group of four young friends and an older couple all waiting for the tour to start. We soon learn that Chris is some kind of a celebrity in New Orleans bartending scene. I thought he was just a guy mixing drinks in some French Quarter bar, so it didn’t even cross my mind to google him. An impressive collection of unfamiliar liquor bottles supports this – we’re about to meet a star bartender. This will be even more fun than we expected!
After another ten or twenty minutes Chris walks in with some more bottles in a plastic bag wearing what appears to be his full Saints fan gear. He doesn’t spend much time greeting his guests. Instead he heads straight to the kitchen to prepare the drinks. A friend of his who joined us in the meantime explains that Chris is “the doer, not a talker”. I guess he’s here to do the talking instead of him.
Chris only joins us when he’s finished making the drinks. He hands us big plastic cups filled with some strong cocktail that’s probably not supposed to be served that long. But who am I to say? After a short introduction we’re ready to go. The Saints game has already started so it’s time to head to his favourite local hangout, the Verret’s Lounge. As we’re walking I can’t stop sipping the delicious cocktail while listening to Chris. He says that he wants to show us the real New Orleans which tourists roaming the Quarter are completely unaware of. I know exactly what he means. A few days earlier we were on a Garden District walking tour just a couple of blocks away from where we are now. And yet it seemed as if we were in another city.
Judging by the name you could easily mistake “Verret’s Lounge” for a trendy bar with new age music and kombucha cocktails. You couldn’t be more wrong. Like many other lounges in New Orleans it is a rather shady haunt, serving simple drinks and showing football games. On a Saints game day they add extra food like red beans, rice and BBQ. When we get there I’m already buzzed from the cocktail and I start gorging on food like there’s no tomorrow. I can’t help myself, those BBQ ribs just fall off the bone. I don’t pay any attention to the game as I don’t understand American football so I chat with Chris and other members of our small group while I keep thinking how lucky we are to have stumbled upon this unique tour.
It’s time to move along to catch the Women of Class second line passing through the area. Chris produces two more bottles of the Old Fashioned cocktail from his backpack. He fills the plastic cups again and we continue doing what would be prohibited anywhere else in the States: drinking in the street. My head is spinning again. I’m taking pictures of the parade but somehow they are out of focus. The parade party mood coupled with alcohol seems to have infected everyone in the group, Chris included. He keeps repeating how much he loves this city and this particular neighborhood. As I watch people cheerfully sashay along to the tunes of brass band I can’t help but agree: This truly is a special place and I feel grateful to be able to experience it like this.