Coop’s Place is not a place you linger after you’ve finished your meal. It’s noisy and the seating is tight. Our check is dropped at our table while morsels of food remain on our plates. The servings are generous and one of the things about airplane travel is it hardly stimulates the appetite. With so much sitting around plus the free but average-quality food in the airport lounges, we haven’t had the opportunity to do anything to work up an appetite.
‘Shall we take the hint?’ Steve suggests, waving the docket deposited by our server.
Looking around for a till or even a pay bill here sign, I add, ‘Sure. Not sure where though.’
We gather our things, stand and walk up to the bar.
‘Can we pay the bill here?’ I ask when the bartender glances our way in between drink making.
‘Someone will be with you shortly.’ I’ve used this line before. It’s the polite way of saying it’s not in my job description. I turn back to check we’ve not left anything at our table to see another group already seated with menus in hand. In no-man’s land, there’s nothing more we can do but wait.
‘If you want to wait outside, I’ll look after this,’ I offer to Steve. I don’t need to ask him twice. Squeezing between the tables and servers, he steps beneath the faux leadlight transom above the doors and out into the balmy evening.
Wallet and phone stashed, I emerge from the crowded restaurant onto an equally crowded street. Leaning against a pole, Steve looks up and beckons me over.
‘Not far from here is the place where my Facebook profile photo was taken. That one your mum hates cause it looks like the straws are going up my nose.’
‘Perfect. Let’s go and take a photo of both of us with straws up our noses.’ I smile and grab his arm. ‘Mum will hate it.’
We zig-zag across the French Quarter. Down Decatur St til we hit Café Du Monde. This legendary coffee place is open all day everyday. I make a mental note to come back during the day when I may actually want to consume chicory-infused coffee and fried pastries. Swinging right onto St. Ann St we skirt alongside the Jackson Square which is a favoured hangout of all types creative. It’s just after 8pm and an array of musicians and painters are setting up for the evening. Paintings in progress rest on easels. Mime artists, jugglers and lone tuba players sit alongside fortune tellers. The buzz is inescapable.
Left on to Chartres St then right down Pirate Alley. This narrow laneway takes us between St Louis Cathedral and what I later learn is a museum called The Cabildo. I love a dodgy, ill-lit alley. Dumping us onto Royal Street, I’m beginning to see what Steve loves about the French Quarter. It is easy to imagine oneself in another time. Books and movies about time teleportation belong here. The melange of architectural styles, the narrow mainly pedestrian streets and the casual atmosphere in shops and restaurants beckon the visitor to imagine themselves as belonging here. I hear accents and languages from around the globe and yet not one person stands out above another. All are welcome. Maybe that is why this place is known as The Big Easy.
Moments later we are standing out front of Pat O’Brien’s. I’m not sure what I expected but from outside it appears to be another New Orleans bar. Jade green coloured shutters cover the windows. Plants hang from a wrought iron balcony above. The muted red walls give way to a wide alley into a rear courtyard. We go to walk through the alley entrance and I get stopped for ID – an event that used to flatter me until I realised that it is done to every patron.
‘I’ve been here before,’ I say.
‘What?’ A shocked Steve glares at me as though I’ve been lying to him for years.
‘I’ve been here before.’ I repeat whilst trying to rack my brain for the connection. And then it clicks. Several years previous, on a trip to Florida I found myself joining a group of friends on a visit to Universal Studios in Orlando. This entertainment complex and theme park presented among other delights Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Hard Rock Café and a reproduction of Pat O’Briens “N’awlins style”. Of course, I’d never been to Pat O’Briens let alone a Margaritaville, but I went along for the ride unable to discern the fictional from the factual.
‘In Orlando. At Universal Studios. There’s a replica of this bar. There’s a courtyard out back and duelling pianos in a side bar somewhere.’ I point ahead then look sideways. It’s like I’ve taken the wind out of his sails. ‘Frankly, it’s a little disconcerting,’ I add.
‘Okay. Well. I was thinking we would sit out back and order a couple of cocktails. Sound good?’ he asks.
This is his town and I’m eager to get the royal treatment. ‘Absolutely.’
Service is efficient and friendly. The server to customer ratio is spot on for a tourist dependent joint. Patrons rarely sit with an empty glass in front of them and servers circle the small candle-lit tables unobtrusively. A server in regulation white shirt white trousers and green bow tie directs us to a vacant table by the water fountain. Flames incongruously shoot up and out the top of the fountain while rainbow lights below the water at glow brighter and dimmer to someone unknown cue. Wrought iron chairs and tables sit under green canvas umbrellas. Tall iced drinks in all colours of the spectrum adorned with tropical fruit. The drinks only just out do the outlandish surrounds. Tourist trap? – yes but it feels more than that. A place like this feels like it is custom made for a theme park. But there are real people here. People of all origins. Large groups and small groups and individuals sitting at the bar nursing a beer and chatting to the bartender.
‘Two hurricanes please.’ Steve orders while I’m still looking around, taking in all the details and timing them off against forgotten memories.
Soon enough two tall tulip glasses turn up, each with a slice of half orange and bright maraschino cherry nestling into the ice. The branding on the paper napkin extols you to ‘have fun.’ Ok, if I have to.
Back to the drink itself. It’s bright red matching the kitsch maraschino cherry perched a top the mound of crushed ice that fills the large, curved glass. Ostensibly made with dark and light rum as a way to use the plentiful rum supply in the days after Prohibition, the drink is sickly sweet with the fruit concentrate used to pad out the alcohol. I’m not sure I can taste much beyond sweetness. The fruit accompaniment makes me think this is supposed to a fruit juice based drink but the strong red colour gives no hint at its supposed passionfruit juice base. It’s cold and it’s sweet and it’s hard to discern the alcohol. Maybe that’s the point.