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New Orleans Speakeasy by Michael Z. Mallow

All suddenly the Speakeasy hath taken over New Orleans– it must have happened while I was waiting for those tacos sold only from that one particular parking lot (you know the one), on Tuesdays from 8-10 PM (best to arrive by 4). “Speakeasy”: the word conjures visions of secret entrance codes, swinging jazz, and cocktails your grandmother used to drink before she opened that new roving cocktail tent in Audubon Park. In actuality, this new crop of local eateries serves fare such as hamburgers and pizza, from possibly-licensed kitchens that appear one day per week and then disappear, like a cash-only mirage.

Clearly the term “speakeasy” is part of the appeal. Back before corporate America and the FDA came in, you or I could start a sandwich shop or butchery just by hanging a large “BUTCHERY”sign from the house balcony, until our roommates took it down. It was a time of Freedom and Prosperity, and every man was his own butcher, baker, or maker of artisanal nachos. For clarity and sanity perhaps we should dub this current trend the “informal economy”– more adaptable to these recession times than the formal economy, where you need 7 days a week and an advertising campaign with a mascot to move burgers.

Yes, the informal economy hath taken over New Orleans, now crossing over to the more staid side of I-10, where even the proudly unhip can be found shunning all the restaurants with obvious signage and a credit card machine while waiting an hour for a burger place with but two items on the menu. Okay, I was there too, and I would have been the next week, except they were sold out.

Scorn, in my case, is deeply hypocritical; the informal economy pulls on my dollar-strings particularly. Austin, my hometown, boasts fleets of trucks offering vegan barbeque enchiladas and prickly pear gelato. My formative years were spent in mid-Aughts New York, where the most-watched nightlife took absurd turns to avoid being watched. The best clubs were supposedly hidden behind dingy taco stands in East Village, or anonymous storefronts disguised as gyms or even less hip nightclubs. Rarely was I sufficiently well-connected or heeled to get into these places, but I knew where they were, as did all my friends. Anti-advertising, it turns out, is the best form of advertising when All That’s Solid is melting into air.

Let that be a cautionary tale, and stand with me in declaring a campaign to SAVE THE NON-SPEAKEASY BUSINESS. And as the calling card of the speakeasy is feigned secrecy, I hereby blow the lids off all the following upcoming informal eateries:

Mid-City Speakeasy Creperie:

How to get there: On Tuesday, from 4-5 (or abouts), wait at the intersection of Bayou St John and Bell St. A girl named Carolina will float by on a canoe and take your order. The blackberry beignet crepes are delicious (don’t think about the bakery physics of it, just order them). A 1975 VW Wagon will come by in about an hour and take you to the secret location, where your order will be ready the next day.

Uptown Speakeasy Ethnic Food:

You thought New Orleans had slim offerings besides Vietnamese? How charmingly naïve. The folks Uptown just have it hidden all to themselves. Put on a seersucker suit or a debutante ball gown and wait for the Uptown streetcar to stop at Napoleon. When it does, look warily down the car aisle and tell the conductor you’ll take the next one. Make sure to give him a big wink. A horse-drawn carriage will pick you up and take you to the location, where delectable world cuisine is served by waiters of your choice in ethnic origin and traditional dress.

Metairie Speakeasy Grocery Co-op

Drive out to Clearview, or (is it Causeway) and Veteran’s. Yeah. If that’s not it, try the other. No no, it’s the intersection of Clearview and Causeway. Take the first left turn off the access road, then take another left. Then two more. Keep repeating this until your car runs out of gas. When it stops, you’ll be approximately two miles due south-south-west of the best fresh vegetables in the parishes. Get out and walk.

French Quarter Speakeasy

Stand in Jackson Square, looking square at Jackson until the setting sun’s rays cast a shadow off his outstretched arm. Follow the shadow’s direction exactly 1718 paces, without changing course for palm readers, fences, or mounted police. The first red door in sight is the speakeasy. Pound on it hungrily, screaming, “Lemme in!” Welcome to the city’s best tavern, where you’ll spend the evening gambling and carousing with voodoo priestesses, profiteering privateers, and a musician or two– not a fanny pack in sight. The house sazerac, made with brandy and bathtub absinthe, will knock you off your chair, literally. Accepted forms of payment include gold doubloons, sugar, and labor aboard a vessel if you’re lucky enough to get shanghaied.


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