Pascal’s Manale is a great restaurant, but in that incongruous way that many New Orleans restaurants are measured. The kind of place you head to at the last minute and when you walk in you’re told that you’ll have to wait at least 45 minutes for a table. And, without reflection, you do.
The entrance room is huge, and the old bar packed with memorabilia and upbeat people. So Becky and I made our way in and finagled some ringside seats. Two guys next to us were in for a convention, raving about how wonderful New Orleans was and how pleasantly surprised they were. The French Quarter was filled with cops, they said, and it was much cleaner than they’d ever remembered. Apparently, they both used to come here a lot before Katrina.
Welcome back, guys.
A few minutes later a burly fellow eased into the fringes of our
conversation, cautiously awaiting his opportunity to place a drink
order. Two adorable little girls came bounding over and started hugging
his legs. He’d been driving all day from Houston on his way to
DisneyWorld, but had gone to college at Tulane and decided to stop in
New Orleans. Instead of heading to the hotel he drove straight to his
favorite restaurant in the world. "Look girls, Daddy wants to go to a
place called Pascal’s Manale first and then we’ll go see Micky and Goofy tomorrow, okay"?
The people standing near the entrance door suddenly moved aside,
gracefully like a school of fish. A robust guy with gray slicked back
hair, dressed in black pants and a black turtleneck, moved between the
parting crowd with supreme confidence. He was closely trailed by a
tall blond who looked sort of like a gangster’s moll, and probably was.
The bartender slung a towel over his shoulder, and called out.
"Hey Joey, where ya been?"
"Oh hey good ta see ya Charlie. Me and Julie here jess got back
from Arizona. We wuz at dis place northa Phoenix. Some place called
Zedona. It’s got dem rocks an shit. And got lottsa dem new age types
runnin around all in dem vortexes."
"No kiddin’. So ya hadda good time?"
"Yeah, was allright. Played some golf, drove around some and bought
some stuff. So listen, gimme a Johnny Walker Black onna rocks, ana
Chardonnay will ya"? He pulled out a fold of bills and dealt Charlie a
"Sure ting, boss." And with that the bartender turned his back on the crowd and got busy.
Seems like New Orleans is getting busy too, and though some people
have turned away from the city, a lot of people who love this place are
back looking for action. Some are back because a convention brought
them. Others are back passing through on their way to somewhere else.
Some are coming here to live for the first time.
Everyone knows about Brad and Angelina, but not too many people know
that recent Oscar winner Helen Mirren, and her husband Taylor Hackford,
own property in the city and have loved this place for quite awhile (Architectural Digest April 2007 cover story).
But as much as New Orleans loves to welcome celebrities or
convention-goers, it’s really the characters that make this place. In
the Architectural Digest article Helen Mirren described New
Orleans as alluring because it was "funky and untidy." I don’t know
how to describe New Orleans, exactly.
But I know two things for sure: it’s not DisneyWorld, and it ain’t Zedona.