Archive for November, 2012

Dear Mayor Landrieu and Councilmember Palmer,

Please allow me to applaud you on your recent efforts to address the growing health and safety issues on Jackson Square. Our city’s “old square” is a rich symbol of its cultural identity and deserves the critical attention being given to it by city officials. It is as relevant now as it was when it was literally the center of the city.

However, I can not overstate how filthy the Square is most weekend mornings. Puke, feces, urine, fights, drunks, people passed out, assaults, trash, yelling, drug use – it goes on and on. Sunday mornings in particular. Artists trying to set up have been beaten several times. One was in the hospital for weeks with a brain injury. Another went to the emergency room earlier this year. The past few weeks have seen a rise in these incidents. Action on this has been sorely needed for some time.

So, thank you for addressing this. The proposal to close the Square between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. is a step in the right direction. Though I have concerns that it is heavy-handed. It’s a quick fix. Sure. But it may end up causing more issues than it solves.

One thing that almost immediately occurs to me is the experience a visitor to New Orleans may miss out on by being prohibited from the Square during those hours. For many years, profits and incomes ballooned as the city was portrayed as a raucous, say-anything, do-anything, drink-anything party destination. But as well all know, we are so much more than that. There is more to New Orleans than “Huge Ass Beers.”

Jackson Square in particular is an area where people can sit in an open space without being in a bar. With the Square (and the Moonwalk) being closed in the early morning, and with very few restaurants or cafes open at that time, the message seems to be, “Be in a bar drinking or go back to your hotel.” I understand that’s not what the message is but, with no open spaces, where else are people to go?

Other issues would be the enforcement of any law based on the interpretation of the term loitering. Would a Jackson Square Artist setting up for the day be considered loitering? Someone texting on smartphone? A tarot card reader telling fortunes? Hopefully these will be addressed before any vote.

I of course am very anxious to hear if this will affect the Jackson Square Artists, an integral part of the culture on the Square since the 1950s and a group with their own representative group, the Jackson Square Artist Association of which I am a member. We provide straight-from-the artist art pieces and contribute a bohemian atmosphere to the Square on weekends. People get to meet the artist they are purchasing a piece from and speak about the art and often even pose for pictures with the artist. At any given moment, hundreds of conversations about art are taking place. Thousands of visitors to New Orleans take home original art from this group each year and quite a few locals do as well.

We too have been affected by the depiction of New Orleans as a party destination and are on the front lines of the fallout every morning on the Square. Because competition for spots is great, artists will often be setting up for the day during the proposed hours of shut down. Where do we stand in this? We are primarily being victimized by the belligerence and the filth and are concerned that we will be victimized by the solution as well.

A proposal to consider would be one in November 2010 by the Jackson Square Task force convened by Councilmember Palmer. The wording in the proposal was:

“Security – there should be dedicated security to patrol the Square at all hours. Such a person(s) could ensure that cars are not illegally parked; that vagrants are not causing health problems; that tarot card readers are abiding by existing or proposed rules; that any music is not amplified; that garbage is being addressed; that mules are being properly managed; and that all other regulations are being enforced. Such a person would not only be an enforcement mechanism, but would also serve as a deterrent to other illegal or nuisance activities.”

I think a dedicated police presence in the Square would greatly improve the conditions there and wouldn’t force the City to throw the good people out with the bad or, put police officers in a position where they would have to selectively enforce a law and thus lead to potential litigation down the road.

Thank you both.

I am posting this letter and your response on my blog, TheChicory.com

Sincerely,

Lance “Varg” Vargas
Jackson Square Artist

By the magnificent Katie Lease!

My night could have gone either way before stepping into Marigny Brassierre on Oct. 31, 2012. After stepping out, there was no saving it. I couldn’t wash the feel of it from my being.

We are all aware of the increasing commodification of Frenchmen Street and the Marigny neighborhood. I loathe what it is becoming. I loathe the cheap plastic “sexy” costumes on Halloween night. I loathe the obnoxious rolling Red Bull boom box that parks in the street and blasts non-local dance music by Black Eyed Peas and Adele onto the sacred street of Frenchmen. I wish the techno robot didn’t have to compete with this crap. I wish kids could still get nitrous baloons for a few bucks a pop. I wish it was still more of a bar-to-bar night through Frenchmen and Lower Decatur but, as Robert Frost said, “Nothing gold can stay.”

Marigny Brassierre in particular seemed to be the epicenter of the ecotone this night. With seiging tourism onslaught in full force, they were going all in. But it was taking its toll. The staff was a surly bunch. Seemingly fed up with the bullshit. Bar service could not have been any worse. Bartender was ill-tempered and virtually encouraging dust-ups with customers by being antagonistic. She was clearly over her head on a busy night and lacked perhaps the most critical ingedient any bartender needs, grace under pressure. She could not keep track of who was at the bar first and just went up to groups of people waiting for drinks and asked, “Who was here first?” This encourages people to jump in line and cause arguments / worse among patrons. She also did not wait for customers ordering several drinks at once (making her job easier by grouping transactions and shortening lines) and just walked away after one drink was ordered without acknowledging receipt of order. When taking an order you wait for the person to finish and in some way, either by repeating it back to them or saying “got it” or whatever, you acknowledge that you received it. It’s not an entitlement, it’s just the simplest way to transact.

I was keenly aware of this because I got all caught up in it. She asked me what I wanted and walked away after “Abita Amber” and never heard the two cocktails I also mentioned. Then, another bartender came up after, asked “who was here first,” took my order, listened to the entire order, indicated that she had received the entire order and began making the drinks. By then the first bartender returned with the Amber and seeing that I ordered from another bartender literally yelled, “I ALREADY MADE YOUR DRINK! DON’T ORDER MORE THAN ONCE!” When I told her that there was more to the order than what she bothered to listen to she yelled, “HERE’S YOUR ORDER!” and pointed at the one drink she had placed on the bar. Then she screamed, “DOUCHEBAG!” right at me in front of my wife and her friend and the entire bar full of patrons. I seethed and, sensing the developing hostilities, the other bartender stepped in to finish the transaction and called me “baby” as a sort of peace offering. I gathered that there may have been some dissention in the ranks but that’s only speculation.

And hey, there WERE a lot of douchebags out on this night. It’s creeping from Bourbon Street onto Frenchmen. We all know this and no one knows what to do. Most likely nothing can be done. I am sure this bartender perhaps encountered a few of them this night. I wasn’t one of them. She created the entire situation. She was fulfilling the generalization that the entire bar were douchebags and needed to be treated as such. It was one of those long middle-of-the-week Halloweens so there is a good chance she had been dealing with it for a while. I understand but it’s a hardship of the job and a short part of the narrative in a longer arc. Shit happens. It’s part of the job.

Having tended drinks to scores of obnoxious drunks myself over the years I understand each new face is something different than the last. More than anything else, each one has to be gauged and not painted with a broad brush. Some may be suffering same as you. I have yelled at my fair share as well. I never incited it. Being a bartender requires this sort of sense.

So, I may hazard to guess that much of the douchebaggery coming across the bar toward the bartenders may have been a result of a symbiosis with the entire staff of Marigny Brassiere. They may have been responsible for it themselves. I noticed that the service area of the bar was very crowded but the area around where people would mingle was very empty. So after they got their drinks, people were getting the hell out of there even though the streets were packed and a madhouse. They weren’t enjoying the “fun casual atmosphere” described on the Web site. I am sure people would have loved to have had a seat at a window in a spot with a bathroom close by but they were leaving because the energy was so bad I presume. In the short time I was there, twice I experienced the staff rudely yelling at patrons.

And about the bathrooms, I’m not sure of the legality of this but I do know it damages the reputation of your restaurant to transform it into a “pay-to-pee” spot. If a hundred people paid $5 to pee that night that’s $500 bucks and that helps with the rent right? And what’s a little negativity among the patrons for that kind of cash? I am sure that girl the manager screamed at for trying to sneak through copped a squat somewhere in the neighborhood because she looked about to burst as she was being loudly shamed for trying to get by. That’s for some Marigny renter or homeowner to deal with right?

Marigny Brassiere, if you are going to play ball with the encroachment of tourism on Frenchmen street, please verse your employees in how to be kind to the very beast that’s paying the rent. Or, just close the doors on busy nights like Halloween. I noticed a few spots that opted-out. Staying open in misery, allowing a grossly out-of-control, chip-shouldered bartender to damage your reputation, and transforming your brassiere into a beer garden and pay-to-piss business doesn’t seem like a recipe for long term success for your business and increases the burden your neighbors are experiencing as their blocks increasing become entertainment zones.