11 August 2006

Lost City: New Orleans Edition: Snails and Ashtrays

Now, where was I?

Oh, yes: my account of New Orleans' lasting appeals. Sorry for the long hiatus. It turns out I am not a good blogger (read: obsessive blogger) and did not post a damn thing while on vacation. But I'm back, and here I pick up where I left off.

If you find yourself in New Orleans, and needs some convincing that you are in a place with a very distinct—or shall we say peculiar—culture, then take a tour of Antoine's. Antoine's is the oldest restaurant in the South, the oldest family-run restaurant in the U.S., and is a warren of wonderful weirdness, each room more grandly odd that the last.

The front looks a bit like a Dixie Sardi's, with lots of dark wood and countless framed whatsits on the wall, tuxedoed waiters standing by. Venture down the hall, though, and you encounter The Ashtray Collection. Under glass, are ash catchers from restaurants and bars the world over, many of them now long gone. It's like a bizarre roadside museum. Further back is a small, secreted room where, we are told, nothing you say can be heard by a human ear. Handy in Corruption Central.

Another private room with a long table looks like a Viking hall, and is decorated with the portraits and costumes (green, gold and purple) of past Mardi Gras kings—or, I should say, Rexes. In fact the room is called The Rex Room, and its full of expensive and elaborate crowns and scepters, some behind glass. It is very grand and very otherworldly.

The Japanese Room, meanwhile, which was designed with Oriental motifs around the turn of the 20th century century, was closed up after Dec. 7, 1941, and stayed that way for 43 years. After that, the Japanese suitably punished for their misdeeds, it was reopened and restored.

But for out-and-out, eye-widening weirdness, nothing beats the tiny Snail Room. They don't call it the Snail Room—I do, or did upon seeing a large design of a snail on one wall. This is the secret chamber of La Societe Des Escargots, the most exclusive club in all The Big Easy and maybe the world. Only 12 of the biggest social and business wheels of New Orleans belong at any given time, and no one new can be admitted until one of those dozen kick off. (How's that for a macabre membership rule?) These Sachems meet but once a month. I looked at the various posters and loving cups naming the members of the years. I recognized no one except Dick Foster, and I only knew him because he's the guy they named Bananas Foster after.

Which reminds me: Antoine's is where they invented Baked Alaska and Oysters Rockefeller. As far as I can tell, no Rockefellers were ever voted into the Snails.

1 comment:

kurt said...

(How's that for a macabre membership rule?) Strangely enough, the leadership of the Mormon church is replenished in a similar way, called "Apostolic Succession."