This weekend marks the start of Mardi Gras celebrations. We don’t have any listed here, because we figure if getting hammered NOLA-style is your weekend plan, you’ve already reserved your spot on a bar crawl and you don’t need us. So instead, I’ll tell y’all a little story about the time I went to the Crescent City.
It was last May, the weekend before my graduation from Vanderbilt. My three closest friends and I decided that Beach Week–the Vandy tradition wherein most of the senior class migrates down to Panama City Beach, Florida, for several days of drunken debauchery and squeezing in those hook-ups that you always wanted to happen but never seemed to materialize–wasn’t really our scene. We had never been to New Orleans, and it was Jazz Fest, the consensus second-most festive time to visit. When we saw that Elton John was headlining for a mere $60 per ticket, it became a no-brainer.
It fell to me to book the hostel. I had never booked a hostel before, so I did what any greenhorn would do and googled “New Orleans hostels,” which brought me to a site called Hostel World. Perfect, I thought. A website crafted just for my needs! I began excitedly browsing, scrolling down the page, checking out rankings, reading reviews. As I did so, a small problem became apparent: almost every single hostel was completely booked.
We had brought this upon ourselves by trying to book this trip 1) less than a month before Jazz Fest and 2) as cheaply as possible. Hampton Inns were out of the question, as were those swindlers at AirBnb. (Note: upon further review, AirBnb is pretty sweet.) It was going to be a hostel, and it was going to be the least expensive hostel in the city. Fortunately, the least expensive hostel in the city happened to be the only one I could find with vacancies. It was called St. Vincent’s Guest House, and it sported a sparkling 60% positive review rate.
My friend Doug was dubious. I told him to sack up. Without further ado, I booked us four beds for $27 each–$9 per night.
The day came, and we packed up my Toyota Highlander for the eight-hour drive from Nashville to NOLA. It was far prettier than we expected. Mississippi catches a lot of flak for being the poorest, stupidest, fattest state in the country, but I’d probably be poor, stupid, and fat too if I could spend my life resting in the pretty, shady groves that trace Interstate 59 from Meridian to Hattiesburg. (Seriously, though, Mississippi has some seriously messed-up socioeconomic issues.)
Eventually, we entered New Orleans and pulled up to St. Vincent’s Guest House on Magazine Street. It immediately became obvious that this place was not good news. It had the look of an old, disgusting orphanage, the type of place that gives kids fungal spots on their lungs. Weeds grew from a maze of cracks in the sidewalk. A rusting gate creaked open to offer us passage into the ancient lobby, where we were greeted by a woman with the mannerisms of a hospital orderly. Clinching the image was the fact that as we paid for our rooms and claimed our keys, she took a call from one of the other guests and began encouraging him to kick his heroin habit. Now, I was absolutely sympathetic–I know recovering addicts, and I know how hard it is to get clean–but did I want to be staying in skid row? No freaking way. From the piercing sidelong glances I was being cast by Doug and my other friends, I knew they were feeling the same way, and they would never let me live this down.
Things only got worse when we arrived in our gross room. A bearded man slept on one of the bunks, his belongings strewn all over the floor, a nasty stench of stale booze mixed with humidity-enhanced body odor permeating the air. Doug set one toe inside the room, looked around with his face scrunched up like a drawstring encircling it had been pulled taut, and promptly announced that he would be sleeping in the car. Brendan and Lance followed. I heaved a sigh and, looking sadly at the rat poop-infested sheets welcoming me in with open, diseased arms, shut the door on the worst travel plan I’ve ever made.
Long story short (because it’s 1:17 AM as I write this), we ended up crashing at a buddy’s apartment near Tulane. Elton John made me cry a dozen times during his set. We ate five beignets each and tooled up and down Frenchman Street’s jazz clubs for hours. And I was nicknamed “Travel Agent Tchoupitoulas,” or the character Nathan Fiedler would play if he were in the tourism industry.
Luckily, I know more about Chicago events than New Orleans’ hostels. Here’s what’s happening this weekend in the city:
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 4
Reggie’s SX Showdown @ Reggie’s Rock Club, 2105 S. State St., 7:30 PM
WHAT: South By Southwest is still bringing in acts, and tonight, four local hard rock/metal bands–Long Live The Goat, Reign, Tanzen, and Deepspacepilots–will duke it out for the chance to go to Austin.
SO WHAT: If you’ve never been to a metal show, it’s something you should experience at least once in your life. Once you get past the screaming (an initial barrier for anyone), the musicians are generally supremely talented, and despite the images you’re conjuring of a barbaric mosh pit, the crowd is generally very friendly. No one wants to trample anyone. Anyways, this is a good first metal show for you, since you’d be supporting local bands and helping one of them win a potentially career-making experience.
NOW WHAT: Tickets are $10 and available here.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 5
Bleach Party @ Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave., 8:00 PM
WHAT: Beloved Chicago garage bands Bleach Party, Young Marshall, PK Flyer, and Soddy Daisy to perform at the Double Door as part of the Carrefour Collaborative benefit concert.
NOW WHAT: The show starts at Door #3, the underground bar below the Double Door, at 8 p.m. You can find more information here.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 6
The Three Tenors (Who Can’t Sing) @ Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., 8:00 PM
WHAT: Comedy, improv, stand-up, sit down, Italian-inspired hilarity with Vic DiBitetto, Richie Minervini and Fred Rubino.
SO WHAT: They are touring 22 cities but Chicago is their one and only…a least for one night. Just think how many opportunities there are for Godfather and Sopranos stereotypes to be addressed.
NOW WHAT: Tickets range from $25 to $37.50 and there is also a $20 VIP upgrade available that includes a ‘meet & greet’ with the tenors and an autographed photo. Tickets to all shows can be purchased HERE.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 7
Event du Love @ Beauty Bar, 1444 W. Chicago Ave., 8:30 PM
WHAT: A WRETCHED NOBLES film & video event.
SO WHAT: Love hurts, and these filmmakers are going to count the ways, including but not limited to themes of heartache, heartbreak, yearning, unrequited love, love lost, betrayal from someone you love/care about, kinky love, and heart attacks. Plus, you are supporting local underground DIY film making! If you’re still not convinced, there is free pizza and $1 PBR. And after the films there will be a Young Camelot DJ set from 11pm – close. (RIP Young Camelot.)
NOW WHAT: $5 suggested donation, 21 and up only at the Beauty Bar.