Louisiana Homecoming

Updated: December 4, 2006, 2:32 PM ET
By Benjamin Hochman | Special to ESPN SportsTravel

In the back terrace of New Orleans' Maple Leaf Bar, you just might spot -- or stumble upon, depending on your night -- a plaque.

It succinctly reads:

Everette Maddox



"He was a mess"

Welcome to New Orleans.

While an all-nighter in most towns means 'til 3, here it means 'til breakfast. And if you've been yapping at the water cooler about rediscovering Louisiana, this weekend is ideal; in Louisiana, football and partying go together like 20-somethings and MySpace.

ico_orbitz New Orleans: Plan Trip | Hotel | Flight

Power Weekend: Louisiana
The ESPN SportsTravel Power Weekend is meant to give you inspiration to go on a sports-centric getaway of your own.

We select dream weekends when the sports schedule in a given city lines up just so.

You can use the home-team schedule grids in our City Guides to find the weekend that's right for you.

Sports events proposed for this Louisiana dream weekend are (all times CT):
• Tulane at LSU
Sat. Sept. 23, 7 p.m.
• Falcons at Saints
Mon. Sept. 25, 7:30 p.m.

There are two big games -- first, Louisiana State hosts Tulane in Baton Rouge on Saturday night in its homecoming game. Then, Monday night is the first Saints' home game of the year -- and the first sporting event in the refurbished Louisiana Superdome, since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Louisiana landmark (Web site).

Throw in the fact that it's the New Orleans debut for QB Drew Brees and RB Reggie Bush, and you've got yourself a sick day in the making (We're talking about that Monday -- not the subsequent Tuesday).

Because the LSU-Tulane game is on Saturday night (7 p.m., Tiger Stadium), we recommend spending Friday night in New Orleans, darting to Baton Rouge on Saturday morning and ultimately returning to the Big Easy -- sometime before Hank Jr. starts singing.


Other cities have museums; New Orleans has restaurants.

Before you beeline to Bourbon Street to recreate Mardi Gras memories, first you should treat yourself to a New Orleans meal (Popeye's doesn't count).

Uptown, there's Clancy's (6100 Annunciation St., (504) 895-1111), known for it's smoked soft-shell crab. It's a favorite place of everyone from Archie Manning to Brees.

In the French Quarter, it's hard not to blindly stumble into a restaurant and leave bigger than a Victor Conte client. But see if you can get into Brennan's (417 Royal St., (504) 525-9711, Web site), if only to have the dessert called Bananas Foster (About).

There are a pair of new hot spots, opened after Hurricane Katrina -- Cochon (930 Tchoupitoulas St., (504) 588-2123) is a Cajun restaurant in the Warehouse district with an authentic menu; La Boca (857 Fulton St.) is an Argentine steakhouse with sizzling steaks and a well-executed complementary wine list. If you're in the sushi mood, down the street from La Boca is Rock-N-Sake (823 Fulton St., (504) 581-SAKE). Try the LSU roll; it's the Reggie Bush of sushi with its multi-faceted tastes: hot tempora shrimp and cold cream cheese inside, then a layer of snow crab, then tuna and avocado -- covered in an eel sauce.

But perhaps no spot captures the soul -- and, yes, flavor -- of Louisiana than Jacques-Imo's Café (8324 Oak St., (504) 861-0886, Web site). Oak Street turns into a street festival at night, with the Jacques-Imo's crowd spilling out the front door, waiting for their tables and drinking their Abita beers (http://www.abita.com).

Inside, you're greeted by Will the bartender and booming '80s music, prompting sing-along sessions from patrons who remember the words to "Sister Christian." Vivacious paintings cover the walls, many by local artist Frenchy (http://www.frenchylive.com). Sometimes out front, they'll even put a table in the bed of the Jacques-Imo's pickup truck, light a candle, and seat a party of two.

Once you're seated, you cannot go wrong with anything on the menu (believe us, we've tried), but be sure to try something you can't get in Ohio. Such as: the shrimp and alligator-sausage cheesecake (it's an appetizer, not dessert), the smothered rabbit or the Cajun bouillabaisse.

Now that you're so full you couldn't put a wafer in your stomach -- it's time to drink.

New Orleans is living contradiction: a proudly religious town, speckled with sin. Former Mayor Marc Morial once said: "In many neighborhoods you have a church and a bar on every block. Sometimes two churches and two bars."

Perhaps no spot captures this contradiction in as beguiling a way as St. Joe's Bar (5535 Magazine St., (504) 899-3749). This Uptown spot, which often wins "Best Bar Decor" in a local weekly, is filled with kitschy crosses and quirky drunks. The back patio is an enigmatic, yet relaxing, spot with votive candles and red Asian-style lamps hanging from the ceiling. Even Johnny Drama could seduce a woman here. Order a mojito, the bar's specialty. In fact order two -- and get one with blueberries.

A few minutes away is Dos Jefes Cigar Bar (5535 Tchoupitoulas St., (504) 891-8500) where you'll rediscover your inner-cool -- buried conveniently after you bought the minivan -- by smoking a stogie and absorbing some local jazz.

New Orleans is a haven for live music -- you'll see a better show in a local dive than at most big venues in any other city.

Tipitina's Uptown (501 Napoleon Ave., (504) 895-8477, Web site) is the benchmark, and on this Friday you can see Trombone Shorty And Orleans Avenue; the featured performer plays the trumpet and drums, too. He is soon to graduate from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the same program that developed Wynton and Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr.

Following that act is the Hot 8 Brass Band, who have a piercing, quintessential New Orleans sound. They cook funk. You might have seen this band in Spike Lee's HBO documentary When the Levees Broke, which showed the members reuniting after Katrina struck their hometown and homes.

The best part about New Orleans is you can have a worthwhile night out in one part of town... and then jaunt down to the French Quarter, while your buddies back home are sound asleep.

Just outside of Bourbon Street is One Eyed Jack's (615 Toulouse St., (504) 569-8361, Web site), a hip joint run by actor Rio Hackford, who you might remember as the "House Of Pain b----" in Swingers. This naughty, eclectic bar is known for its '80s nights, raucous live music and occasional burlesque shows. Lindsay Lohan, Vince Vaughn and Val Kilmer have been spotted there, hiding from the pages of Us Weekly.

But, of course, you will gravitate toward Bourbon Street, where enormous tacky beads are uniform; where debauchery is encouraged; where disrobing is suggested; where cloudy memories end up on cameraphones; where you'll meet the love of your life -- and forget his or her name on Saturday.

Tourists unite!

Every spot on Bourbon Street has something going on -- be it singing or schmoozing or stripping or shot-guzzling. A couple bars you might want to check out first are Tropical Isle (721 Bourbon St., (504) 529-4109, Web site), home of the delicious and deceiving Hand Grenade ("It tastes so good, how can it possibly be strong?"), and Cat's Meow (701 Bourbon St., (504) 523-2788, Web site), the jam-packed karaoke club where you'll inevitably channel Def Leppard.

Locals generally avoid Bourbon Street, but they do flock a block over to the Gold Mine (705 Dauphine St., (504) 586-0745, Web site). It's a grungy bar with arcade games such as RBI Baseball, but it's a hot spot for dancing to local hip-hop and drinking Flaming Dr. Peppers (but try not to spread the word to out-of-towners).


Wake up!

It's gameday!

Grab some breakfast -- try Stanley in the French Quarter (1031 Decatur St., (504) 593-0006) or Riccobono's Uptown (7801 Panola St., (504) 314-1810) -- and take Interstate-10 West toward Baton Rouge ("Bat-awn Rooouge" as sophisticated Louisianans eloquently say; "Batinruge" as other Louisianans slur).

Now, if you want to party with Tulane fans -- or are too tired to drive the hour to the capital city -- you can still have a delightful time in New Orleans.

Bruno's Tavern (7601 Maple St., (504) 861-7615, Web site) has been a staple since 1934, serving generations of Tulane students, professors and fans. But this summer, they super-sized Bruno's, an enhanced, enormous version of the neighborhood pub -- catty-corner from the original.

But the original remains open, where old-timers stubbornly drink their Abitas, while youthful hundreds flock to "New Bruno's."

There, numerous plasma televisions and Tulane paraphernalia decorate the walls, and Tulanians reminisce about past baseball successes (two College World Series appearances since 2001) and talk about the future of Green Wave athletics (football is rebounding from an unfathomable season of hurricane displacement -- 11 games in 11 cities; men's basketball has a fresh second-year coach in Dave Dickerson, a former Maryland assistant).

Bruno's will show numerous college football games from across the land -- as well as horse racing via TVG -- before Saturday night's main event.

But if you go to Baton Rouge, you will embark upon a blue-, er, purple-collar carnival of tailgating gluttony. This ain't Ole Miss, where the fans tuck in their polo shirts and sip cocktails on The Grove. This is LSU, where the fans beat the sun to Tiger Stadium with enormous RVs and tents, stir jambalaya in pots as big as hot tubs and scream "Tiger bait!" at anyone not wearing purple and gold. Every school has a good tailgate, but at LSU, "it's just like a Mardi Gras atmosphere every Saturday," one alum said.

While you're tailgating, you'll soon hear the LSU fight song from afar; it's an underrated fight song, which begins with the four intense, body-tingling notes: BUM, BUM BA-DA! BUM, BUM BA-DA! The music is courtesy of The Golden Band From Tigerland (Web site), making their traditional march toward the stadium.

If you have some time before kickoff, you can visit the Andonie Museum (3828 West Lakeshore Dr., 1-888-RING-LSU) with more than 50 displays featuring Bayou Bengals history. Or stop by T.J.'s Ribs for lunch (2324 S. Acadian Thruway, (225) 383-7427) and see Billy Cannon's 1959 Heisman Trophy on display. Or you can meet Mike The Tiger -- an actual freaking tiger -- in his seven-figure cage on campus (http://www.mikethetiger.com).

At LSU, they've had national champions in baseball and track and, in the past season alone, Final Four basketball teams -- both men and women. Many schools would sell their souls for these accomplishments; at LSU, they're somehow almost secondary to any football victory.

Football games at Tiger Stadium are sacred. Night football games at Tiger Stadium are that of legend.

There was the night game in 1988 against the "other" Tigers of Auburn. LSU scored late to win 7-6, and crowd reaction to the touchdown registered on the campus seismograph. It cost Auburn a chance to play for the national championship, and they shared the Southeastern Conference title with LSU. Down here, they call it "The Earthquake Game."

Tiger fans whose parents weren't even born in 1959 make casual reference to Cannon's 89-yard punt return against Ole Miss. That Halloween night, Cannon scampered past seven potential tacklers for a touchdown -- the Tigers won 7-3 and Cannon soon after won the Heisman. The Tigers won the national championship in 1958 and 2003 (and you better not bring up USC while in Baton Rouge, or you'll wish you were back at your cubicle). But -- ask the average Tiger fan, and Cannon's run might be the most famous LSU moment.

After the game, fans disperse around town for beer and burgers, notably to The Chimes (3357 Highland Rd., (225) 383-1754), Sammy's Grill (8635 Highland Rd., (225) 766-9600) or Fred's in Tigerland (1184 Bob Pettit Blvd., (225) 766-3909, Web site), where you can often bump into some LSU players.


When you wake up Sunday, your wrist undoubtedly covered with bar bracelets, you'll determine you have no energy whatsoever. That's the non-Louisianan in you, trying to flee toward the state line.

Stay the course.

Head back to New Orleans.

Once you're there, if you want to take a break from liquid indulgence, we suggest visiting the National D-Day Museum (945 Magazine St., (504) 527-6012, Web site). It's a comprehensive, visitor-friendly museum, which captures the struggle and triumph that was World War II. It really is a special place.

The D-Day Museum is just a few minutes from the French Quarter, so sneak back into the scene of the crime for lunch. Coop's Place (1109 Decatur St., (504) 525-9053, Web site) is a hole-in-the-wall with a surprisingly tasty menu. Try the Chicken Tchoupitoulas, named after New Orleans' most mispronounced street ("Chop-eh-too-luss," but you knew that).

Café Du Monde (1039 Decatur St, 1-800-772-2927, Web site) on Sundays is a relaxing place to get coffee (with chicory, of course) and their famous beignets, a doughy dessert covered in powdered sugar, about as healthy as a Dwight Gooden binge.

But it's Sunday, and that means football. And that means drinking. And that means sports bars.

Though it's not primarily a sports bar, Pat O'Brien's in the French Quarter (718 St. Peter St, (504) 525-4823, Web site) is the ultimate chameleon -- it's so big that there are quiet nooks for a date. It's so packed that it's the ultimate meat market. It has so many televisions inside that football fans from around the country unite, a Hurricane in hand (About the Hurricane).

Uptown at Fat Harry's (4330 Saint Charles Ave., (504) 895-9582), the regulars really are mailmen and accountants, and, if you drink enough Blue Moon and eat enough Jazz Burgers, everyone really will know your name. Every local has a Fat Harry's story -- even Eli Manning stops in occasionally with his high school buddies.

But the joint with carved inscriptions on the bar and wobbly stools has gone a little corporate on us. The dusty jukebox, with a typed list of songs such as "Golory Days," gave way to one of those digital, every-song-ever-sung-at-your-fingertips-even-Ace-Of-Base monstrosities. And they got some plasmas -- so maybe it's not all bad, especially on Sunday afternoons.

But Cooter Brown's (509 S. Carrollton Ave., (504) 866-9104, Web site) is the fascinating tavern that has, no exaggeration, hundreds of beers available and walls plastered with plasmas -- yet maintains its laid-back flavor, ideal for a New Orleans drinking spot. On Sundays, though, get there early and find Juan. He's the most important guy in the city -- he's got all the remotes.

After a long day of football -- and if you can afford to miss the Sunday night game -- make your way to Upperline Restaurant (1413 Upperline St., (504) 891-9822, Web site) and try the "Taste Of New Orleans." You'll think you can't make it to the bread pudding dessert, and when you do, you'll ask for more.


Perhaps one day, Sept. 25 will become a holiday in New Orleans. At least, for today, it is. The city will surely be unproductive this day, while residents daydream about the first Saints home game since the storm.

They say cities "live for football" -- a flippant cliché. But since last September, the Saints -- yes, those perennially floundering Saints -- have provided a measure of hope for many who lost their homes to the storm. The Saints are a symbol of normalcy. The Saints are a reason for the community to unite. The Saints are something positive that New Orleanians can share. And then came Reggie Bush. As the bumper sticker here says -- "Finally a Bush we can all agree on."

And, of course, there's the Superdome. Tattered and frail, it was once a symbol of the city's hopelessness. Now rebuilt and resilient, the Superdome is the symbol of the city's hope.

To get into game mode, make a trip into Jefferson Parish to see the Saints Hall of Fame (415 Williams Boulevard, Web site) where you can learn about Tom Dempsey's kick, the first Pro-Bowl Manning, the "Dome Patrol" and the one moment when the stars aligned, the devil put on a parka and the Saints actually won a playoff game.

For lunch, stop by Domilise's (5240 Annunciation St., (504) 899-9126) for the best Po-Boy sandwich in the city (and since you won't find a better Po-Boy outside of New Orleans -- the best Po-Boy sandwich in the galaxy).

If you haven't read A Confederacy Of Dunces, stop reading this piece right now and head to Borders. If you have read the New Orleans-based, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, then you must stop by the Chateau Sonesta Hotel (800 Iberville St., (504) 586-0800, Web site). Outside is a bronze statue of Ignatius J. Reilly, the book's unbelievably zany protagonist (think Andy Warhol's eccentricity, Andy Reid's body).

Before you slip on your shiny new "BUSH 25" jersey, try to slip into Emeril's (800 Tchoupitoulas St., (504) 528-9393, Web site) for a pre-game dinner. This is the original restaurant of the effervescent chef Emeril Lagasse. It's the spot where Saints coach Sean Payton, dining the night before the draft, heard the Texans had signed Mario Williams "somewhere between the minestrone soup and the red fish."

The next night, the Saints brass arrived at Emeril's along with the No. 2 pick in the draft, and the normally stuffy crowd broke into a spontaneous chant: "REG-GIE! REG-GIE!"

After your dinner -- and after a rambunctious weekend -- it will finally be time for Hank Jr. to ask his famous rhetorical question.

Be sure to get there early -- U2 and Green Day will be there play a pregame concert.

Benjamin Hochman covers the NBA for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.