Since early March we have all become accustomed to — and perhaps cynical of — phrases like “the new normal” and “these uncertain times.” Nothing quite describes what so many of us are experiencing, this constant hum of anxiety and powerlessness. In contrast, we also see celebrations of creativity, of learning a new skill or reinventing yourself. But even this encouragement exhibits problems, as for many these past months have simply been about trying to keep it together, a constant struggle to preserve their sanity and well-being. There are so many ways we describe the pandemic experience and so many ways we have responded, but there is one movement I have seen in neighborhoods that has not only captured my attention, but as of late, drawn my family in. Early this summer, my wife discovered The Little Copa — fresh fruit daiquiris prepared right in our neighborhood, the Irish Channel.
New this month is a virtual exhibit that shows how New Orleans has benefited from Black leadership and engagement since the 19th century. Hancock Whitney and the Amistad Research Center at Tulane have partnered to present this curated collection, entitled “The Things We Do for Ourselves: African American Leadership in New Orleans.”
The exhibit uses Google Cultural Institute’s platform to create a virtual expansion of a past physical exhibition at the center. The virtual collection went live in celebration of Black History Month, though it was created as a free, permanent and accessible way to give back to the communities the organizations serve. Christopher Harter, deputy director of the Amistad Research Center, said it is important for the local community to see how African American civic leadership helped shape New Orleans. The purpose of this collection, he said, is “to educate the public about not only the historical materials that are housed in Amistad’s collections, but how these materials are relevant to the questions and issues that we’re facing today.”
A new restaurant and bar that aims to support the business community opened on 4525 Freret St. on Friday. A combination bar, restaurant and workspace, The Business Bar was already packed on opening night when it held a happy hour for entrepreneurs. Laughter and conversation bounced off the walls; some customers grooved in their seats to the R&B music playing overhead, while others mixed business and pleasure as they worked on their laptops while also clinking cocktails with names like “Old Fashioned Grind,” “Bloody Fresh Start” and “Break Even Expresso.”
The co-owners of the restaurant were putting in sweat equity as they rushed to keep up with the flood of customers on opening night. Jade Newman, 31, sprayed down tables and greeted customers while Jessica Robinson, 32, manned the bar.
The stretch of Magazine Street between Gen. Pershing and Milan streets has seen a lot of comings and goings of businesses through the years, and even more recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One new business that plans to open in the next few months is Second Vine Wine, in the space that most recently housed the Claudia Croazzo clothing store, at 4210-14 Magazine St. If the wine shop’s name is familiar, it’s because Second Vine Wine was previously located in the Marigny Triangle. It closed last year in March, just after the pandemic and lockdowns began. But you can’t keep a wine lover and educator away from Bacchus’ call, and Troy Gant, one of the previous Second Vine Wine owners, is harvesting a new wine shop.
Every year since 2016, New Orleans-born-and-raised multimedia artist Courtney “Ceaux” Buckley, of Axiom Gallery on Freret Street, has been painting vibrant and detailed posters that depict the Black Mardi Gras experience. Through this annual poster series, Buckley said, he not only aims to provide a representation of the Black experience during Carnival season, but that he also intends to normalize it. “I don’t think we should always be presented like a big deal,” he said. “These things go on all the time, every year, it’s recurring.”
He adds that it is important for Black people from New Orleans to see representations of their culture in this more generalized way opposed to only packaged news stories and documentaries. Inspiration and communal Black experiences
Buckley said that the poster series was inspired by childhood photos lost in the levee failures after Hurricane Katrina.
The pandemic may have upended the city’s traditional Mardi Gras plans, but the show must go on. Residents of the University Uptown neighborhood have raised the curtain on a fleet of Broadway-inspired house floats, following the theme of “2020: The Musical!” This Krewe of House Floats has stepped in during a Carnival season of no parades, no bars and no partying in the French Quarter after curfew.
“Krewe of House Floats has really been building the plane while flying it. The humor and the whimsy of our neighborhood really shows through with our theme,” said Jenna Rockett, captain of the University Uptown subkrewe. “It’s that ability to look around and laugh and make it work.”
Plans to travel the world in 2020 and 2021 may have been put on hold, but you can always make your own “staycation” at home. That’s the theme that neighbors in Broadmoor, Fontainebleau and Marlyville chose for their Yardi Gras house floats.
“We’re aware of the irony and the reality that we can’t have Mardi Gras in its normal incarnation. We can’t just go on vacation if we want to model good public health choices,” said Caitrin Gladow, captain of the neighborhood subkrewe. It’s part of the larger Krewe of House Floats, a citywide effort to encourage people to decorate their own houses as floats since parades cannot roll because of COVID.
The goal of the house floats project is to have fun, support artists who are out of work, and help neighbors in need. “One of our obligations as neighbors is to look out for one another,” Gladow said.
Creativity isn’t canceled.
In the Carrollton-Hollygrove neighborhood, the houses are especially colorful. The Carrollton-Hollygrove subkrewe’s theme is “Nesting in Place” — a nod to the neighborhood bird sanctuary that resident peacocks call home.
Courtney Bullock, one of the subkrewe’s co-captains explains how the Krewe of House Floats idea came together. “It all blew up in a week,” Bullock said. “There was a division of neighborhoods, and I knew that people would want to decorate their houses — we just had to do something.”
Bullock’s house, adorned with musical instruments and a piano banner, has a musical theme. “The title of my house float is ‘Lay That Funky Music,’” she said.
Mardi Gras parades may be cancelled, but that hasn’t stopped residents of Central City from turning their neighborhood into a festive Wonderland. Central City is one of the many neighborhoods participating in Yardi Gras, an alternative to Mardi Gras parades where homeowners decorate their own houses as floats. On the 3200 block of Dryades, for example, residents are working together to turn four homes into “Alice in Wonderland”-themed house floats.
Friends and neighbors came together on Saturday to start putting up whimsical decorations. One house was the Cheshire Cat, and the others were the Queen of Hearts, the Caterpillar and the Mad Hatter. The neighbors shared pizza and art supplies as they decorated, and music kept everyone bouncing.
“We have all embraced it, and we have had a lovely time,” said Shirley Madison, the Queen of Hearts.
The iconic song “The House of the Rising Sun” comes to mind when you learn the theme of the Audubon Riverside subkrewe of the Krewe of House Floats. “There Is a House in New Orleans” is the theme, and many houses are already wowing passers-by (and drivers-by).
Audubon Riverside has 170 official houses that will appear on the map that will roll out on the KoHF website on Feb. 1. The subkrewe’s captain, Courtney Guidry, saw some chatter about “house floats” around Thanksgiving and posted a question on whether her neighborhood was going to be included. With that, Admiral Megan Boudreaux asked if she wanted to serve as the area captain.
From its seeds in an offhand remark founder Megan Boudreaux posted on Twitter, Krewe of House Floats has quickly grown into a superkrewe, with about 11,800 members in 40 subkrewes across the metro area. All are devoted to keeping the Carnival spirit alive and providing support for locals affected by the pandemic. Throughout the season, Uptown Messenger will be visiting with neighborhood KoHF subkrewes across Uptown to see how they’re doing Yardi Gras.
The Krewe of House Floats’ neighborhood theme “Channel Surfing” makes for good viewing in the Irish Channel.
Co-captain Lindsay Grissom came up with the theme. “We hope that it gives everyone the creative room to decorate however they want, since there are so many TV options out there,” Grissom said. “People are also free to decorate without using that theme — we’re just hoping for some Mardi Gras spirit in the Channel.”
Her co-captain Autumn Town got involved in this project when Admiral Megan Boudreaux first came up with the idea and was looking for subkrewe captains.