It’s downright un-American. When it comes to being unpatriotic, it’s on par with burning the American flag, kicking the President’s dog and muttering disparaging remarks about Abraham Lincoln’s mother.
I’m speaking, of course, of eating chicken wings without a brewski. Drinkin’ and eatin’ wings is a quintessential part of the American experience.
Alas, we live in a city where the propriety of wings and alcohol is a subject of social and political debate. Currently, three neighborhood associations are debating whether to support an alcohol license for “Finger Lick’n Wings,” a restaurant located on Jackson Avenue south of Magazine Street. The Coliseum Square, River Garden and the Irish Channel Neighborhood Associations are all poised to voice their viewpoints on this issue.
This past Monday, the Coliseum Square Association held debate on this very issue at its regular meeting. For once, I was actually present. The owner of Finger Lick’n Wings, Marlon Horton (a.k.a. “10th Ward Buck,” New Orleans Bounce artist extraordinaire), was present to plead for the association’s support in his bid for an alcohol license.
As Mr. Horton explained, business is suffering, particularly during Saints games, because nobody wants to eat at a wings restaurant where they can’t partake of alcoholic beverage (it’s like peanut butter and jelly, people). He noted the local wings chain, WOW Café & Wingery, is popular in part because it boasts a full bar.
Actually, that was an understatement. WOW Wingery practically screams “we’ll get you smashed in a hurry and oh, by the way, do you want a to-go cup?” They boast all the subtlety of Tropical Isle sans the distinctive atmosphere of Bourbon Street.
Anyway, as Mr. Horton continued his spiel, he not only promised that he would not serve frozen daiquiris or use disposable cups, he promised to personally monitor his patrons to ensure that no alcohol would leave the premises. Mr. Horton specifically noted that he would not be like the daiquiri place on St. Charles (and yes, it was a bit disturbing that a wing joint owner would feel that he had to assure a neighborhood association that his establishment would not become like a nearby daiquiri bar).
Next, the floor was open for comments and questions. I spoke up early on and observed that Jackson Avenue south of Magazine Street is very blighted and economically depressed, and that there was no good reason to oppose a liquor license that would serve to sustain one of the few active businesses in that corridor.
As the Q & A progressed, attention turned to comparing Finger Lick’n to nearby corner groceries, where on-site alcohol consumption had been a problem. Apparently, at these groceries there had been some fights (perish the thought!) and complaints about people loitering (because a group of middle aged guys standing around and drinking beer is hilarious in “King of the Hill,” but represents a grave threat to public safety in New Orleans).
In any event, it was never exactly explained how corner groceries selling alcohol for off-premises consumption had anything to do with a wing joint wanting to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption. There was a wink-and-a-nod assumption that businesses serving alcohol in poorer neighborhoods are basically interchangeable.
One participant at the meeting argued that it was inappropriate to allow another liquor license near the River Garden housing development (the erstwhile St. Thomas projects) because the people there have substance abuse problems. Evidently the Temperance movement is still alive and well, and still voicing its condescending, patronizing regard to the poor.
Hence, an undertone to the Q & A was that people from the wealthier areas north of Magazine Street were concerned that poor blacks couldn’t handle alcohol with their wings, and they’d hang around drinking (loitering!), fighting and generally showing a reckless disregard for upper-class property values. Thus, WOW Wingery in Uptown is a pillar of the community, whereas Finger Lick’n Wings on Jackson will destroy the social fabric.
I left the meeting early, but at least one other resident spoke up in support of Mr. Horton. Resident Karon Reese spoke up and asked rhetorically: “We’re saying poor people can’t have a liquor license?”
From what I heard, that’s exactly what some of those present were saying. The condescension to the poor, if not outright contempt, was palpable.
In the end, the Coliseum Square Association essentially tabled the issue, and thankfully the actual board appeared to be more supportive. It was suggested that the dispute may be resolved with a “good neighbor” agreement, whereby Mr. Horton will make a litany of promises in exchange for CSA’s blessing. That would actually be a decent result at this point, but then the River Garden and Irish Channel may need to be mollified as well.
I left the meeting with a bad taste in my mouth, not so much about the outcome, but about the process. A young entrepreneur from a poor background was being run through a political gauntlet of self-selected neighborhood association members with chips on their shoulders, none of whom appeared to live anywhere near Finger Lick’n Wings.
That, dear readers, is something more un-American than chicken wings without beer.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.