Sin City vs. Sin City

Let me say, between America’s two premier party towns, New Orleans kicks Las Vegas’ gilded, ersatz ass, that Emerald City conjured from desert pixie dust into a flashing mirage of gambling, chintz and sloshing oceans of open containers. 

Scripturally do I believe this: New Orleans, jewel of the Deep South, stomps Vegas, that spendthrift voluptuary of the West. I’ve been to both cities and can vouch for the Big Easy’s superior party bona fides, its inebriating beauty, gnarled history and lavish multiculturalism. On all counts, Vegas is bereft, a kind of gimcrack DisneyWorld to NOLA’s organic abundance, its French-kissed joie de vivre and bon viveurs, its patina of worldly class.

It’s mossy swamps vs. desert scrub. Beads, boobs and Bourbon Street vs. chips, glitz and the Strip. Indelible musical heritage (blues, jazz, zydeco) and culinary complexity vs. karaoke and Guy Fieri. It’s the rich mythology of Mardi Gras and voodoo vs. the dancing Fountains of Bellagio and hokum-pocus of Criss Angel.


Neither’s perfect. Both burghs are powerful magnets for slavering douche-baggery, cruising sidewalks nursing two-foot-tall girly drinks. (The rank cluelessness of these swaggering alpha males is adorable.) Both often display the collective mentality of a pimply 17-year-old boy (repeat: boobs) or a tequila-tottering bachelorette queen. Liquor rules. And there are no rules.

Having just returned from Vegas — where I won a whopping 50 cents at an airport slot machine and walked away with a spring in my step (I beat ‘em, by gosh!) — I can attest to the town’s vacant neon soul. It’s plastic, garish and grubby. It’s all facade, robbed of emotion — unless Christopher Cross, recently serenading the Strip with cloying power ballads, warms the cockles of your heart.   

And yet, like millions before and after me, I liked it. Truly, if not excessively. The booze, the vulgar resorts, the cacophonous casinos, a solid comedy show, my slick yet cheap hotel, some world-class meals that rival New Orleans’, fine weather and endless people-watching by turns transfixing and obnoxious. 

It was my second time in Vegas, and on this trip I learned how to enjoy myself by doing a little research and a lot of relaxing. Not poolside relaxing, but a mental, non-judgmental kicking-off of the shoes. I let Vegas do its Vegas thing.

Which is quite different than the similarly storied New Orleans thing. I’ve been there twice, on my 21st birthday and a hasty two-night stay during a Southern road trip about 15 years ago. I typically prefer a different kind of city — Chicago, Kyoto, Istanbul, Florence — but NOLA exudes a neat Big Little City vibe, like Charleston, South Carolina, or Austin, Texas. 

It’s southern to the core, twangy, tangy, congenitally ecstatic, weird and wonderful and proud of it. It’s one of those towns that always wants to get it on. (Though I’m not fond of strolling, badgering brass bands that strain to suck you into their high-stepping, hand-clapping, nightmarish street parties.) 


Here’s where I say I’m heading to New Orleans for a few days next month, a week after the big, beady, booby bash that is Mardi Gras. (There’s more to it than that, of course, but it looks like a psychedelic bad trip from here, never mind all the deep-dish tradition. Explains journalist Chris Rose: “Mardi Gras is the love of life. It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living. All at once.”)

I have plans, none of them fantastically original. While I’m strenuously avoiding Pat O’Brien’s and its barfy Hurricane cocktail (been there, done that) and skipping the gorgeous green gatory goo of the swamps (done that, too), I will get lost in the pastel, fern-festooned, bar-clogged French Quarter, cruise the murky Mississippi on a Twain-ish paddlewheel steamboat and stroll famed cemeteries, those crumbly cities of the dead. 


My bad, but I’m eschewing the heralded art and World War II museums for the morbidly unhinged Museum of Death, and I will duck the city’s voodoo jive, most of which is about authentic as the eye-rolling “ghost tours” haunting the area with the spookiness of a ghoul out of  “Scooby-Doo.” 


One of the nation’s finest food capitals, crackling with heritage, race, culture and love, New Orleans is synonymous with smorgasbord, from beignets to Po’ Boys, crawfish to jambalaya. Here’s where I’m going, to name a few: Peche (seafood inspired by the Gulf, Spain and South America), Cochon (Cajun and Southern cooking), Gris-Gris (Southern eats) and NOLA (a fusion of Creole, Acadian and Southern cuisine with global influences by local legend Emeril Lagasse).

For music and drink there’s the obvious, like world-famous Tipitina’s. I’ll skip it for the hip Bacchanal Wine, a laidback music-food-vino joint in the Ninth Ward that some regard the best bar in the city, if not the world. I also plan to hit popular jazz club The Spotted Cat, a cramped, sweaty spot where those damn brass bands, blaring with cheeks ballooned, may get to me yet. 


“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”

 Tennessee Williams

8 thoughts on “Sin City vs. Sin City

  1. Another magnificent piece Chris. I can’t disagree with you on NOLA or Vegas; NOLA because you’re spot on and Vegas because I haven’t been in decades so I haven’t the foggiest notion what it’s like. What I will say about Vegas is that it isn’t what nature intended; a water wasting Gomorrah in the middle of a desert.
    A couple of suggestions. Definitely Spotted Cat and Emeril’s NOLA. Been to both.
    If you get the chance meander over to Royal and Saint Peter Streets in front of Rouse’s Market (which is a pretty cool little place in itself). With luck you’ll see Doreen Ketchens and her little band. What Doreen does with a clarinet should be illegal. She’s known down there as Queen Clarinet. You might be able to find out if she has a schedule.
    Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub in the Quarter.
    Willie Mae’s chicken is a little shack of a place on the fringes of the Treme. She’s passed on but she did win a James Beard for her fried chicken. She was thought of so highly that when Katrina devastated her place the Southern Food Alliance went to work to help her rebuild. Beware the line to get in.
    If you can find a tour of a cemetery I recommend it. We didn’t use a tour and I think we missed a lot of the stories buried in those crypts. The challenge is to find a good guide v. a bullshitter.
    Finally, is that you in the photo holding a yard of alcohol?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, these are fantastic tips, Paulie. Doreen and her clarinet and Willie Mae’s chicken sound especially enticing. Will do! I did book a cemetery tour, a real one. We let some random street character give us a tour last time, years ago, and it was sketchy at best. He was making crap up as he was going. It made us laugh. This is great stuff. And, oh geez, that is NOT me in the photo with the asinine beverage! Found that fella on the web! Thanks again for your suggestions, and the kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We went to New Orleans a few years ago and loved it. Your pictures really brought back memories – Jay and I have a photo right in front of that same red building, took a cemetery tour, had some real big drinks, went from jazz club to jazz club to duelling piano bar, and had lots of great food! Thanks for bringing those memories back!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That makes me even more excited to get down there, Sean. I look forward to doing what you guys did, hopping from jazz club to whatever club, and just going with the flow. Maybe Ill write something about the macabre Museum of Death, which may or may not be up your alley. Look forward to more of your Oscar chats, esp. as the show is in less than a week! (Go Parasite! Go Joker! Boo Once Upon a Time …!!!!!)


    1. I thought of you in that Tennessee Williams quote, hoping you wouldn’t wrinkle your nose too much. I’ve been to Cleveland for 24 hours, mostly for the R’n’R Hall of Fame, which I quite liked (despite, back then, its total absence of KISS memorabilia. Apparently Gene Simmons wanted $1 per admission ticket for him to show their stuff. Reason #198 to loathe the man.). You must visit SF!! I’ll tell you if you should visit NO after I go, but of course the Museum of Death should make it all worth it. (Skull emoji here)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think your “organic” adjective nicely distinguishes New Orleans from Las Vegas. Las Vegas has the fake NYC, the fake medieval castle, the fake Eifel tower. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed Vegas, but New Orleans culture grew organically over the centuries into what it is.

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