So, with five solid coats on the boat and only “FIVE COATS TO GO!!” we headed West to N’awlins for Christmas and, as it always seems to happen with us, everywhere we went, a story was sure to follow. Let me share a few. On Christmas Eve night, we were planning to head to Jackson Square where we heard they were caroling by candlelight. All attendees are provided with sheet music and candles (a brave proposition among a bunch of rowdy, festive cajuns) and everyone joins together in holiday chorus.
Such was the plan. Before we made it there, though, we decided to stop in one of our favorite watering holes – Sobou (short for ‘south of Bourbon’). It is the bar in the new W hotel that opened in the Quarter. We’ve been there several times and always loved the atmosphere at the bar and the quality cocktails, and this night certainly fell true to that mark. I had seen the same bartender there several years in a row, this lively, gregarious woman, usually with a flower stuck in her hair, who really lights up the scene, often busting out in song and dance (with incredible opera-house worthy vocals to boot) and always — always — making fine cocktails while entertaining the ever-shuffling crowd that passes through.
(Thanks to Food & Wine, who we were pleased to find on our return had done a write-up of Sobou in their January, 2014 issue, I now know her as Abigail Gullo, creator of the rye-and-brandy Sazerac they do there which Phillip goes all Mad Men over).
But on this night, I heard our gregarious bar wench well before I saw her. As we sauntered in the front door, her rich, buttery baritone voice poured out from the back at the bar, drawing us in with a warm “It’s Christmas time … ” I pushed forward wanting to get the best seat at the bar to see whatever Christmas production she was putting on unfold. As I settled into a seat, she gingerly put a napkin before me on the bar, and gave me a quick wink as she continued, “there’s no need to feel afraid.” The song was somewhat familiar, like I knew I was going to recall it once she got the chorus, but I couldn’t quite place it yet. The rest of patrons at the bar were watching her wide-eyed, in silence, when she broke character for just a moment to say “And then Boy George breaks in,” just before she threw her voice into a sweet soprano and cooed, “In our world of plenty … ” And then it started to come back to me. It was that relief song all those artists got together back in the 80’s and did – for the kids in Africa or something. It had a very “We Are The World” feeling to it.
You probably know it: Do They Know It’s Christmas.
I was just catching on. Yeah, yeah, I know this. I was nodding and smiling along with her, sparks were flying now. “And then George Michaels goes,” she said,
and she jumped into a full male falsetto, “But say a prayer to pray for the other ones.” The patrons at the bar were starting to nod too and sway their bodies to the invisible beat. “And then,” as she hunched down low with a sly smile, “my favorite. Bono,”
and she jumped up an octave, gave her voice a wicked raspy quality and belted into her muddler-slash-microphone: Well tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you!” The whole bar sang the entire song with her and by the end, she would point to the right side of the bar and they would sing “Feed the Wo-orld,” and then she’d point to the left and they’d respond with a rousing, “Let them know it’s Christmas time.” Now the right: “Feed the Wo-orld.” And the left: “Let them know it’s Christmas time!”
And, we hadn’t even had a drop to drink yet, but there we were, having an absolute ball, singing at the top of our terrible lungs without a care in the world.
She put us right in the holiday mood. And, got us nice and thirsty too. We all ordered one of the fun, festive drinks they were featuring and watched them set to work, placing glasses before us and spritzing them with absinthe or citrus, wiping the rim of the glasses with cucumber or lemon, and just taking their time making real, quality cocktails. Phillip ordered a rum old-fashioned, with cinnamon and sugar, and we had the pleasure of watching our bartender hack off a piece of ice from a 2 ft x 2 ft block they kept at the bar and, seriously, with the chuck of ice in a napkin in one hand, and a mini-hatchet in the other, he chiseled out a custom-crafted ice-ball (about the size of a raquetball) that fit perfectly in Phillip’s glass. There is a reason we always go back to Sobou.
Nice and liquored up, and our own pipes all warmed-up and ready for an encore, we headed to Jackson Square for the caroling. But sadly, even when we’re not sailing, it seems we live and die by the weather, and it certainly wasn’t cooperating that night. It was drizzly and wet, with black, murky puddles everywhere, and all of the rowdy cajuns were holed up in bars and other questionable joints looking out at us with light scowls as we passed by. The streets were empty. The small herd that had seemed to collect around Jackson Square for the caroling looked like a pack of wet cats.
Including us. But that didn’t stop us. Nice and buzzed and full of the holiday Sobou spirit(s), we picked up some soggy Christmas song sheets off the ground and started singing right there on the corner at Jackson Square.
People actually started to huddle around and ask us where they were passing out the song sheets and candles. To which we would respond by picking up soggy sheets from the ground and handing them to them while pretending we were too wrapped up in song to respond with an actual answer. The place was dead, but we were belting it out to the absent masses. We even did a wicked rendition of Do They Know Its Christmas again to make sure everyone was aware. I got to play the part of George Michaels, although I have to admit, I think it came across less like the beloved Wake Me Up! 80’s star we all know and love,
and more like the adolescent incestite from Arrested Development:
Who knew Olan Mills had a shipping container backdrop? Suh-weet!
But, we sang anyway. Full of festive energy and liquid courage we decided, “Screw the weather!” We were going to (sing it with me) let them know it’s Christmas time, damnit!