March 1, 2011

Barcelona: Sant Jaume Sunday Danceparty

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We got to Barcelona on a Sunday morning. While we waited for our room to be available we wandered the Gothic District looking around and seeing what's what. Somehow, we missed the dancers of San Jaume until later in the evening as we were searching for the Picasso museum.

I'm glad we did. It turns out that the plaza hosts a weekly musical performance, along with some sort of traditional circle dance by some of the older Spaniards. It was a fun little glimpse beyond the busking and nonsense of the Rambla.

December 30, 2010

Vietnam: Sidewalk Culture

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I risk losing any credibility I might have by gushing over and over about how 'fascinated' I am by one aspect or another of Vietnamese culture, but I can't help it. The scooters zipping around Saigon clearly got my attention. And how could I not be obsessed with the myriad banh mi carts serving up any number of variations of pork on pork deliciousness?

Similarly, how could I not be fascinated by the sidewalk culture we saw there. Day and night, people sat out on little plastic stools talking, eating and generally gathering with their communities.

Continue reading "Vietnam: Sidewalk Culture" »

April 5, 2010

Cruising: Vegas at Sea


The decor of the ship was straight out of Las Vegas, shiny and gilded. Amazingly gaudy.

Given that, it made sense that there was actually a casino in the middle of it all. We didn't go in for more than a minute or two.



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February 22, 2010

Vancouver: On The Water

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New Yorkers take the water for granted. We're a city of islands, but we rarely set foot in the water. Even at our great waterfront views and sightseeing locales, we are looking past beyond it to see our skyscrapers and bridges.

Yes, there is the pollution issue, but that's more a symptom than a cause. Our busy city culture tends to focus getting over, under or through the waters surrounding us.

In Vancouver, I was surprised at how many people were out on the water. Besides those who were fishing or landing planes, there were people rowing crew and kayaking. Instead of the big water taxis and giant circle line boats we have in New York, tiny boats that would fit now more than a dozen people traffic passengers from port to port.


We sat at water level and waved as this lady passed us by. Yes, this totally freaked me out. Don't mistake this for pining. I won't be kayaking around Manhattan any time soon. It's just an observation of something that is seemingly entirely different to me.

January 23, 2010

This Week on Examiner: Adding some culture

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This week I went a little outside my usual area of coverage on Examiner. Jazz and Poetry are both art forms that I respect, yet know little about. So, I jumped in and covered a bit of both.

Nearly every venue in town this week has been hosting benefits for charities providing aid and service to Haiti's Earthquake victims. With so much else going on this week, I only got to cover one of them, L'Union Fait Force at Le Poisson Rouge.

The coolest part of the show was watching the Doctor Lonnie Smith Trio perform with Trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Smith (top) is a great showman whose flair added excitement to the show. Hargrove on the horn was wonderful.

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There was plenty more going on: Dance, Haitian drums, a pair of guitarists and the Vijay Iyer Trio, which is actually what drew me to the event. That morning, WNYC announced the event and played some of the Trio's take on Mystic Brew - better known to those of a 'certain age' as the basis of the classic "Electric Relaxation" by A Tribe Called Quest.

The show was fun and eclectic and went late into the night. I was so wiped out, I had to take off before the last set even started, missing hosts Groove Collective perform with Bernie Worrell of Funkadelic.

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On Wednesday, I changed things up a bit with by covering the Mixer Series at Cake Shop in the Lower East Side. It's a monthly series that hosts poets and authors reading their recent work. And first up was Tess Taylor, above, a classmate in college. We hadn't seen each other in at least the 10 years since graduation, but it was good to catch up, however briefly.

I don't know the first thing about poetry and I don't read books nearly as much as I should, but it was a great experience being surrounded by smart people enjoying intelligent things. I really hope to keep going to future Mixers.

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Among the other readers was Steve Geng, who read scenes from his new book, Bop City about Paris during the Algerian war. Just in the 15 minutes he was up there, he touched on themes of terrorism, sex, race, and French culture that fascinated me.

After the jump, more photos from both events...

Continue reading "This Week on Examiner: Adding some culture" »

December 13, 2009

Hawai'i Cooks With SPAM



December 7, 2009

The Tree Starts the Season

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The end of the year is sort of a whirlwind. Starting with the build-up to Thanksgiving, the meme-storm of holidays and music and events is enough to sweep you up or knock you down.

I find it a bit disorienting this year. I love the season, but I haven't -felt- it yet. The weather has certainly cooled down appropriately and the holiday music is being blared in more places than I'd like. But the season doesn't quite feel there yet for me.

I think tomorrow is when it'll happen. Tammi and I are getting our Christmas Tree after work tomorrow night. We'll follow the long time holiday tradition and decorate it while listening to the sounds of Nat, Ella and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

November 25, 2009

Quick Bite: BK Breakfast Spam Platter

BK Spam Platter

Even Burger King serves Spam for breakfast. Also note the popular Portuguese Sausage, which I tried out at a more reputable place.

November 23, 2009

Hawai'i: The Loco Moco


This is the Loco Moco: a thick beef patty, topped with a fried egg and starch-thickened gravy served on a bed of rice. Think Salisbury Steak with rice and egg. For breakfast. Weird right? It's actually pretty good and a really interesting example of how Hawai'i integrated so much of the influences that have flooded the islands since Captain Cook 'discovered' them 200 years ago.

Contemporary Hawai'ian cuisine is notoriously low-budget and ingeniously cobbled together with whatever is on hand. Famously, Spam is more popular here than anywhere else in the country. Without getting too involved in a discussion/monologue on the politics of big business and imperialism at the turn of the last century, suffice it to say that there has been a lot of poverty and plenty of cultural intermingling over years.

The Loco Moco pulls together American burgers, Japanese rice and hangs onto the 50's era aesthetic of TV dinners and powder packet gravy.


I prefer the egg over easy so the yolk mixes in with the rice. The gravy is thick and goopy and rich and binds it all together. It's a little much for me, but it's been interesting to try out a couple examples of it.

February 1, 2009

Paris: Sunday Shutdown

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I know I have been in Paris on a Sunday before, but somehow I didn't remember dealing with the fact that on Sunday all the shops and many of the restaurants are either closed all day or close up early in the afternoon.

I knew places might be closed and so did a walk through of Montergueil when I first left the apartment. I saw that everything seemed to be open, so instead of shopping for the groceries I needed, I wandered around more and took photos. Then I noticed the line below in front of a boulangerie waiting for bread. A few minutes later, I noticed vendors cleaning up. Finally I started piecing together that the reason all those crates and boxes I had been shooting were out on the sidewalk was that the sellers were wrapping up early that day. I scrambled to pick up what I needed and was mostly successful. Within half an hour nearly all the markets were closed.


December 23, 2008

Paris Observations: Legends of Christmas

IMG_0575, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

This display in the windows of BHV, a department store in the Marais, Paris, was labeled "Legends of Christmas." Personally, I don't remember any Christmas stories about dragons or unicorns, so I'm guessing this is something culturally specific.

December 3, 2008

Paris Observations: RollerBlading Police

IMG_7420 - Version 2, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

One night in Paris we came across cops cruising around on Rollerblades. A few minutes later, we say them giving a driver a ticket. Sadly, we didn't see how they pulled over the car, but that would have been a sight.

July 10, 2008

France: Paris Train Show

IMG_5247, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Champs-Elysee, Paris. June 2003.

There was a Train Show on the Champs-Elysee when I visited Paris during the summer of 2003. The obvious cultural difference here is that the French were having a public show boasting the technology of rail transportation while the US, even now sees 'starve the beast' as the best way to deal with such alternate transportation. You'll rarely see anything like this in the States as it is.I've gone on my tirades before while discussing the shinkansen in Japan, so I'll leave that alone.

More jarring that that was this train car, above. It's a cattle car, which was used during The War to deport Jews, among many others, to concentration camps. This was amazing to me. I can't imagine anything like this taking place here in the US.

One of the most fascinating parts of visiting Europe to me is the remarkable perspective they have on history. Europeans live surrounded by institutions and structures older than the United States. Something that happend 60 years ago is considered a recent event and something worthy of continued remorse. Here we consider 30 years of Affirmative Action sufficient to counter 400 years of oppression. Perspective is not something we do so well in the land of "You're either with us or against us."

Much can be said about whether the French are really admitting any culpability here. There are a million perspectives on history. Regardless, the mere acknowledgment strikes me as more mature than anything I've seen here at home.

July 7, 2008

BAM AfroPunk Festival

IMG_6439, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

This weekend BAM opened up the AfroPunk Festival with an outdoor concert and a skatepark in the parking lot.

From the BAM site:

Say it loud! The Afro-Punk Festival is back at BAM for the fourth year running. We're delivering six days of films about black rebellion and change, as well as a celebration filled with music, a skate park, a special DIY marketplace, and much more. Spend your fourth of July by celebrating a real revolution.

Punk isn't really my thing, but Black folks doing the unexpected appeals to me. I stopped in for a little while, until the music got to be too much for me.

It was cool seeing all these kids trying out tricks on the ramps, maybe one of these days I'll catch one of them at the X Games.

May 5, 2008

Murakami @ The Brooklyn Museum

IMG_5551 - Version 2, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

I finally got a chance to see the Murakami exhibit the other day. It pretty much epitomized everything I expect from Japanese pop culture: weird, cutesy creatures, giant, scary creatures (sometimes, the same creatures) and periodic burst of wildly inappropriate sexuality. There were also a fair number of poop and fart references. What more do you need?

Art criticism isn't my strong suit, so I'll just say I enjoyed the show a lot and hope to check it out again before it wraps up.

April 27, 2008

Photo of the Day: La NĂ©gresse

IMG_7350, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Several years ago, when I first saw this piece, I was transfixed. Mostly by the intensity in her eyes, but also by the clear African characteristics of her face. That's something you don't often see in museum art.

Later, I was struck with deja vu while standing in a huge open hall at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. "Fountain of the Four Parts of the Earth" by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux depicts this woman, along with four other representatives of the peoples of the world, holding up the globe. It took me 10 minutes of racking my brain to understand why I recognized her.

It wasn't until my recent visit to the Met that I finally understood her expression. According to the caption, the bust is captioned, "Why Born a Slave?"

November 25, 2007

Mexico City Observations: Smoking

IMG00054.jpg, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

I know I said the same thing about the Japanese, but they smoke a lot in Mexico too. This couple sat across from us at Tezka. Before the woman sat down she took out a pack of Marlboro Lights and put it on the table. The two of the chain smoked for the entire meal.

I try not to be one of 'those' non-smokers who bitch incessantly whenever someone lights up and I'm not complaining about this. It was just fascinating to see. I haven't been anywhere in the US where people smoke while they eat in easily a decade.

In our hotel, there are ashtrays every 10 feet along the hall of our non-smoking floor.

November 6, 2007

'Tis the Season?

IMG_9507, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

I really can't believe that the holiday shopping season is starting already. Last week I heard a story about Walmart starting their Christmas sales with the first weekend of November, I didn't realize that everyone else would be following suit. How ridiculous.

November 2, 2007

Photo of the Day: Out for a Smoke, back in 5 minutes

Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. 2007.

October 26, 2007

Nasville: Viva NashVegas

IMG_8960, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

This afternoon, after I checked in, I walked down the Broadway strip, past some of the 'Honky Tonks" that made this town famous and, presumably a bunch of others that jumped on after the fact. It seemed a little surreal to me. Odd, because I've never seen a honky tonk before, much less a dozen within a couple blocks, yet the scene seemed familiar.

So much of the street appeared to be commercialized and contrived to sell to tourists. Crazier to me was that the sign above was proudly proclaims that this strip is becoming a little Las Vegas.

It made me a little sad, even though I don't have any allegiance to the music or its history. A little scared too... I imagine The Bronx in 40 years made into an amusement park for hip-hop, complete with stores selling fake gold chains and 50 Cent or Kanye West blaring over the PA system on every corner.


September 10, 2007

The Red Hook Ball Fields

IMG_5307, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

I -finally- made it out to Red Hook to check out the food at the ball fields that I've been hearing so much about since last summer. It was fantastic.

Despite the picture above, I didn't have any corn. All the food that I actually ate was gone long before I even considered taking a photo of it.

We scarfed down the best empanadas I've ever had, followed by tasty taquitos filled with juicy, braised beef. Then, while in line for something else, Tammi, the love of my life, brought a gigantic pork quesadilla and a pork taco about the same size. They were so long that they had to span two paper plates to hold them.

It's hard to say which of the food I had there was my favorite. The empanada was amazing and unlike any I'd ever had before. Inside it there were olives, raisins and boiled egg whites. Instead of ground beef, the meat was chopped into small cubes. With my first bite, I was intrigued and a little confused. The olives were stationed in each corner. I didn't expect the vinegary taste and firm crunch. When I looked closer to find all these unexpected ingredients adding wonderful nuances and striking contrasts, I wanted another one before I was done with the first.

The pork quesadilla was incredible. It was gigantic, rolled rather than flattened and full of thick, gooey cheese and exquisite chunks of porcine incredibleness. I can't say any more on this or I may burst into tears.

My one disappointment was with the Pupusas, thick doughy tortillas filled with meat and cheese. I had heard talk about them before and then the longest line in the park was in front of the Salvadoran table offering them. I was sure this was going to be the star of the show. Eh. Not so much. I found them to be too grainy and doughy. The meat and the cheese were there, but not nearly prominently enough.

The service behind the table was so chaotic that I had to get my Spanish-speaking friend who came out with us to tell them that I hadn't paid and ask how much I owed. They are probably a victim of their own success. I can't imagine how the influx of business from foodies and hipsters who've read about the place on Gothamist or the New York Times has affected the quality of the food. There were 20 people, at least, in that line. I'm sure the pressure behind the table is to get everyone fed, even if it's a bit underdone. Or maybe I'm totally off and I just don't like pupusas.

In either case, I hope to make it out there one more time before they close up for the season. If I manage to get there early enough to avoid a line, I'll definitely try it again.

June 23, 2007

Japanese Ear Cleaner

Japanese Ear Cleaner, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Did you know there are two types of earwax?

From Wikipedia:
"There are two distinct genetically determined types of earwax: the wet type, which is dominant, and the dry type, which is recessive. Asians and Native Americans are more likely to have the dry type of cerumen (grey and flaky), whereas Caucasians and Africans are more likely to have the wet type (honey-brown to dark-brown and moist). Cerumen type has been used by anthropologists to track human migratory patterns, such as those of the Inuit."

I heard about this on The World a while back and was fascinated by the concept.

I had no idea that there was more than one type of earwax before hearing that story. It's one of those things I think most people presume is the same in everyone else.

The reporter talks about a childhood ritual common in Chinese families at least, where her mother scraped the hard, crunchy earwax out of her ear with a tiny spoon.

I decided I had to track down one of these ear cleaners myself while we were in Japan. I got this from a rather large selection in the hygiene section at Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku, Tokyo. I didn't see any shaped like a spoon, but there was a pretty large variety, many much more ornate than this little one.

Japanese Toilets

IMG_3613, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

I've been trying to figure out how to describe the toilets since we got there and found one of these hi-tech potties in our room.

The most basic ones 'only' have bidet features, controlled by the console on the side. Using the buttons, you can have it spray the front or the back and determine the water pressure. More advanced toilets have heated seats, deodorizers and running water sounds to mask any offending noises.

It was incredibly weird at first, now I wonder how I can get one at home...

Ramen Shop Vending Machines

IMG_3630, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Another rather cool thing we happened upon were these vending machines in front of a number of small ramen shops in Tokyo. Before you walk into the shop, you decide which dish you want, buy a ticket from this machine and hand it to the person behind the counter.

Again, brilliant!

This was incredibly helpful to us, since it meant avoiding most of the language difficulty involved with ordering food. All we had to do was look at the pictures and press a button.

Besides being a convenience for tourists, it's a great business idea. It frees up space inside the tiny shops and time for the workers. They don't have to waste half the staff taking orders because it's dealt with already. Every place we went to with this system had only two people running the show.

The corollary, of course, is that it's just replacing workers with machines, passing the work on to the customers, something I'm usually firmly against. In this case though, the places are so small that I can't imagine where a cashier would even go.

June 18, 2007

Random Observations: Keep to the Left


You'd think the hardest part about visiting a place like Japan where they drive on the left would be trying to avoid getting hit by a car. It turns out that that part is relatively easy.

What I've found to be more difficult is getting used to walking on the left. Over and over again, I've found myself walking against traffic after I've veered right without noticing.

Random Observations: Brilliant!


Everyone talks about the big technological differences that are vastly superior in Japan. What struck me were these random little things I saw there that I loved:

*When you hit the elevator call button, the light goes off on the elevator that is going to come. I don't know how common it is, but we saw this in a few places.

*In our last hotel, the Cerulean in Shibuya, Tokyo, the center of the bathroom mirror is heated. After taking a shower, everything is steamed up except for that.

*Next to the bed a couple of the hotels had controls to open and close the drapes and curtains.

June 15, 2007

Bars in Japan

A few things I've learned in the last week about the bars in Japan:

1. Most don't open until 6 or 7. Even the hotel bars and the Irish pubs aren't open until 4-5pm. This makes it difficult when all you want it a beer after schlepping around town lost for a couple hours.

2. There just aren't that many bars, in the sense that I'm used to. Most are at least partially restaurants. Apparently a lot of the drinking here is done in restaurants. It's cool, but can make it a bit more difficult picking a place out.

3. They are often hidden in otherwise anonymous office buildings, making them a lot more difficult to find.

June 14, 2007

Random Observation: Check Please!

IMG_3324, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Apparently, in Japan, the way to signal that you want the check is to make an 'X' with your two index fingers as demonstrated above by my lovely assistant.

Random Observations: Cell Phones

IMG_2559, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

It's no surprise that the cell phones in Japan are more advanced than ours. Or that the Japanese are fixated on their phones, perpetually staring into them on the train, in the street and just about everywhere else.

I was surprised to see how big the phones are here. Nearly every phone I've seen, including the hot new phone pictured above, is huge compared to the phones we carry around at home. I guess when it comes to features versus size, they choose features.

Photo of the Day: The Salaryman

IMG_2086, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

The closest we've seen to the notorious salarymen of Japan. This was in Shiodome, Tokyo. He did look pretty torn up though.

June 12, 2007

Random Observations: Smoking

, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

The Japanese smoke a lot. Maybe not as much as the French, but pretty close.

Harajuku Greasers

IMG_1835, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Just around the corner from the cosplay girls, a totally different type of dress-up was going on. These guys were dressed up like 50's greasers, complete with the leather, the motorcycles and the bouffant hair-dos. The women looked like they were going to a sock-hop. The guys mostly hung around in a circle looking cool while a few of them danced in the middle.

Tammi and I had the same idea when we saw this: At home they'd be charging for this. In the states or in Europe all of this would be busking and we'd never think anything about it. Just someone trying to get some money from us. In a culture with no tipping, these folks just do it for fun.

Random Observations: Kids

IMG_2501, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Kids are great. They have no superego telling them, "Don't look at the great big dark man who doesn't look like anyone you've ever seen."

I don't really know the proper reaction, but I'm amused nonetheless.

Hibiya Park

, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

On our first day in Tokyo, I wandered around the area while Tammi napped and came across Hibiya Park, just a couple blocks away. Shortly after getting into the park, I started to hear yelling and chanting coming from one corner. I followed it to discover these guys flailing about singing and gesturing to each other. I have no idea what it was.

On the way out, I found another set of guys doing the same thing, this time making stabbing motions towards themselves. It was very strange.

Harajuku Girls


On multiple recommendations, Tammi and I headed out to Tokyo's Harajuku on Sunday to see the show at Yoyogi Park. Every weekend teenagers into 'cosplay' show up dressed in elaborate outfits, wearing layers of make up and freaky custom contact lenses. They sit out at the entrance to the Meiji shrine and hang out. This has become a tourist attraction and when we got there, at least half the people out there were taking pictures of these kids.

I was very apprehensive about the whole thing at first. My photos of people tend toward the candid. I feel like there's a sort of purity in catching people unaware. Seeing subjects as they are, without the pretense of a pose or a primp, is equal parts honesty and voyeurism. It's real.

Further, I've known more than a few angsty teens in my time who view their outrageous styles as expressions of their true beings and, regardless of how disingenuous as it may have seemed to everyone else, insisted that they did not want everyone's attention.

So the idea of walking up to someone and sticking a camera in their face seemed inappropriate.

I hung back for a bit, shooting from afar, watching the tourists pose with these kids. Then I noticed that all of the cos-play kids were eager to pose. They held up signs, in English to attract attention, they sat through photo after photo as Americans and Italians and everyone else pointed and shot. They loved it and were actually there for the attention.

Out of everything I saw there, that was probably the weirdest thing about the entire experience for me.

May 12, 2007

Talk Radio

I can count on one hand the number of broadway shows I've been to. I often hear about plays (never musicals) that I might be interested in seeing, but I rarely end up actually going. So, when Tammi offered to get a couple tickets to TalkRadio, I was psyched that one of us had some follow through.

I really wanted to see 12 Angry Men but ended up missing it. I had heard great things about Liev Schrieber's performance in it. He managed to beat out some really talented folks, including fellow castmembers for the Tony that year.

I don't know a lot about theatre and I mostly know Bogosian as the new captain on Law & Order: CI. Regardless, I obviously have an opinion on the show, however uninformed.

I enjoyed it, but I thought there were a couple of areas where it could have benefited from some subtlety on the actors' parts.

The biggest example of this is the drunken cataclysm in the end. It's very well done. Tammi said he really seemed like he was plastered up there. To me, the problem was that he was never tipsy. There was no transition in most of the major things that happened in the play. It was like a switch was flipped and everything turned upside down.

The other complaint was Stephanie March, who I also know from Law & Order. She clearly hasn't adjusted to the stage. Instead of projecting her first several lines, she seemed to be yelling at us. She did get better over the course of the show.


April 24, 2007

Photo of the Day: Feeling the Music

IMG_2528, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

dba, Frenchman Street, New Orleans. 2005.

April 9, 2007

Photo of the Day: dba New Orleans

IMG_7928, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

dba, Frenchman Street, New Orleans, 2004.

I've been going to dba in New York for years. When I found out they had a sister bar in New Orleans, I had to check it out the next time I went there.

The space is much bigger than the New York location, taking up two storefronts. The photo above is of on half of the space. To the right, there's a door to the other room which has a stage up for performances and the other side of the double bar.

The beer selection is exactly what I'd expect from dba: very extensive, and inclusive of many local beers. They get creative with the beer too. This is where I had my first "Dirty Ho," a beer cocktail mixing about 75% Hoegarden with a Framboise lambic. It's a pretty fantastic concoction, adding the fruit flavor of the lambic livens up the hoegarden, which in turn cuts the excess sweetness of the lambic.

The Frenchman Street strip of bars and restaurants sits just a few blocks outside the French Quarter, but is thankfully worlds away from the contrived excess of Bourbon Street. On my first trip to New Orleans, a friend who lived out there at the time took us to a couple of bars on Frenchman. It took me a couple trips before I could figure out how to get back there. It's a much more local scene so it totally bypasses the bead-throwing and nonsense found down the road. The strip runs about two or three blocks and it's full of music. Nearly every bar had some performance listed.

The last time I was at dba New Orleans, was two years ago. Tammi and I caught the Tony Dagradi Organ Trio performing with one of the Marsalis brothers on drums.

618 Frenchman Street,
New Orleans, LA. 70116

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[Updated 4.29.07. Added more info for The Bar List]

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