New Orleans, La. –
The historic Sazerac Bar is special to a lot of New Orleanians, though it's extra special for one of my best friends. Let's call him Keith since, well, that's his name. He had a first date there with a young medical student named Eva one night in 2002, when the hotel where the Sazerac is located was called the Fairmont.
That first date went well, as did many others that followed, and in time Keith and Eva were engaged. By early 2005 they'd moved away to pursue their careers, telling us that maybe they'd move back someday. I doubted it then. They clearly loved New Orleans, but there's a well-trodden path of people who begin their careers here but feel compelled to leave to advance them. They dream of moving back, sure, but really they only do for occasional visits. You see them at the odd Jazz Fest, say, or Mardi Gras, looking wistful and nostalgic, but with fully formed lives and pressing commitments in their new homes.
Still, Keith and Eva stayed in pretty close contact with New Orleans. They even held their wedding here back in March 2006, despite -- or perhaps because of -- the harrowing circumstances in the city just seven months after Hurricane Katrina. The city was the cradle of their romance, after all, and they are romantics. It was just too bad, I thought during their nuptials, that they couldn't stroll the lobby of the Fairmont during their visit and recreate that first date at its Sazerac Bar, which then was of course shuttered in its extended post-Katrina limbo.
Well, last year Keith and Eva surprised everyone in our little group of friends by announcing their plan to move back to New Orleans, and made good on that promise in the waning days of 2010. They have two young children now, and their careers are in high gear, so their life in New Orleans will naturally be much different than when they resided here last.
But what a nice turn that at least the bar where they launched their relationship is still there -- or rather, it's back, after a long hiatus. The Waldorf Astoria bought and renovated the old Fairmont, reopening it in 2009 under the property's historic name, the Roosevelt Hotel. The Sazerac reopened too, with the same look and feel as always.
Maybe the return of a bar - even a historic bar in a landmark hotel -- isn't so momentous in a city with the problems ours faces. Our population is much lower, pervasive blight and crime persists and our protecting coast continues to disappear.
But I'm convinced that often it's the small things that bind this unlikely place together and that help bind us to it. They help make up our own personal New Orleans stories and they speak to a sense of place we know is irreplaceable. It's these stories that help animate our city and make it greater in our hearts than any statistics or national comparisons ever could on paper.
The Sazerac Bar is part of the story of New Orleans. That first date at the Sazerac Bar is part of my friends' own New Orleans story. And, because I'm close with them, it's part of my New Orleans story too. This particular story will come full circle when I get them a round at the Sazerac - or better yet, when I get them a babysitter so they can just go themselves.
123 Baronne St., New Orleans, 504-648-1200