When Tennessee Williams first visited New Orleans, in 1938, he recorded his impression of the city in his journal: “Here surely is the place I was made for.” And, of course, he was not alone. Writers and prominent figures, from Franklin Roosevelt and Mark Twain to John Goodman and Lenny Kravitz, have all put pen to paper to pay tribute to the Crescent City. The common denominator in all of their sentiments? That the magic and culture of this city transcend its geographical borders—in other words, there’s a little bit of New Orleans stirring in every soul.
That influence was on full display during 5 Nights in New Orleans, a series of dinners Garden & Gun hosted to commemorate the city’s 2018 tricentennial. Held in Atlanta; Charleston, South Carolina; Chicago; Nashville; and Washington, D.C., the events conjured the spirit of Louisiana’s fabled city through food, drinks, and, of course, lots and lots of music. “Music is part of the fabric of life in New Orleans,” says Charlie Halloran, whose famed trio headlined the Chicago: A Taste of NOLA dinner. “It’s what makes New Orleans New Orleans, honestly. It isn’t necessarily going to a concert—it’s walking down the street and there’s a band playing, it’s going to dinner and there’s music there. That’s what we brought to Chicago.”
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, after all, where Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick, Jr., and Trombone Shorty all learned to play. And today’s music scene thrums with the same sort of inclusive syncopation that has defined the city’s rhythm since its inception.
“New Orleans is music and connecting, whenever and wherever that music is played,” Halloran says. “Ten years ago, when I moved here, I was the youngest person playing music and no one knew who I was. Now I don’t know who anyone else is—and I love it. The young kids are great, both the ones who just arrived and the ones who grew up here and were playing at a professional level when they were twelve years old. So, really, as we look to the future of New Orleans, let’s just hope for three hundred more years of that.”
The forces that shape Crescent City culture extend to cocktails, as well. “Re-creating that sense of place with people outside of New Orleans,” says mixologist Abigail Gullo, one of the talented tastemakers and performers who teamed up with G&G to bring the New Orleans experience to life in Washington, D.C., through DC: The Spirit of NOLA, “was extremely important. It was not only about presenting the guests with our traditional cocktails but also with our history and the stories that underpin our cocktails’ creation and how we enjoy them.”
And, of course, when it comes to New Orleans, it is always about the food. Oh, the food. “That dinner was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had cooking—anywhere,” says chef Kelly Fields, who transformed Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe into a New Orleans dive for her Bons Temps at the Bluebird dinner. “In all of our traditional dishes, we pay tribute to who we are and where we’ve been in every pot we stir—you have to think about the past and how these dishes came together to enjoy them now. The spirit of celebration in that room in Nashville—well, it completely honored all of it.”
New Orleans is nothing if not a sensory city, which is perhaps why it’s so easy to experience the allure. At each of the 5 Nights dinners, tastemakers and talented entertainers served guests a feast for all senses—dynamic performances, authentic dishes with truly original flavor, and plenty of storytelling.
Is it any wonder, then, that most guests left resolved to visit for the first time, or return to, the Crescent City? New Orleans has a way of inspiring folks to travel. But whether you come for the day, the week, or a long weekend, or stay indefinitely the way countless transplants have done before, one thing is certain: The magic of the city will linger long after the visit has ended.
Because in the end—to paraphrase a popular saying—you don’t have to live in New Orleans for New Orleans to live in you.
“We had people who come to New Orleans regularly, we had people who were from the New Orleans area and had left and still feel so attached to it, and then we had people who had never been here at all and who were absolutely blown away by the stories and the flavors that each cocktail imbued,” says Gullo of her dinner crowd. “And since then, I’ve heard from them all, many of whom have since come to visit me here. And that’s really what we’re all about. Once you have a taste of New Orleans, you’re going to want to experience more.”
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