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Getting Well Done at Yo Mama's

Gentle reader, if someone’s mother is indeed responsible for this French Quarter establishment, the social services should have stepped in long ago and relieved her of progeny. It is a strange place, my friends. But the only place I can get my “fix,” as they say. Nothing else will do. So be resigned, and creep with me like a scurrilous junky to score a dram of mescal and a peanut butter hamburger at Yo Mama’s Bar and Grill.


Rue St. Peter is never dark, even on the darkest of nights. And that night was no different. I picked through the sparse crowd of polo-shirted college preps and pot-bellied rubes. Goateed baby boomers in expensive leather vests slummed it before Pat O’Brians. The banker bikers’ shiny, top-end Harley Davidsons stood all in a row.  I have made this trip many times, gentles.


Muffled music seeped from the corroded, psychedelic patina of Preservation Hall across the street. Pungent smells leaked off Bourbon just a few feet ahead. Memories of my heady days of French Quarter waitering mixed with those sounds and aromas. The sign of Yo Mama’s hung before me under the gallery. Small. Square. Easy to miss. 


Just inside, a set of stairs leads up to a second floor. Upstairs is an open space. BDSM paraphernalia adorn the walls. A small bar takes up the back corner. Upstairs is the spot. The space feels more secluded – more like something discovered. But the weekend had passed, and the door to the upstairs was closed. I pressed on, no doubt scratching my neck and chest.   


The interior of Yo Mama’s ground floor suggests the possibility of a Waffle House Bordello. If Waffle House took to open a house of ill repute, and said bawdy burger house was allowed time to become badly dated, the feel would be exactly thus. 


A long wooden bar runs down the right side of the room. All along the backbar, lines of liquor bottles wait. A vast selection for an inn this size. A little further back, wooden booths stand upon a stepped-up platform. Behind stay the video poker and a large picture of an elegant blonde woman with an opium smile. I assume she is a prostitute. 


Hemispherical plastic light covers line the ceiling – mostly attached – and bathe all in a red glow. Plush red. Cathouse red. The light completes the mood with a hot, breathy whisper that smells of liquor and hamburgers. I took a stool at the bar.


A female bartender of middle years stood counting out cash on the backbar as I waited. An endless, linked chain of eternities crawled by as I lingered, nerve endings aflame.


“What you having?” the burger madam finally asked.


I knew the incantation. And thusly I spoke, annunciating each vowel and consonant in perfect elocution. “One peanut butter hamburger, my good lady. Medium. Dressed. No cheese. Loaded baked potato. 


Now friends, you may be tempted to order your burger at another temperature. No matter: it will arrive medium. And you may be desirous of cheese. Leave it off. Or perhaps you are onion-averse and wish to eschew the spicy root. Do not. And under no circumstances omit the bacon. Be you the most devout Muslim or Jew, the cured belly’s inclusion will gentle your term in purgatory.  


“And one of your Corona beers while I peruse the list of agave spirits, if you will,” I spake again.


Mexican beers make for fine drinking in the summertime. Crisp and refreshing. And four bucks.


A reedy young gentleman in a glowing white linen shirt and short pants took up a stool beside me. 


“I’ll just have a burger. Well done with ketchup.”




“Are there no french fries here?!” the delicate flower was incredulous. He settled on the mac and cheese.


I could understand this dainty man’s desire. Popped in to some random dive for a quick bite, he thought it safer to have his food scorched to death in the heart of a White Dwarf before it passed his lips.


“Ok… And to drink?”


“Just tap water.”


“Only have bottled water.”


“No tap water?” again with the incredulity. Little Lord Fontleroy beside me did indeed have a beef. The refusal of tap water is in breach of both custom and law. 


“Nope. If we served tap we’d be serving it all day. Life ain’t free, sweetheart.”


Like a well-coiffed Woody Allen, my neighbor worked himself up with quiet grumbling. The bartender moved off as I selected a liquor. 


Yo Mama’s carries one of the widest variety of tequilas and mescals in New Orleans. Perhaps the Gulf Coast. With well over one hundred offerings, the scale is equaled only by the oddness of its existence. The owner, it is said, is a great enthusiast.  


Rows and rows of silvers, añejos, reposados and mescals. Even the legendary AsomBroso 11 year extra añejo that runs around $700 per bottle wholesale was in evidence. $150 a shot on the list. 


I settled on a single village mescal from Del Maguey. The Chichicapa village. The salty and smoky depth of such a wondrous spirit is a steal at $10. 


Without hesitation, the barkeep walked five steps, turned, and retrieved the bottle. She poured me out a measured shot.


“Indeed!” I remarked. “Impressive to find the bottle so easily!”


“I’ve been here a long time,” she replied. Three years, she said. Judging by the number of faces I’ve seen behind that bar, three years deserved a gold watch.


I sipped again, sensing the very earth of the rock-lined pits where the piñas were roasted.


“The bathroom was… interesting,” remarked the childlike woman who sat down beside my prim neighbor. Slightly scandalized and studiously disinterested.  Like a New Yorker of Californian descent. 


But I could sympathize. For I have made the journey to the bathrooms in Yo Mama’s. The path is an Indiana Jones-esque adventure through a rat-infested side alley. Bathrooms await at the end, plastered in the hardest of core pornography. Not bad, really.


Beads of nervous sweat had developed on my brow as I sipped the beer and mescal in turn. I fidgeted, staring at the tequila barrel that sits on the back bar, aging Sauza silver for the owner. Loss of control seemed inevitable.


And then it arrived. Plopped before me unceremoniously. Without a word. I removed the pale tomato, seized the burger, and bit down like a starveling.


A burst of umami. The creamy peanut butter takes on the texture of melted cheese. The smokiness of the bacon plays against the sweet bite of the onion. All my muscles relaxed.


And as it turns out, my friends, mescal is the perfect pairing.

Previous Drinking Culture Columns

The text above is a column and expresses only the opinion of the author, not NOLA Defender or NOLA Defender's Editorial Board.


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