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Drinking Culture

Taking A Shot At Ms. Mae's



The following is a work of historical fiction. Mostly. 

O for a Muse of firewater, that would preserve some aspect of apprehension! A dive bar for a stage, drunkards to act, and dirtbags to behold the swelling scene! But pardon, gentle readers all, our cheap and rotgut spirits. For our favorite New Orleans Sommelier had sent me a challenge; after the balance of our lives had been spent building the worthy scaffold of our tolerances. Shot for shot, beer for beer; turning the accomplishment of many years drinking into an hourglass. Admit me then chorus to this history, who here upon your humble patience pray; gently to hear, kindly to judge, The Club Ms. Mae’s.

 

Thus with celerity, our swift scene flies to Napoleon and Magazine. Young men played basketball in the unfenced court across the street. Yelling. Fierce with competition. I watched their ball dripple helplessly into the intersection, stopping traffic. 

 

Ahead, the fences and orange barrels of the construction site along Napoleon Avenue were violently lit by passing headlights. I am convinced that the endless Napoleon Works Project is beset by imps. They come each night, I’m certain, and undo the labors wrought during the shift before. Nothing else can explain the duration of this project. But I had other matters to heed, my friends.  

 

A drinking contest was afoot. Either I or our favorite wine geek, Joey B, had shot off at the mouth once too often. Neither of us could recall. But someone was certainly an asshole. And so the somm had sent to me a dare, inscribed and sealed via his assistant’s assistant. Pompous bastard…

 

I was to choose the battle field. And as I am destitute, chose the cheapest place to get drunk in North America. I would show him how I dared being dared. 

 

The place could only be a bar. From blocks away, even a new-comer would know a cheap drink was quickly approaching in the wood-sided corner lot. A broad gallery balcony swept around the building, sheltering tables from the streetlights. And a large sign displaying a ship’s wheel and the words, “The Club Ms. Mae’s” hung above the corner door. If this is a club, kind reader, then I’m a club kid.

 

“I got that yay,” offered one kindly enroute gentleman, leaning casually against a supporting post of a Magazine Street upper balcony.

 

“I couldn’t possibly…” I declined. It wouldn’t be fair. “Although those fine fellows over there do seem in need,” I nodded toward the two young men who seemed to have fallen asleep upon the bus bench on the corner. College students are simply not allowed enough time to sleep these days, I thought as I pushed inside. 

 

It is a large room. Dark and light brown wood. Chipped paint. Weathered patina. High tin ceilings with hanging fans greeted me as I entered. Wide and spacious, the wooden bar ran down the left side, video poker down the right. And round tables filled the center space, each surrounded by cheap chairs.   

 

Two more rooms of equal height and breadth had been knocked through toward the back. Pool table and arcade machine. Air hockey and foosball table. Wooden booths at the far end are as likely to shelter a horizontal patron as a vertical one. 

 

I took a stool at the bar. 

 

“Yeah?” the diminutive old bartender asked, ambling over from his conversation with a young couple at the other end. 

 

“Shot of tequila and a Highlife.” I was businesslike. One should never go into a drinking contest cold.  

 

“Four bucks.”

 

Outrageous! In the truest sign that inflation has run amok, the prices at Ms. Mae’s have doubled in the last five years. From the time when the bar occupied the space on Magazine that is now St. Joe’s, drinks had always been a mere dollar. 

 

But even at double the price, the business model remains effective. And broke college kids, poor locals, and those with a general scorn for consciousness can be found at the stools at any hour of day or night. 

 

I spied out three rogues gathered around one of the round tables in the center. Their quiet demeanor at first gave me cause to observe. For while half of Ms.  Mae’s crowd is often young students drinking themselves into oblivion, the other half can consist of sketchy old dirtballs sipping a coke and waiting to follow the first half out the door. 

 

But the three rakes soon proved harmless. From what I could pick up eavesdropping, the friends were holding a wake of sorts. The men were celebrating the life of their boss, Jack, with the Ms. Mae’s Twenty Four Hour Challenge. 

 

As one might guess, The Challenge is to have a drink every hour in Ms. Mae’s for twenty four consecutive hours. I believe you get a t-shirt. 

 

I was listening in to tales about old Jack – a most beguiling rascal it seemed – when Joey B finally made his entrance. 

 

“Sorry I’m late. Had to stop for Popeye’s.” Joey B said, conspicuously toting an orange chicken box. 

 

“Popeyes?! You swindler! You know right well that Popeye’s is considered a performance enhancing drug in a drinking contest. It is quite rightfully banned!”

 

“Here,” he said, tossing me the box. “You can have some.”

 

I eyed the French wine prince suspiciously as I opened the lid of the box. Slowly… as though a snake might be hidden therein. Empty!

 

“HaHa!” chortled the villain.

 

“Alright…” I frowned. “Let’s do this.”

 

“But not the well tequila,” I added. “It’s vicious.”

 

And so we sent to the barkeep for doubles of well whiskey – because doubles are only one dollar more. And with grim faces, we took a round table. And facing each other, shots lined up in the center of the table like soldiers upon a battlefield, readied ourselves to begin.

 

“This is no summer rosé, my delicate friend,” I goaded.

 

And Joey B took the bait, waded into the shots recklessly. And I matched him until all the shots lay in waste.

 

“Once more unto the bar, dear friends!” I called. And reinforcements were brought up.

 

But on the second round, my pace slowed. Joey B and I found ourselves surrounded on all sides by an instant crowd of college students. The second wind I had been counting on had not arrived. Things looked grim, gentle friends. 

 

From on high came my inspiration. A large photograph of New Orleans Saints’ Defensive Coordinator, Rob Ryan, hung over me. No-neck and smiling down. Like a Mr. Potato Head with a grey lion’s mane. 

 

Rumors abound that Mr. Ryan had incurred a thirty thousand dollar tab at Ms. Mae’s in the course of a season. And as Mae’s is a cash-only establishment, the thought of him rendering thirty large in a briefcase will forever inspire me. My friends, if that feat does not set you aflame, then you live not.

 

To the shots! Have at them!    

 

“This day,” I called out standing from the table over the fourth round, “is called the feast of Saint Isidore. Patron Saint of… I think the internet…”

 

“What’s says he, Bardolph?” asked one of the three rogues who sat yet on the next table, still in the midst of the 24 Hour Challenge.

 

“…and he that outdrinks this day and comes safe home will stand at tip toe when this day is named. And then will he strip his shirt, and show his liver transplant scar, and say, “This wound I have because of St. Isidore’s day.” 

 

My adversary forced down another shot and I did likewise. We teetered, eyes fluttering into twilight. 

 

“And gentleman of New Orleans will think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks… 

 

“Shut up!”

 

“…who drank with us, upon St. Isidore’s Day!”

 

THUD.

 

Previous Drinking Culture Columns

Follow Joseph Toman on Twitter @TomanJoseph

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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