It’s not hard to see why. Within a couple of miles of McCool’s is Esplanade Avenue, one of the city’s oldest and grandest boulevards. On one end, the greenery of City Park spreads for acres, housing the New Orleans Museum of Art among its old oaks and exquisite new plantings. One golf course has reopened in the park, and plans for two more, including a championship course, seem to be moving forward.
On either side of Esplanade, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops are nestled into residential pockets, all within walking distance of one another. At Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, neighbors meet every morning to read the paper and talk through the latest outrages of the city’s political class. Down the street, Liuzza’s by the Track serves perhaps the best barbecued-shrimp po’boy (an overstuffed sandwich on French bread) and gumbo available on earth. Lola’s, a tiny restaurant that offers Spanish dishes with hints of Creole influence, has a line out the door on many nights. Thankfully, you can bring your own bottle of wine to drink while you wait.
And then there’s the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, a horse-racing track which opens for the season on Thanksgiving. It doubles as the site of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, more commonly known as JazzFest, which every year for seven days over two weekends features big-name national acts of all genres along with the crème de la crème of local musicians.
All the best places in Mid-City are perpetually populated with regulars, so there’s little chance that an out-of-towner will be able to seamlessly blend in. Luckily, the locals never mind new blood. On the fourth anniversary of Katrina, for instance, Patterson’s wife, Paulene, who co-owns Finn McCool’s, decided it best to celebrate the recovery rather than wallow in the tragedy. She asked the pub’s regulars to write about their love for New Orleans. Her favorite note read: “You can walk into anywhere alone, and by the end of the night, you have a roomful of friends.”
I come alone to the Bywater, but true to the McCool’s patron’s words, before too long, I have a roomful of friends at Mimi’s, a two-story tavern and restaurant. The bartender, Sean White, brings me a beer as I gnaw through a sloppy roast-beef po’boy I bought from Gene’s Po-boys nearby. Nobody minds that I’m eating takeout grub at the bar; most places here allow outside food and drinks.