The Perfect Souvenir
We called it our “sparkle night”. Our last night in New Orleans. It meant nothing besides the fact that we all bought sparkly clothes to wear on this night. For me, it also meant I had one last night to impress the cute bartender at our favorite Bourbon Street bar, Channing Tatum's Saints and Sinners. Safe to say, Sparkle Night was a success.
The majority of sparkle night was a blur. We spent the majority of our time behind a roped off VIP area where we intoxicated ourselves, danced like fools, and waved to many passersby as if we were famous. About halfway into the night, I let it slip to the bartender's friend that I had a big crush on him and he, being the good wingman he was, helped me score his phone number. Looking back, it was such a “high school” way to accomplish it but in that moment, I didn’t care; I had my bartender’s phone number.
Our time to leave Sinners and Saints had come and we ventured back out to Bourbon Street to check out some of the other nightlife spots that we had missed. As we walked, visiting a few places along the way, my attention was constantly directed all around at the lights, sounds, and people that make this place so magical. I’d look to my left and see people laughing, stumbling, and exchanging beads for flashes of boobs. To my right, I’d see people throwing up much too casually, spilling their drinks, or sitting on the curb trying to keep their eyes open. My gaze refocused on the path in front of me and I locked eyes with, none other than, my bartender.
I parted ways with my friends to adventure with my new New Orleans guide. I hardly knew this guy but the feeling in my gut said that I was safe with him. We walked down Bourbon street a bit before taking a sidestreet to a small bar. This wasn’t any old bar though, this bar was filled with only the New Orleans bartenders who were fresh off their shifts. I felt like I was walking into a secret club.
New Orleans has so many different elements. You walk down Bourbon street and see all of the partying and drinking. You walk down Frenchman street and your ears and soul fill with jazz. You walk down Julia street and absorb all of the artistic talent from near and far. You walk down Royal street and learn the history and appreciate the architecture. What I was about to experience, though, was something that you can’t get a guided tour of.
This was the side of the night life that belonged to the bartenders. They would all come together to catch up after their wild shifts to blow off steam and share stories with their like-minded cohort. There were so many characters in this new scene I stepped into. There was a tall, older man pouring our drinks who ran the place. There was a woman who splits her time between bartending just around the corner and selling her body for drugs. There was a bartender that had served himself just as much as he served his patrons but was still awake enough to drink with us. There was a smaller group throwing darts and shit-talking each other in the corner. Then there was my bartender; not classically handsome but totally adorable, easy to talk to, and clearly well liked by his guild.
About 2 hours and a couple gin and tonics and I felt my eyes getting heavy. My friends were already back at the hotel and likely anxious and awaiting my return. We closed our non-existent tab (another perk of this taverner’s tavern) and my bartender walked me back to my hotel. It was much colder at 5:00am then it was at 11:00pm but the hoodie that my bartender gave me to wear provided a barrier to that reality. We were just over halfway back to my hotel and my bartender stopped in front of me. He turned to face me, looked me in my eyes and took my face in his hands as he kissed me. I had been waiting for this since the moment we met him on our first night on Bourbon street; it was evident he shared the sentiment. He tasted like cigarettes and gin and his beard and hands were rough on my face; the good kind of rough. He ran his hands from my face and into my hair and then down my back. He wrapped his arms around my waist and pressed me up against a brick wall of the nearest building where we stayed for several minutes. When we stopped and caught our breath, we locked eyes once again and laughed. We shared the connection we had both felt as we continued on our journey back.
When we arrived at my hotel, I kissed my bartender goodbye one final time and expressed my gratitude for keeping me safe while showing me a hidden part of the city. I slowly ascended the stairs still in thought of how perfect this ending was to my trip to The Big Easy. I arrived at my hotel room and opened the door to three sleeping beauties, when I realized I was still wearing my bartender’s hoodie. I would never possess a travel souvenir as perfect as this.