Liuzza’s by the Track (1518 N Lopez St.) is presumably if not ostensibly the unauthorized New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival command post, since it’s spitting distance from the Sauvage Street entrance and a frequent rendezvous before and after each day’s events. Don’t take my word for it, take my word for it.
We live in the neighborhood, blocks away, and it IS our second home, as only the by-choice-beloved, more-than-comfortable watering hole that has adopted you could ever be in anyone’s life. If you’re anything like us (and who isn’t?), wherever you find yourself in the world, you latch on to a piece of real estate that becomes your anchor and refuge from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Every citizen of our unique city has such a place, from a nightly booty shaking at Vaughan’s to meetings of Bill’s Friends at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse (sometimes both). It’s in our blood, possibly from drinking Mississippi river water or maybe because most of us didn’t have a proper home when we arrived here and still are not comfortable chez-nous. I don’t know—it’s moot for now; catch me over drinks and we’ll talk.
Back to Liuzza’s by the Track (LBTT). We know the staff by name, age and temperament; likewise, we know the regulars we encounter upon our arrivals and they, in turn, know us. We celebrate birthdays, game days and theme days (Karen’s going-away party was a classic). LBTT is known for its stellar sandwiches (all meats cooked in-house), its gumbo, daily specials and its legendary BBQ shrimp po-boy, which I’m sure will be served in Heaven if and when I get there. Cozy in size, large in stature, comfy, quirky and intrepid in operation; it’s a classic New Orleans gem.
The kitchen rocks into the lunch and early dinner hour (food stops at 7 pm) and regular bar clients tend to drift in to watch Jeopardy and to commiserate over world events, local doings and Vanna White’s choice of wardrobe for the evening.
And every March, come hell or high water, before any of you Swinging Richards have even made reservations or purchased tickets, Jimmy Lemarie begins preparations for the annual Greeting of the Festers at Liuzza’s. Scheduling, ordering, organizing and coordinating above and beyond what’s been accomplished all year by the gallant and valiant staff.
Now, somebody reading this is sure to have had the life (bordering on near-death) experience of preparing for an impending onslaught of activity and the need to have all bases covered. Contingency planning to correct errors and find solutions to unexpected challenges requires experience, imagination and intelligence—essential ingredients for success. Slalom skiing, wrestling alligators, French kissing sharks and driving getaway cars come to mind here.
In other words, being ready when Murphy raises his ugly head (when the fit hits the Shan) and being able to make snap decisions, turn on a dime and roll with the punches. Multiply that. In New Orleans, being able to perform this way—shooting from the hip, so to speak—is elevated to an art form. You have to anticipate the party and its attendees, choose the best people for the appropriate jobs and then give them full rein. Back away and step in only when necessary. Jimmy’s job as owner of LBTT is as much hands-on as hands-off.
You’ll see the welcome sign painted in the asphalt outside the iconic location and inside will be the same madcap crew that, as neighbors, we see all year long. Like a well-oiled machine—before, during and after Jazz Fest hours—they’ll offer Bloody Marys and other libations, signature menu items and very cold beer, reasonably priced.
The chairs and tables become a banquette gathering place, with music on the street corners, sidewalk vendors selling, and swirling drinks swilled. Old friends greet each other and acquaintances that were made last year and in years past specific to this celebration embrace as long-lost co-conspirators in the happiest event this side of Paradise.
Very few people will spot Jimmy. He has the ability to be unobtrusive but he’s a force of nature who is used to getting things done his way, quietly (okay, sometimes not quietly), quickly and competently. Period. It’s a job that I wouldn’t want and suspect that I couldn’t do. He does it.
That being said, say, “Thank you, Jimmy.” And if you’re of a mind to find (what we would consider) affordable rent, register and participate in our voting processes. Observe our recycling programs and rules of the road and land. If you’re willing to accept the things you cannot change and change the things you can, if you can accept our funk and not our failures, if you’re ready to yell “Who Dat!” and blaze a trail of fried chicken bones through our neighborhoods, write letters to the editors, swim in our public pools, dance in the streets and fall in love with our sass and sassafras: y’all stay.
If not, we’ll see you next year. I’ll keep your bar stool warm.