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ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE

Best New Comeback on Frenchmen Street

Regulars who wept when Dream Palace closed down -- and never got into the swing of things at Jack Maheu's Tin Roof Cafe -- finally wiped their eyes and smiled with the spring opening of the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street. Amidst the hipper-than-hip, the Blue Nile offers a laid-back counterpoint with a mixed-bag booking that reached its peak over Jazz Fest with the legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo. You can't beat the moody-but-classy interior, and owners literally reversed field by making the stage face the street, to the benefit of Frenchmen crawlers.

Best Way to Extend Happy Hour

Getting off work produces lots of energy --just ask Fred Flintstone. Now, this just-released-from-the-mill adrenaline rush can be combined with the dance grooves of Blake Amos and Saudade and the lack of a cover charge at weekly early-evening gigs at Spotted Cat. Taking a cue from the infectious fun of Brazilian pop, Blake Amos and Saudade draws crowds that inevitably spill out into the street in a chaotic, swirling mass. (Note: Though Amos has taken a sabbatical in New York City, the band keeps the scene going.)

Best Exploitation of a Venue's Possibilities

"We didn't come to theater; theater came to us!" Le Chat Noir owner Barbara Motley likes to say. Motley opened her impeccable St. Charles Avenue club three years ago to recapture the spirit of Parisian cabaret. But Le Chat Noir has become a surprising catch-all for theater productions mid-sized and small, ranging from tributes to Tom Lehrer and Janis Joplin, "cold reads," and Chris Rose's Asshole Monologues. But Motley hasn't forgotten Le Chat's raison d'etre: cabaret star Karen Akers will come down from New York City for a three-weekend stand Oct. 4-5, 6-7 and 10-12.

Best Place to Jump Around and Sing Johnny Cash Covers

Sometimes it's the perfect marriage of band and venue that makes an evening memorable. That's why we're always willing to bounce along the potholes under the interstate to catch Egg Yolk Jubilee at the Mermaid Lounge. The Lounge's stage is vast enough to hold the sprawling brass ensemble, but accessible enough that the crowd can get up close and personal with Rocco Fancypants. The vibe provides a great setting for Egg Yolk's irreverent take on jazz/blues/rockabilly, and Mermaid regulars aren't afraid to dance like manic rock stars -- which is really the only acceptable response to Egg Yolk's cover of "Ring of Fire."

Best Place to Share a Water Bowl

Most establishments ix-nay even the suggestion of coming in with a canine buddy, but the dog-friendly Bridge Lounge is one exception. If your pup is well-behaved and stays on a leash, he or she can hang out while you're knocking down an Abita Turbo Dog or two. Pooches are welcome every day except Thursdays (when the bar sponsors wine tastings) and the management has only one request: after your four-legged friend has slurped a healthy amount of water from one of the available dog bowls, it's time to take a little walk.

Best Place To Avoid Movie Lines

It may be the best-kept cinematic secret around the city: the Palace 16 on Manhattan Boulevard in Harvey. It must be the "Harvey" designation that deters East Bankers, but the theater is only about 15 minutes from downtown. Even movie opening nights are navigable, especially if you call ahead and reserve tickets. The only line you have to contend with then is the one for popcorn and drinks.

Best Regular Gig that Stays Fresh

Drummer Johnny Vidacovich & bassist George Porter Jr.'s Wednesday gigs at the Old Point Bar. It's a simple premise with stellar results: put a dream rhythm section together, and let them play with a rotating cast of special guests, including June Yamagishi, Tab Benoit and Anders Osborne.

Best Addition to Jazz Fest Nights

The Ponderosa Stomp made a soulful and impressive debut during the 2002 Jazz Fest season, filling Uptown's Fine Arts Center with three nights of classic New Orleans R&B and blues, swamp pop and swamp rock, and rockabilly and rock and roll. Where else could you see Earl Palmer, D.J. Fontana and Warren Storm sharing the drum chair, while legends like Dave Bartholomew and Lazy Lester led a rotating all-star band?

Best Place to See Shakespeare for Shakespearean Prices

In Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre, the lofty gallery seats were reserved for the aristocracy, while the standing room in front of the stage was the realm of the commoners, or "groundlings." The Bard played to the groundlings with bawdy bathroom jokes while appeasing the nobility with elegant soliloquies. This summer's Shakespeare Festival at Tulane carried on the tradition of making good theater affordable with half-price preview performances and "Pay-What-You-Will-Night," which asked only a minimum $2 donation. Audiences for Love's Labours Lost and Measure for Measure could snicker at the antics of Gary Rucker and Gavin Mahlie and sit wherever they choose.

Best Tribute to Orwell with Cheap Beer

Every Thursday night, people line outside the door for "1984," the Shim Sham's popular 1980s retro night. For its homage to '80s retro rock, the Shim Sham rolls back the price of Rolling Rock to $1 a bottle, perfect for toasting Big Brother while two DJs spin metal, glam, dark wave and industrial music, all from the '80s.

Best Theatrical Fusionist

With an approach that falls somewhere between performance art and the performing arts, Ada Hann is winning fans with her blend of drama, mime, clown and yoga. She's performed in festivals from New Orleans to San Francisco to Marciac, France, and appeared as a "human toy" in Exit to Eden. You can catch her at local coffeehouses and other performance spaces, stirring up physical theatre and drama with music and poetics, with a recipe that's all her own.

Best Substitute for a Jazz Brunch

Locals have alternately groaned and rejoiced over the late-night jam band scene that has begun to choke local nightclubs during Jazz Fest in recent years. Ever since Phish graced -- or disgraced, depending on your view -- the Fairgrounds in 1996, promoters have been boasting "sunrise shows" that last till dawn. This year, the ante was upped with the so-called "breakfast shows," which brought us such scenes as the electronica funk of California's Particle warming up for a set on Frenchmen Street -- at 8 a.m.

Best Addition to Jazz Fest

The Blues Tent and the portable "people misters" weren't the only new sights at the Fairgrounds this year. Festival officials greatly expanded the facilities for disabled people at Jazz Fest 2002, including preferred seating and crowd-clearing security guards at the tents, plentiful parking, ample bathrooms, and a bank of about 40 wheelchairs on loan by the Disabled Veterans of America. Now, if only they'd stick a few of the "people misters" in the Blues Tent ....

Best Festival You Might Not Have Heard Of

The tranquil good times at the oft-forgotten Bayou Lacombe Crab Festival on the Northshore make this event a hidden gem in the busy spring-summer festival season. This year marked its 29th anniversary in the shaded and serene John Davis Park off Highway 190 in St. Tammany Parish, during the last weekend in June. The fest offers live music, arts and crafts, carnival rides and full and fat crabs, prepared in myriad ways. Friday admission is free and it's only four bucks on the weekend. Mark your calendar for next year's 30th anniversary.


FOOD/RESTAURANTS

Best Place to Have Lunch by Yourself

The Royal Blend location tucked into an upscale shopping corner on Metairie Road takes both its available reading material and its tasty, health-conscious menu seriously. Lunchtime is the right time for any one of a variety of oversized salads or specialty sandwiches, all in a bright, airy room with one whole wall of magazines and newspapers available for purchase.

Most Excusable (But Perhaps a Little Too Detailed) Reason for a Temporary Sno-ball Stand Closure

"Closed Due to Kidney Stones" read the sign outside Hansen's Sno-Bliz for a few worrisome days this summer. Turns out it was Judge Gerard Hansen who was afflicted. No need to fear: he's back and feeling fine, as are his parents and daughter. All three generations will be dispensing their snowy wonders from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, until Hansen's closes for the season in mid-September.

Best Finger Food

The Red Sea Restaurant is the ideal setting for anyone who's ever bristled at the maternal command "Don't eat with your hands!" This mecca of Eritrean/Ethiopian cuisine, nestled in a little strip of nondescript storefronts just off South Carrollton Avenue, doesn't even offer utensils. Instead, all meals are served side-by-side on a communal wheel of teff injera, the light, spongy bread that's an East African staple; patrons roll the menu items up in the bread and start munching. Even Miss Manners would forego a fork and knife for Red Sea's spicy, flavorful entrees and vegetarian specials.

Best Hangover-free Mint Julep

The mint julep sno-ball at deVillier's Oak Street Snoballs -- one part sweet tea, one part lemonade and one part spearmint syrup -- provides all the mint but no Bourbon (unless you sneak some of your own into it).

Best Place For Belgian Food With No Waffles

Clementine's Belgian Bistro on the newly resurfaced Wright Avenue in Gretna delivers tastes uncommon to most New Orleanians. At this quaint restaurant (housed in the building that years ago was home to Willie Coln's renowned German restaurant), even the meatloaf is a little exotic. Imported beers come with their own glasses (according to type of brew) and some even have 1-2-3 instructions on pouring to give diners the ultimate beer experience.

Best New Twist on a New Orleans Favorite

Jacques-Imo's chef-owner Jack Leonardi is wild as his tropical shorts, and nowhere is that more evident than his -- get this -- batter-fried roast beef po-boy. It's not like the average New Orleans roast beef po-boy isn't rich enough, with debris and gravy spilling out all over the place. No, Leonardi has to take it one step further, and for that he earns our gratitude.

Best Mid-City Lunch Corner

For years, Juan's Flying Burrito has built a reputation as more than a Magazine Street burrito joint; artists, punk rockers, lawyers and students flock to Juan's in droves, making it an eclectophile's dream space. Here's to the same vibe flooding the corner of Carrollton Avenue and Canal Street, as Juan's flies over to Mid-City to set up shop in an area that already features something old (including Venezia, New York City Pizza, Michael's Mid-City, Jerusalem, Manuel's, Angelo Brocato's) and something new (Bennachin, Cafe Hola, Kanpai, Cafe Indo, Chateaubriand).

Best Development for Mid-City Foodies

Stumbling out of bed and heading to the Saturday Crescent City Farmer's Market on Magazine Street just isn't in the cards for some folks, which makes the Thursday early evening market in Mid-City a godsend. Located at the site of the American Can Company building and apartment complex, the Mid-City market offers fresh seafood and produce -- and no early hours. For Uptowners, there's also a Tuesday morning version at 200 Broadway.

Best Politically Correct Menu Update

On our last trip to the Bucktown seafood and pizza institution R & O's, we notice that the menu no longer lists "Wop Salad," instead offering "Italian salad." We're not sure when the switch was made; the restaurant altered its menu with no fanfare.

Best National Food Trend Likely Never to Hit New Orleans

With Chicago-based celebrity chef Charlie Trotter as its unofficial spokesman (his new cookbook, Raw, will be available early next year), there's a "raw food movement" that makes vegetarians, and even vegans, seem lazy in their efforts to save the planet and their own health. Chefs embracing this movement, like Raw co-author Roxanne Klein who runs an all-raw restaurant in California, don't cook in the typical sense. Meals made with "living foods" are restricted to fruits and vegetables, and nothing is heated above 118 degrees. It takes more fire than that to fry a mirliton.

Best Sunday Brunch Addition

Elizabeth's has traditionally been a six-days-a-week Bywater favorite -- but now, a seventh day of chef Heidi Trull's home-cooking is available occasionally, with Elizabeth's offering a fixed-price brunch on Sundays roughly once a month. The usual Southern-fried influences are found at these brunches, but so are some adventurous takes in brunches that often sport themes such as "Charleston," which features South Carolina specialties such as she-crab soup.

Best Restaurant Without a Menu

While steakhouses are rarely judged on decor, the shunning of style is taken to a whole new level at Charlie's Steak House. Charlie's has been a local favorite for decades -- and the furnishings seem not to have changed since the place's beginnings. The lack of windows, however, does not dilute the taste of the steak offerings offered up in a vintage do-you-really-need-me-to-tell-you-this style by your waitress: either T-bone or fillet, with small, medium and large going for $14, $15 and $16, respectively. Other options include the house wine (straight from the box, of course), and salads of cut-in-half heads of iceberg, served with your choice of salad dressings, including the divine, super-chunky bleu cheese.

Best Place To See Mississippi River Fireworks Without Fighting the Crowds

If thick crowds add to your excitement of viewing fireworks, then the Spanish Plaza or the Moonwalk are the places to go. But if you like to watch exploding splendors over a glass of wine, Cosmic Creamery ice cream or a full dinner, then plug yourself in to a spot on the balcony of Aquarians restaurant in Faubourg Marigny. Owners Crystal Petersen and Danny Stansbury won't run you off; they're accustomed to their patrons lingering over coffee and conversation for hours.

Best Demonstration of Local Pluck

In early January, Wagner's Meat owner Scott Wolfe opened the doors to Chicken Box, starting with five locations across town. Billboards proclaimed "New Orleans' #2 Fried Chicken in Just Six Months!" and a 20-foot inflatable chicken bearing the slogan "Tastes Like Mama's" began making appearances in parking lots. Popeye's responded with multiple advertisements directly challenging Chicken Box, including a radio ad asking why anyone would want chicken that tastes like "somebody's mama." Chicken Box tailored its slogan for specific neighborhoods: in the Ninth Ward, the signs read "Tastes Like Ya' Mama's." The Box wasn't welcome everywhere: a vehement neighborhood protest deep-sixed plans to open a location in the 4900 block of Prytania Street, in a space formerly occupied by a McKenzie's. The Box is not deterred. "We're clucking and having fun and causing headaches in our competitor's luxurious boardrooms," proclaimed a sign at an Elysian Fields location.

POLITICS

Best Womano e Womano

It started the moment State Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell announced she would battle Mary Landrieu for the hard-won U.S. Senate seat the latter holds. There may not be any hair flying, but there are certain to be many bouts of "she said, she said." Terrell says Landrieu is "too liberal," a "big taxer," and wishy-washy on the issues. Landrieu, a moderate Democrat considered the favorite, so far seems to be saving her nanny-nanny-boo-boos for the real contest.

Best Gig for Jim Singleton

Let's review, shall we? Jim Singleton, one of the most respected city officials in recent years, loses out in the mayoral election primary, then throws his endorsement over to late-comer (and hard-charging) Ray Nagin. Nagin turns around and wedges in a place for Singleton into his fiscal budget that would've paid Singleton about $125,000. The move, shot down after a power struggle with city councilman Marlin Gusman, may have reeked of payoff, but it did feature a respected, venerable politician in Singleton. So if Jim Singleton really wants to help the city and not be perceived as a beneficiary of patronage, why not just up and do what he was going to do for free? Or at least put in some volunteer work in with Nagin's team. At the very least, we might be guaranteed more fun skirmishes with Gusman.

Most Gracious Loser

Scott Shea pledged to run a clean campaign to retain his City Council spot, and he did. His opponent Jay Batt made the same pledge and didn't honor his promise, running 11th-hour attack ads against Shea. Shea could have pointed fingers at Batt and made the race especially ugly, but instead served as the model of grace and composure -- especially on election night, after a narrow defeat.

Best Literary Moment at City Hall

In a year when the most memorable occurrences at City Hall involved corruption and graft, one of the highlights in the beleaguered building was the swearing-in of Police Chief Eddie Compass. The May 24 ceremony took an unexpectedly eloquent turn when, in an effort to express his philosophy of public service, the new police chief read a favorite poem, "The Bridge Builder" by Will Allen Dromgoole: "The builder lifted his old gray head/ 'Good friend, in the path I have come,' he said/ 'There followeth after me today/ A youth, whose feet must pass this way ... He, too, must cross in the twilight dim/ Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.'"

Best New Enterprise for Sheriff Charles Foti Now That His Mural is Torn Down

Open a drug treatment center for non-violent offenders. The few residential rehabilitation facilities that exist in New Orleans are overbooked, understaffed and overwhelmed. With some 7,000 prisoners, (an inmate population larger than the state penitentiary at Angola) the elected jailer of Orleans Parish certainly sees, clothes and feeds the worst casualties of the drug scourge. Foti has the resources and the knowledge to create a landmark treatment program for the city's indigent and under-insured -- both free and incarcerated.

Best Odd Couple

In the months before Mayor Marc Morial left office, there was much speculation about what his future might hold. Few foresaw him climbing into the ring -- for Ringside Politics, that is. Morial now faces off with Gambit Weekly contributor Jeff Crouere on the weekly cable access show, which features debates over a variety of political topics and current events.

Best Way to Get a Councilman's Attention

How about yelling, "Why the f-ck won't you answer my phone calls?" That's how WDSU-TV reporter Alec Gifford, the dean of local journalists, allegedly got the attention of the New Orleans District "A" councilman Jay Batt, in a corridor outside the City Council chambers. Batt fired off an angry letter to Gifford's bosses, protesting the reporter's alleged profanity. But Gambit Weekly found a witness -- a professed admirer of both men -- who affirmed rumors that Batt responded in kind: "Alec, you're the rudest son of a bitch I've ever met. ..."

Best Transportation for New Orleans City Council Members

With all the uproar over news media reports of council members cruising around the cash-poor town in city-paid gas guzzlers with an armed driver (optional) provided by the Civil Sheriff's office, we submit the following idea for consideration: take the bus. It might be the quickest way to improve public transportation. Alternately, the Council should follow the lead of the economically-minded Shriners and go for those miniature cars that delight children and make adults chuckle.


LOCAL LIFE

Best Place to Help a Guest (or a Local) Understand New Orleans

Take them to the Backstreet Cultural Museum. Located in the former Blandin Funeral Home in Treme, the Backstreet is filled with mannequins wearing suits worn by Mardi Gras Indians, skeleton crews, and baby dolls. Lining the walls are photos of New Orleans music stars, Treme neighborhood residents, and traditional jazz funerals. The museum also has a vast collection of funeral T-shirts (memorializing those who've passed). Look around yourself or get a guided tour from the museum's director, photographer-filmmaker Sylvester Francis.

Best Little-known Famous Photomontage Artist

You saw it on the cover of a science fiction book and it caught your eye. That happened more than once. Strangely familiar people and scenes, but crazy, like a twisted nightmare after too much of that weird absinthe your Corsican friend left behind before he vanished. Discarnate figures haunting French Quarter streets, beautiful women with bodies like tree trunks below the waist, alluring sprites with octopi tentacles instead of flaxen tresses. Who did this? And why do they look so familiar? The pictures are by J.K. Potter, the acclaimed yet locally obscure illustrator who uses photographic techniques, not computers, to create his phantasmagoric figures. A Louisianian, he lives in New Orleans yet is little known beyond the cognoscenti. Those demonic beings in his photos may be your friends, neighbors and acquaintances.

Best History Lesson on a Light Pole

The next time you're stuck in traffic, check out the old streetlights that run on Rampart Street from Dumaine to Canal. Look closely, because some of the messages on the four-sided bases have been obscured by gray paint. The first side reads "French domination, 1718-1769." The next two cite Spanish and Confederate domination. The last side notes our final oppression: "American domination," it reads, then lists two sets of dates: "1803-1861" and "1865 to date."

Best Place to Don Plastic Captain-Fantastic Elton John Glasses

Even if its oversized 3-D specs didn't conjure up images of bug-eyed monsters, the Entergy IMAX Theatre would still provide a great time for all ages. For the price of a regular movie -- that is, one not enhanced by a giant 54-foot-by-74-foot screen, high-definition capabilities and often filmed in IMAX's signature 3D technology -- audience members are virtually swept away out to space, under the sea, deep into underground caves and caverns, and everywhere else the globetrotting IMAX cameras have been.

Best Way to Cure Homesickness for Transplanted Northerners

"Oh it doesn't show signs of stopping. But I've brought some corn for popping ..." For those new New Orleanians whose eyes mist up at those lyrics -- and who long for toboggans, snow angels and soggy mittens -- there's only one option: Celebration in the Oaks. Each year, the City Park holiday event dumps a mound of snow on the unfrozen tundra and, for a few hours of slushy fun, locals can tramp around in "Snowland" and savor the joys of snowballs flavored only by dead grass and boot mud. This year, Celebration in the Oaks begins Nov. 29. For info on the annual snow dump, call 483-9415.

Best Summer Camp With Sprinkles On Top

As soon as you look at the ice cream-making machines and decorative glasses from old soda shops in the plate-glass window at Old Town Slidell Soda Shop, years and maybe even height melt away and you become 10 years old again. As you breathe in the cold sweetness inside, you notice photos of Soda Shop birthday parties on the wall spanning two generations and an old-fashioned candy case filled with colorful confections. All the ice cream served here is made on the premises. For those who want to relive the childhood ice cream days always, the Soda Shop offers $50 weeklong "soda jerk" camps for the younger set to learn to make ice cream sodas, brown cows, malts, floats, shakes, sno-balls, cotton candy and everything else a soda jerk needs to know. Oh yeah, they also get to eat all the ice cream they want.

Best View of the City Skyline From a Parking Garage

Top of the six-floor garage across the street from Touro Infirmary. You can see downtown, the Superdome and the Crescent City Connection. It rivals the view from the upper floors of the Canal Place lot.

Best School of Thought

Founded by poet Dave Brinks in 2000, the New Orleans School for the Imagination specializes in poetry, music, art, dance, Native American studies, yoga, aromatherapy and the "history of outlaws."

Best Neo-Dada Nostalgia Night

Remember those wild times at the Cabaret Voltaire? No, of course you don't; the real Cabaret Voltaire was in Zurich in 1916. But Dadaism was born there, as was surrealism, artistic anarchism, situationism, punk, goth and ambient music, and now it's all reborn on the first Wednesday evenings of the month. That's when the Cabaret ReVoltaire happens at Mythique and the Whirling Dirvish, upstairs and downstairs respectively, at 1135 Decatur St. It's a night of visual and performance art, inexplicable fashion, participatory painting, experimental music and interactive surreality of all sorts. Come not as you are, but as you dream.

Best Reason To Go To Angola

The prison likes to promote the rodeo every Sunday in October, but attending a public spectacle that hinges on the possibility of a bull goring an inmate really might not be best way to spend a day with the kids. The prison arts and crafts show, held every spring, allows prisoners to show off talents while not risking self-perforation.

Best Local Recycling Effort That Doesn't Include Blue Bins

Established in 2000, the New Orleans Recycle for the Arts program is a nonprofit organization that provides artists and teachers with recycled materials. The organization receives recycled art material, which it offers to artists and teachers for free or for a low price.

Best Happy Hour at a Hospital

Located in the second floor lobby of Tulane University Hospital, the True Brew coffee and espresso bar operated through the Ladies Auxiliary runs a caffeine happy hour weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. They'll upsize anything on the menu, with a portion of the proceeds going to Tulane's Rudolph Matas Medical Library.

Best Full Court Press

Sports fans across the New Orleans region rejoiced with the relocation of the NBA's Hornets from the placid environs of Charlotte to our welcoming swamp (note to owners: see readers' poll results for your new team name). A collective effort of many parties, from private businesses to rallying citizens to politicians, made the long shot a reality. Mayor Ray Nagin's tactics were oh-so-New Orleans: in early July, he took Hornets point guard and superstar Baron Davis to lunch at Arnaud's in an effort to convince the free agent to consider New Orleans as his future home. Davis, a Los Angeles native, had a well-publicized desire to play for a large-market franchise in New York, L.A. or Chicago. Maybe it was the schmoozing by Nagin, himself a point guard during his prep years at O. Perry Walker. Maybe it was the oysters Bienville or Davis' trip to Essence Festival. Whatever it was, Davis became wowed enough to sign a seven-year, $84-million contract that should keep the 23-year-old electrifying star here during the prime of his career.

Best Post-Goth Visionary

Imagine Fiddler on the Roof but with ghouls and voodooists instead of musical Russian peasants. Or a gauzy Marc Chagall scene with Marie Laveau and tombstones instead of swooning lovers and roses. Imagine the French Quarter as a maze of tangled geometry supported by an underworld labyrinth of tree trunks, cyclops and minotaurs. Myrtle von Dammitz' ethereal ink paintings appear (and disappear) in unlikely places, with Corozon in the French Quarter and Barrister's in Central City among the more identifiable venues. A reclusive yet ubiquitous figure in the Nouveau Ninth Ward arts bohemia, von Dammitz is part of the new breed of impromptu post-goth artists whose disturbing yet compelling visions can appear at any time, any place, at an improbable local venue near you.

Best Thousand Points of Light

All across New Orleans this summer, new traffic lights began appearing in piecemeal fashion. The new lights are composed of individual bulbs to collectively form the red, yellow and green -- they replaced the older models that featured a single bulb behind a colored lens. The new traffic lights are borderline hypnotic in strength and allure, and undoubtedly will improve driving safety -- although they seem to malfunction with the same alarming regularity of their predecessors. It remains unclear whether New Orleanians will run the new red lights as frequently as they ran the old.

Best New Breeder

Earlier this summer, the Audubon Zoo welcomed Casey, a Western lowland gorilla to its World of Primates. Casey arrived in New Orleans via FedEx plane -- guess he absolutely, positively had to get here overnight -- and is part of the Species Survival Plan. The plan allows zoos to swap members of certain endangered species in an effort to stimulate breeding activity. According to Audubon officials, the plan mimics the way gorillas in the wild would move from troop to troop and resume breeding activity again.

Best New Dog Park

Shhhh. Don't tell anyone, but the place to take dogs for a leisurely stroll east of downtown is no longer the embattled Cabrini Park. (And we'd like to thank residents, dog owners and all of the above for being so, ahem, even-tempered during that fun debate.) No, Markey Park in Bywater is the place to be, mainly because residents down there don't have the same parking hassles as those in the French Quarter, and there's really one block that might be affected instead of three when it comes to noise, odor and other doggy by-products. Like Cabrini, the park is fenced in and with several entrances, and residents do a good job of policing their dogs and themselves as they chat and the dogs frolic. A partial fence separates the new pup paradise from the park's playground area.

Best Way to Fight Crime

At a recent neighborhood association meeting in Bywater, district captain Thomas Smegal had to field the usual questions/complaints about violent crime. He was patient and kind but a little beleaguered as he tried to explain that with insufficient staffing and an economic downturn, violent crime is going to increase. He brightened when asked if neighborhood crime watches actually work. Not only do they work, he said, but he pointed to specific examples of how alert residents can make a difference -- including following the shooting of a jogger in Faubourg Marigny, in which residents helped save the jogger's life and identify suspects. Contact NOPD district headquarters in your area for a brochure that will explain how to start your own group.


MEDIA

Best Moment of Zen in the Big Apple

This year, the New Orleans Press Club Awards featured keynote speaker Hoda Kotb -- the NBC News national correspondent and former WWL-TV anchorwoman (whose surname was recently stripped of its superfluous added-on 'e'). During the ceremony, Kotb recounted the stress of leaving the City that Care Forgot for the City that Never Sleeps, saying she stood in the lobby of NBC Studios on her first day of work, "scared to death" and reluctant to get onto the elevator: "And suddenly I heard someone say, 'Hoda?' And I turned around and standing there was a tour group from Metairie! And they told me, 'Now, Hoda, you get on that elevator, and you go up there, and you show them what you can do.' And so I did. It was wonderful. They were like my guardian angels."

Best New Guest(s) for Informed Sources

The popular journalistic roundtable on local public television station WYES-TV12 could widen its talent pool by featuring reporters and editors from the city's college newspapers, who might provide a fresh perspective on topics of interest to the rest of the city. Or how about Jim Amoss, editor of The Times-Picayune? An occasional guest appearance by Amoss and other key opinion-makers on the state's largest daily newspaper would be welcome.

Best Reporter for Covering the Waterfront

Fox8's Rob Masson scoops everyone on stories about shrimping, sharks and other water topics. In fact, Masson's wife got so tired of him working that she "kidnapped" him last year and took him on a vacation to the Gulf Coast. The next morning, the reporter took a walk on the beach and happened upon -- a victim of a shark attack! He called the Fox8 live truck and scooped the competition. End of vacation.

Best Activist Use of the Internet

Edward Melendez and Geoff Coats, co-founders of the preservationist group The Urban Conservancy, use emails and the Internet for much more than getting the word out about the latest city council meeting. In its weekly emailing, Urban Conservancy reprints and links to national and local stories and reports about development and urban living. Opined the site recently: "Admittedly, preservation is a loaded word in our community. Maybe it's not a bad word, but it is a word that has many different meanings, depending on who is talking." Thankfully, Urban Conservancy takes a wide view of preservation issues, helping to dispel the old preservationist reputation for caring more for a city's old buildings than for its citizens. To sign up for the email, visit the Web site www.ucno.org/mailman/listinfo/uc. (Honorable mention for activist Web sites: www.saveaudubonpark.org.)

Best Voice We Love To Hear Even When It's Bad News

State epidemiologist Raoult Ratard. Educated in Paris as well as the United States, the state health department official's accent sounds a bit like Maurice Chevalier when he offers his latest alert on the West Nile virus and anthrax. As he told CBS of the virus-carrying mosquito epidemic: "This is only zee beginning. ..."

Best Sportscaster Living in the Shadow of Jim Henderson

Let's face it: WWL-TV's sports anchor Jim Henderson is in a class by himself, able in a single bound to anchor a broadcast, provide insightful commentary, report from the field, and serve as the Saints play-by-play man on radio. But up-and-comer Juan Kincaid is doing a stellar job of taking Henderson's cue and providing cheese-free anchor and reporting work. It's a shame more young sportscasters don't perform like Kincaid, whose soccer-playing background suggests a well-rounded sports perspective -- instead of a retired/wannabe jock rehashing old cliches and SportsCenter schtick.

Best Accommodation for Soulful Sleepyheads

Up until a few months ago, many a late-late-night party and romance was fueled by the hip-shaking grooves spun by WWOZ's Soul Sister. A ritual for many, the Soul Sister's "Soul Power" show, a mix of hits and rarities from primarily '70s funk and R&B, was broadcast Sunday morning from midnight to 3 a.m. The show has switched to a kinder schedule of 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday night; it's now launching the party rather than providing the soundtrack for the last call.

Best Local Advertising Campaign

The New Orleans Saints' recent commercial featuring fan favorite Kyle Turley liberally coating his mouthguard with Tabasco sauce ranks up there with Tabasco's own classic, the exploding-mosquito commercial.

Best Saints Beat Writer

Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune consistently outshines his colleagues and competitors at other outlets like the Sun-Herald. Duncan always writes clean, insightful Saints copy under tight deadlines, and produces knowledgeable columns on the rest of the NFL. We can't help but wonder if he's long for this market. ...

Best Expose of Old New Orleans by Another Local Newspaper

Occasionally, a reporter touches a nerve that reverberates beyond his hometown and to the rest of the nation. And that's exactly what Times-Picayune food critic Brett Anderson did when he reported on the firing of a longtime and popular waiter at Galatoire's -- a story that has been picked up by The New York Times and USA Today. Shining through Anderson's report was a subtle commentary of how New Orleans' Old World charm often clashes with the cold reality of contemporary society. Anderson let Galatoire's critics -- a hodge-podge of mostly older New Orleans elites -- side with a waiter who was accused of sexual harassment of more than one waitress. The letter writers didn't dispute the charges -- they made it clear it just didn't matter! Anderson's colleague, T-P columnist Chris Rose, saw the silliness of the affair and riffed on his own Asshole Monologues by staging summer readings of the protest letters, The Galatoires Monologues, at Le Chat Noir. The letter-writers in attendance were reportedly thrilled.


GOODS AND SERVICES

Best Reading Ambience

The patio waterfall complements the light, airy reading space of Octavia Books. The lighting reflects the energy-efficient anthem of co-owner Tom Lowenberg, the bookstore's co-owner and former research director of the nonprofit consumer advocacy group, Alliance for Affordable Entergy.

Best New Anchor

No, not Roop Raj, the morning news anchor at WDSU-TV. We're talking about Target, the new anchor store for Clearview Mall. The first Target in the New Orleans area, it's not as mammoth or as well-stocked as other Targets in the state, specifically Lafayette or Baton Rouge. But we don't care. Why? We're still enraptured by the German-made "Verma-port escalator," the first shopping cart escalator in New Orleans.

Best Income Tax Service/Sno-ball Stand

Bill Schilleci is a man for two seasons -- taxes and sno-balls. A tax preparer, he is the youngest of three brothers who helps with the family business, the 40-year-old Joe's Income Tax Service in Kenner. After the April 15 filing deadline, Schilleci takes a brief vacation. From May 1 to Sept. 30, he operates "Mr. Joe's," a sno-ball and ice cream stand that is painted purple and shares a parking lot with the family tax biz founded by Joe Sr. (the sno-ball shop's co-founder and namesake). Bill stores blocks of ice in a freezer, located in the lobby of the tax office. And his tax-savvy brothers, Ed and Joe Jr., both know how to shape a sno-ball in a pinch.

Best Evidence of Faith in Filters

Though greeted with muffled cynicism by most who have ever gazed upon the muddy waters of the Mississippi, Mayor Ray Nagin's plans to bottle, market and sell a local water, Crescent City Clear, might actually be a boom for city coffers. Nagin -- elected for his business sense -- pitched the idea in all seriousness at a press conference this spring, complete with a bottle already packaged with its own label. Nagin says tourists will be a primary imbiber of the product.

Best Return of an Icon

The Mississippi River and steamboats are local icons with which New Orleans will always be associated. These vestiges of local pride took a blow last October when the Delta Queen Steamboat Company folded up shop here and relocated their headquarters to Florida, along with the 700 jobs it produces. The company acted as owners and operators of historic steamboats Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen and America Queen that carried passengers on cruises up to several weeks along on the Mississippi and its tributaries. Financial problems not directly related to the move soon followed, resulting in an October bankruptcy declaration that literally left some steamboats docked in Midwestern ports. However, New York-based Delaware North company put in a successful bid on the bankruptcy auction for the company in May, and restored all boats to working order and returned The Delta Steamboat Company's headquarters to its rightful place in New Orleans.

Best Literary Neighborhood

There are at least ten privately owned shops for rare, used and, occasionally, new books in the French Quarter alone. Many of them specialize -- there's one for cookbooks, one for books on the occult and one where the cashier can tell you about every canine death in the history of literature. Most French Quarter bookshops distribute half-page maps that direct you to the others. So put on your tennies, grab a map and give yourself a walking tour of what must be one of the most literary thirteen-by-six-block areas in the country, despite its solid reputation for other pastimes.

Best Pet Project

Hotel Monaco is pet-friendly in the extreme, offering special pet packages for guests and their furry traveling companions. Visiting pets can expect turndown service, gourmet biscuits and Evian. There's a house vet and, with the Bone Appetite Package, even the chance a member of management will walk your dog. If you find yourself traveling alone, however, Hotel Monaco will even provide the pet, sending a complimentary goldfish up to your room for the duration of your stay. Staff will feed and care for the fish; all you have to do is sit back and watch him swim.

Best Smell of the South

Visitors and locals alike frequent the French Quarter for a smell of the South in a bottle: Tea Olive perfume made at Hove on Royal Street. The tea olive, also known as the sweet olive, blooms a large portion of the New Orleans year and produces a uniquely sweet-smelling white flower, a fragrance the perfumers of Hove capture perfectly.

Best Carnivore's Delight

Dorignac's meat counter seems twice as big as those in even the largest chain supermarkets. Multiple butchers are always on duty, and they'll make meat cuts to your exact specifications, right in front of your eyes. Perhaps our favorite thing about Dorignac's is the sight of women who have donned fur stoles and coats for their walk past the store's chilly meat department. "It's cold enough that you can be seen wearing your furs," one senior citizen told us. Dorignac manager Fred Little confirms her report: "They do that sometimes. She wasn't kidding."

Best Place to Stock Up for a Bachelor or Bachelorette Party

The back room at Big Life Toys (the adult version at 3117 Magazine St. -- not the kiddy shop at 5430) features randy playing cards, swizzle sticks, cocktail stirrers, soaps, grown-up games, "action figures" and other gag gifts designed to make a bride/groom-to-be blush.

Best-kept Secret for Cheap Kids and Women's Clothing

We have received subtle threats from women who want to keep Rainbow, the Mid-City jewel in the strip shopping center at Carrollton Avenue and Bienville Street, their own secret. The fashions for kids and women are so low that you'll think you're in a super-discount center. The store (which has other locations around town) is spacious, but filled with trendy tops with embellishments and ruffles, denim done every way, handbags and even lingerie. Prices run about $10-$20 unless you find something you like on a $3 or $5 clearance rack.

Most Trusting Filling Station

At Kollins BP Service Station, on Magazine Street between Napoleon and Jefferson avenues, you don't have to wait for the friendly attendant to flip a switch before you begin pumping. You can even leave your personal check -- no I.D. necessary -- on his desk for payment when he's busy with car repairs.

Best Full Court Press: Mayor Ray Nagin on Hornets point guard and superstar Baron Davis - GARRETT W. ELLWOOD/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES AND NBAE
  • Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images and NBAE
  • Best Full Court Press: Mayor Ray Nagin on Hornets point guard and superstar Baron Davis
Best Income Tax Service/Sno-ball Stand: Joe's Income Tax Service/Mr. Joe's - DONN YOUNG
  • Donn Young
  • Best Income Tax Service/Sno-ball Stand: Joe's Income Tax Service/Mr. Joe's
Best new anchor: Target - DONN YOUNG
Best Carnivore's Delight: Dorignac's meat counter - DONN YOUNG
  • Donn Young
  • Best Carnivore's Delight: Dorignac's meat counter
Best Place to Don Plastic Captain-Fantastic Elton John Glasses: Entergy IMAX Theatre - ENTERGY IMAX THEATER
  • Entergy Imax Theater
  • Best Place to Don Plastic Captain-Fantastic Elton John Glasses: Entergy IMAX Theatre
Best Way to Cure Homesickness for Transplanted Northerners: Celebration in the Oaks' Snowland - OSCAR ROJAS
  • Oscar Rojas
  • Best Way to Cure Homesickness for Transplanted Northerners: Celebration in the Oaks' Snowland
Best Moment of Zen in the Big Apple: Hoda Kotb - THE PRESS CLUB OF NEW ORLEANS
  • the Press Club of New Orleans
  • Best Moment of Zen in the Big Apple: Hoda Kotb
Charlotte Schully and Bob Edes appeared in Dalt Wonk's Spiritual Gifts, one of the theater offerings at Le Chat Noir
  • Charlotte Schully and Bob Edes appeared in Dalt Wonk's Spiritual Gifts, one of the theater offerings at Le Chat Noir

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