Best Unheralded Success Story
Evanescence might not have had the smash hit with "Bring Me to Life" this year had it not been for Paul McCoy of the Northshore band 12 Stones, trading lines with lead singer Amy Lee in the chorus. However, no one ever seems to mention that the other singer is not in the aforementioned Arkansas band.
Best Bar Bathroom Graffiti
Take the time to read the writing on the wall ... the walls of the toilets, for example, in your neighborhood bar. First place goes to Cooter Brown's for quotes ranging from Dostoyevsky to Gandhi, college humor quips such as "Oedipus was a motherf--er," "Resistance is fertile," and the appropriate "You can't fall off the floor." An honorable mention goes to the Balcony Bar for quotes from Paradise Lost amid advice on the dangers of venereal disease.
Best Local Version of American Idol
The Dock New Orleans stages its own version of American Idol, with contestant musicians appearing at the club for eight weeks (during which the field is paired down) and the winner taking home $1,000 in cash, a session at Sound Services Studios, an image makeover and a photo session with Romney Photography. The club has hosted three talent searches so far; a national recording star has yet to emerge.
Best Signs of Life for Independent and Classic Cinema
Ten18 Film's Jeremy Campbell has become a champion of the small local independent filmmaker, hooking up with the syndicated Flicker Film Festival and routing regional works to New Orleans while also exposing New Orleanians to local works including his own. He's a bit of moving target, showing his films everywhere from The Howlin' Wolf to Ernie K-Doe's Mother-in-Law Lounge, though he seems to have found a home at the Wolf. Zeitgeist's René Broussard, meanwhile, has caught the film bug again, most notably through his own alliance with Film Movement. The company shows film-festival darlings around its satellite cities in order to hype the DVD release of that film. We also applaud the Saenger Theatre and (more recently) the State Palace efforts to use their historic facilities to show classic and cult-fave films in their own repertory attempts, and look for more to come.
Best Example of New Orleans R&B in the 22nd Century
Deacon John's recent Jump Blues CD and DVD showed an undersung New Orleans legend still in his prime, swinging his way through a program of classic New Orleans R&B, blues and gospel. Adding to the thrill was the top-notch production; the DVD was filmed in HDTV, with surround sound and Dolby 5.1 encoding. The end result shows that one of New Orleans' greatest art forms is still vital.
Best Resuscitator of a Children's Theater
Le Petit's Children's Corner went through a Golden Age in the '70s, when local writers and composers churned out originals based on traditional fairy tales. Decades of sporadic though sometimes praiseworthy efforts followed. But it took musical-and-theatrical director Brandt Block to really get the place back up to speed with knockout shows like Honk, Schoolhouse Rock and most recently, Bye Bye Birdie.
Best Resuscitator of a Grown-up Theater
Thanks to the energy, the savvy and the vision of artistic director Ryan Rilette, Southern Rep is not merely enduring, but prevailing. The once-endangered Canal Place playhouse is now packing them in with well-crafted productions of adventurous new plays.
Best Place to See Random Nudity
Just happened upon it one night at Mythique (upstairs from the Whirling Dervish). Several female patrons were doing the bidding of a male patron, including stripping and running around in an S&M-type fashion. According to the bartenders, this doesn't happen "all the time." Perhaps they were possessed by the ghosts that supposedly haunt the upstairs bathroom. Just shows that you can't keep a good goth down.
Best Addition to Jazz Fest
Kicking off Jazz Fest with a first-weekend Thursday was nirvana, especially for local Fest-goers. The threat of rain kept attendance down, but with no lines for Crawfish Monica or the Port-a-Lets, and Fats Domino headlining to an ever-appreciative crowd, what more could a Jazz Fest fan want?
Best New Theatrical Kid on the Block
Drama!, a troupe with a special interest in gay and lesbian themes, first started doing plays in the back room dance hall of Cowpokes bar two years ago. Productions were minimal, but promising. With recent hits like The Rocky Horror Show and local playwright Rebecca Basham's Louisiana Likk-Hr, the little theater has established itself as force to be reckoned with.
Best recent Kenny G Joke with Marsalis Content Currently Making the Internet Rounds
Branford Marsalis is playing Frisbee in Central Park. One of his throws is errant and sails behind a tree. When Marsalis walks over to get it, he discovers that Kenny G has picked it up.
"Hey, you're Branford Marsalis," says Kenny G. "I'm one of your biggest fans. Your playing has been a huge influence on everything I do, and you're one of my favorite musicians of all time."
Marsalis replies, "Hey, you're Kenny G."
Best Hopeful Rumor About the Shim Sham Club
Owner Morgan Higby's Shim Sham Club had become a one-stop shop for cool things to do in the French Quarter. There were the freakishly popular 1984 New Wave dance night, the increasingly hip Punk Rock/Heavy Metal Karaoke gig (complete with live band), the steady stream of audacious theater productions, the Shim Sham Revue featuring the Southern Jeze-Belles, and more punk rock, rockabilly and old warriors than you could shake a middle finger at. What now? The word on the street is that Emo's, a punk-rock club in Austin, Texas -- long rumored to be the top candidate to take over the space -- might be ready to finally move in. Stay tuned.
Best Comic Actor You Might Not Know About
Much ink has been spilled over the comedic talents of Running With Scissors' co-founder Flynn De Marco. But the rising star of this theatrical troupe is Brian Peterson, who has proven to be De Marco's comic equal. Peterson uses precision timing, tremendous physical presence and a flair for accents to put a fresh spin on every number he graces, including a mean Jewish neighbor in the annual holiday show, Grenadine McGunkle's Double-Wide Christmas, and a hefty 1940s singer in this summer's mounting of The Andrews Sisters' Hollywood Canteen at Le Chat Noir.
Best Place for Teenagers to Hear Live Music in Safety Without Alcohol for Less than $10
It's not much to look at outside or in -- kind of a Tipitina's for kids without the musical history -- but Cypress Hall in Metairie (454-2953) provides live all-ages shows of local acts and music from elsewhere at a price kids can afford, about $6, with shows starting about 7 p.m. and letting out by curfew at 11 p.m. Bands include Organized Hostility, The Robinsons, Aggrofate and others. (If you haven't heard of any of the bands, your kids are even happier.)
Best Sequel By a Son of a Famous Filmmaker
Four years ago, Rio Hackford did like his father did and moved from L.A. to LA, opening up one of the hipper clubs in the French Quarter by reworking The Mint into El Matador. With its red-and-black velvet vibe, El Matador literally had the French Quarter market cornered with its alternative bands and tattoo-and-piercing clientele. It's like there was shuttle service from the Ninth Ward to the corner of Esplanade and Decatur. More than a year ago, Hackford nearly out-did himself with his opening of Pal's Lounge on St. Phillip Street near Bayou St. John. He still has a keen eye for sexy but tough bartenders, the jukebox rocks, the drinks are cheap, and the dogs behave themselves if you do.
Best Pre-Vaughan's Thursday Night Entertainment
Bingo! is a standard order on Thursday nights at Fiorella's, beginning at 10 p.m. Technically a band, Bingo! is also a game and a multi-media experience. Between short sets of thoughtful, original songs with nods to Tom Waits, rockabilly, Carnival noise and funk-powered burlesque, the band members and their friends call games of actual bingo (which participants play on vintage bingo cards) and show absurd home movies on a screen above the bar. Come early for Fiorella's sublime fried chicken.
Best New New Orleans Musical Export
We've given the world Nicholas Payton and Master P. But the best new musical export rarely takes the stage. After decades toiling away in the local punk-rock scene, Devil Dolls founder and promoter Deborah Toscano will pack her bags this month and move to Los Angeles to join the Chicago-based booking agency Fierce Talent. The agency handles such big-time low-down punkers as Agnostic Front, the Queers and the Voodoo Glow Skulls. Fear not, though; Deborah will still keep her Devil Dolls roster and will still kick some mosh-pit fun our way. So long, Deborah; thanks for the bruises.
Best Reason to Forgo the Doughnut Hole Many of the filled and glazed pastries called doughnuts at Metairie's Ross Bakery are square. Why? When a hole-less lump of deep-fried chocolate dough is this moist, we don't ask questions.
Best Incorporation of Local Flavors by a Kentuckian
Larry Hyatt has deservedly gained lots of fans for his smoked barbecue at Hillbilly Bar-B-Q in River Ridge. This success is owed in part to methods that stick to Hyatt's Kentucky roots, including the importing (via trips back home by himself and his friends) of hickory wood chips for smoking the meats. The restaurant has also added some local flavors, including smoked sausages that come either as shrimp, alligator or boudin -- which taste mouth-watering and incredible after being smoked over those Bluegrass State chips.
Best Passing of a Restaurant Torch to a Man in a Bowling Shirt
Handing over an institution is trickier than a 7-10 split. Much of the city let out a collective sigh of relief when the keys to Ye Olde College Inn passed from longtime owner Emile Rufin to Rock-N-Bowl's John Blancher, a man who's already demonstrated his taste for an old-fashioned good time. The burgers, fried seafood, mac and cheese, shrimp remoulade and other house specialties remain a culinary strike.
Best Restaurant Sequel
Corbin Evans, the man behind the farm-fresh French Quarter oasis called LuLu's, opened his second restaurant earlier this summer. The menu at LuLu's in the Garden is much more extensive than that of its predecessor, but it promises the same devotion to seasonal products and uncomplicated preparations.
Best Restaurant Name Switcheroo
Doson Ha changed the name of his 6-year-old restaurant from Chinese's Chinese to Doson's Noodle House this year, despite the fact that nothing else is different about the restaurant. The previous name was certainly distinctive-distinctive, but the new name better reflects the owner's Vietnamese heritage, and also one of the menu's better offerings: pho, Vietnamese beef noodle soup.
Best Vegetarian-friendly Restaurant for a Carnivore (or Carnivore-friendly for a Vegetarian)
Vegetarians love Bennachin, the West African restaurant, for its akara (black-eyed pea fritters), its jama-jama ni makondo (vibrant sauteed spinach with coconut rice and fried plantains) and its cooks' willingness to prepare many other meatless dishes. But meat eaters are also welcome: Bennachin offers the largest selection of beef stews in the city. The menu lists five in all, ranging from unusual (Domoda is enriched with peanuts) to downright exotic (the oddly tangy egushi soup contains ginger and ground melon seeds).
Best Thursday Lunch Special
All three New Orleans Food & Spirits locations offer a stewed rabbit and white bean lunch special on Thursdays that merits a line in anyone's date book. Shards of garlic pop from crevices in the tender rabbit legs and back pieces, and the thick onion gravy is pelted with glorious amounts of black pepper.
Best Taco Alternative
The flour tortilla is re-invented at Beraca, a Honduran restaurant not far from Lakeside Shopping Center in Metairie. Peek over the counter to watch cooks tear, knead and roll freshly made tortilla dough before letting it brown and bubble on griddles in Frisbee-size discs. The most basic, and arguably the best, baleada at Beraca involves one of these thick, still-warm tortillas smeared with purplish beans and ivory-colored Honduran cream, then garnished with crumbly white cheese and ripe avocado.
Best Coffee and Croissant Break Along the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line
Brothers Dominique and Bruno Rizzo opened the third La Boulangerie branch this year. Unlike their Uptown and Bayou St. John retail stores, which are designed for in-and-out service only, the new bi-level downtown space is awash in Provencal yellows and blues, with cafe seating downstairs and sofas in an upper loft-like area. Salads, sandwiches and coffees are available, as well as their notorious breads and pastries.
Best-tasting Nutritional Bar Sold in a Religious Office Supply Store
The Bible Bar contains wheat, barley, raisins, honey, figs, pomegranates and olive oil -- billed as "the 7 foods of Deuteronomy 8:8." You can find Bible Bars at Mule's Religious and Office Supply in Metairie.
Best News for Palmer's Fans
One of a slew of recent dining additions to Frenchmen Street, Cafe Negril is a Jamaican restaurant that showcases the cooking of Cecil Palmer. He moved his namesake restaurant from Mid-City two years ago -- prescient, considering the streetcar work being done on that stretch of Carrollton Avenue -- and enjoys a restaurant with brilliant, primary-colored murals, guaranteed foot traffic and a little live music to cook by. If you haven't tried the jerked fish at Cafe Negril, well, you are an island unto yourself.
Best Place to Feed Your Inner Patriot
Betsy's Pancake House on Canal Street. Instead of "Be Nice or Leave," this place should have a sticker declaring "Support the Troops or Don't Even Think of Asking for Extra Syrup." The entire restaurant is decked out in red, white and blue regalia, including a patriotic Christmas tree. Oh, and they didn't forget the Freedom Fries on the menu.
Best Reason to Attach Wheels to a Vegetable
Kudos to the Crescent City Farmers Market for coming up with the Fathers Day Squashcar 700, a "culinary soapbox derby." Dads and their children bond while figuring out how to fashion wheels to produce and then root for their "squashcar" to win the race.
Best Jazz Writing Displayed by a City Council Member
The ordinance written by then-councilmember Scott Shea to rename the 4900 block of Toulouse Street "Buddy Bolden Place" -- because Bolden was buried in 1931 in an unmarked grave in Holt Cemetery at the end of Toulouse Street. We reprint the start of the ordinance below. Note how the insistent use of "Whereas" creates its own civic-style jazz rhythm:
"WHEREAS, Charles Joseph Bolden, better known as 'Buddy' Bolden, is named among legendary jazz pioneers.
"And WHEREAS, Buddy Bolden is generally considered the first band leader to the improved music that was later known as Jazz. He was the first 'King' of the cornet in New Orleans, and is remembered by the musicians of his time period as one of the finest horn players they had ever heard.
"And WHEREAS, a native New Orleanian, Buddy Bolden started his groundbreaking jazz career by playing cornet professionally in the 1890s. Around 1895, he formed a band that was called on to play in New Orleans' parades and dances. The band evoked a revolutionary style that made it the most popular in the city. Thus, by the turn of the century, 'Bolden's Band' was considered, by many, to be the best in New Orleans, and Buddy himself was called 'King Bolden.' His vigorous freewheeling improvised music influenced even the city's legitimate, classically trained bands to start playing in a hotter style."
And WHEREAS, Gambit Weekly finds this such a rambling and heartfelt poem/ordinance, especially because it is able to encompass an ingenious quote from Bunk Johnson -- "King Bolden had everybody in the city of New Orleans real crazy and standing on their heads" -- that we wish we could print the whole thing, but space constraints now force us to cut it.
Best Access to Public Access
Last fall, the City Council ended years of controversy with an overhaul of the governing body that controls public-access television. The nonprofit New Orleans Media Center (NOMC)'s relationship with WVUE-TV Fox 8 was viewed by some advocates as contradictory to public access' mission. The City Council, which oversees the $1 million annual budget granted to public access (paid for by Cox Communications in exchange for the local monopoly), voted to replace, on a one-year trial basis, NOMC with New Orleans Access Television. The new group will feature a controlling board of five to nine members, down from NOMC's 15, with the group composed of appointees from the City Council, Mayor's Office and Cox. Initial reports indicate an improved relationship both with producers and WVUE, from which public access leases space and equipment. There's no word on the future of the one-year set-up, which expires in October.
Best Local Candidate for a Party Switch
Louisiana Senate President John Hainkel, R-New Orleans, a floor leader for Republican Gov. Mike Foster, scored lower than any GOP legislator in a four-year report card by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, a conservative-minded lobbying group in Baton Rouge. Hainkel scored a 28 percent out of a possible 100 percent for his votes on taxes, economic development and other issues critical to LABI.
Best Local Law Enforcement Press Release
When a couple was arrested in May for trying to have sex on top of the Slidell water tower, the Slidell Police Department showed its sense of humor in its press release on the incident. Arrested male John C. Meyers apparently bragged to co-workers that he was the "Blonde Adonis of the crew," and Lt. Rob Callahan noted, "I'm not sure exactly what this means, nor do I want to know." Callahan also wrote, "We teach people every day about having 'safe sex.' I don't believe this fits into that category."
Best Public Health Initiative
With New Orleans children at risk for having much higher percentages of elevated blood levels of lead, Mayor Ray Nagin was awarded a $100,000 grant from U.S. Conference of Mayors to implement lead-safety programs. The money was an award for proposals submitted to tackle the problem (six other cities also received help). In New Orleans, it will result in, among many initiatives, the Lead Safe House project to house families while their houses are stripped of lead-based paint -- a serious problem considering that 80 percent of the local housing stock was built before 1978, when lead was banned in paint.
Best Reason to Take a Deep Breath Before Cheering the Saints
The smoky, stale-blue haze that chokes the Superdome's concourses and concession areas during Saints games and other events is now illegal. In a bill sponsored by state Sen. Jon Johnson (D-New Orleans), and supported by Superdome General Manager Doug Thornton, the state legislature this spring passed into law a measure that bans all smoking in the Superdome. Prior to this bill, smoking was banned only in the seating areas, and Superdome officials claimed that loophole made the ordinance difficult to enforce. The law gives the Dome Stadium Commission the right to evict patrons that don't stop smoking after a warning. No word yet if the ban will improve the Saints' play on the field, but it will help fans breathe a lot easier in the stands.
Best News for Sidewalk Bibliophiles
This spring, recent New York University graduates Joshua Wexler and Jordan Blanton sued the City of New Orleans for free-speech violations after the pair was denied a permit to sell used books on city sidewalks. The case stemmed from the fact that the city did not include books on a list of items allowed to be vended on city streets, and though books were not on a banned list, officials would not grant Wexler and Blanton a permit. In June, Federal Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled in favor of the couple. Duval cited constitutional protection of selling books as freedom of expression and banned the city from interfering with the couple's sidewalk operation, which is held at the corner of Esplanade Avenue and Decatur street weekday evenings.
In a City Official's Wardrobe, Best Use of a Single Segment of the Color Spectrum
Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson, for her unfailing sartorial devotion to red (and its derivative, magenta). Typically, before naming a winner in this sought-after category, the Gambit Weekly Best Of panel first must scan City Hall and then debate whether gray is actually a color. This year, it's been clear that the award was Councilwoman Clarkson's to lose, even after she was seen draped in aqua during Satchmo Summerfest.
Best Off-season War of Words
Once he was officially traded to the St. Louis Rams, former Saints offensive linemen Kyle Turley berated the Saints franchise with unheard-of venom. In an interview with Sports Illustrated's Michael Silver, Turley called Jim Haslett a "two-faced backstabber" and claimed GM Mickey Loomis "knew nothing about football." Loomis fired back, saying, "I don't really give a damn about Kyle Turley. He's the Rams' problem now." Haslett also chimed in: "They tell me that 10 percent of the population is miserable and unhappy all the time and Kyle definitely falls in that 10 percent."
Best Alternative Vacuum Cleaner Artist
Remember when an old Electrolux was just an old Electrolux? No more. In the hands of artist, musician and pinball machine restorer Jimmy "Rocket Man" Descant, a vintage Electrolux becomes an icon of culture. Indeed, Descant reconfigures old pen lights, vacuum cleaners and thermoses, as well as other derelict machine parts, into all-new creations, mental offspring of his vision of rocketship culture, the underlying, if little recognized, paradigm that secretly shaped American tastes for the past half century or so. As such, Descant's creations are not merely a celebration but a revelation -- or even an exposé -- of this nation's classified Freudian secrets.
Best Mardi Gras Ride
At a St. Charles Avenue day parade, one man came down the neutral ground riding in his Lazy-Boy chair, which he'd outfitted with cup holders -- and a motor underneath the seat cushion.
Best Use of a Plain White T-Shirt
Local writer and publisher Abram Shalom Himelstein this year created the entertaining and enlightening What the Hell Am I Doing Here? The 100 T-Shirt Project (Garrett County Press). The book documents New Orleanians in bars, at parties and on the street, all wearing plain white T-shirts they were given -- along with instructions to write what they were thinking. Responses range from the inquisitive "Are threesomes worth the effort?" to the political "F--k 'New' Orleans Politicians," a personal slogan captured at the Jazz Funeral for Juvenile Justice rally.
Best Old-school Football
Tulane's football team is in dire financial straits and paltry crowds in the college-football-sterile Superdome don't help. Bucking the status quo, the Green Wave played their homecoming game last October against Navy at Tad Gormley Stadium to rave reviews from alumni and student alike. What's better than tailgating, an outdoor stadium in glorious fall weather, and a 38-21 win? The school should consider a permanent shift of home stadiums.
Best Volunteer Clean-up
The Bourbon Street Merchants Association raised its own funds to install metal screens over storm drains on the 100 to 900 blocks of Bourbon Street, thus preventing cups, bottles, beads and who-knows-what-else from falling into drains and eventually into Lake Pontchartrain and other local waterways. The move was applauded by the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation as crucial to keeping the lake clean.
Best Way To Become The Darling Of The New Orleans Chamber of Commerce
Why not head a successful technology firm, merge it with a giant U.S. Department of Defense contractor, bag a huge federal contract and move the company's headquarters to New Orleans -- becoming the largest IT firm in Louisiana and adding hundreds of desirable jobs to the area? That's what Bobby Savoie, CEO of Science and Engineering Associates Inc. (SEA), did. The firm's revenue has grown by 700 percent in the past few years as commercial and government clients clamor for SEA's advanced engineering, science and information technology. SEA provided a major shot in the arm -- helping to establish New Orleans as an emerging technology center, and supplying an alternative to thousands of college grads who flee Louisiana each year in pursuit of good job opportunities.
Best Way to Spend Quality Time With Your Dog
New Orleanians love to party. New Orleanians love their dogs. It's no shocker, then, that BYOB (bring your own bowzer) parties have become a hot place to meet friends, strike up romances or make business contacts -- all in the company of a roiling pack of pooches. Regular "Yappy Hours" occur at Three Dog Bakery, Bridge Lounge and Jefferson Feed, Pet and Garden Center, and the Louisiana SPCA throws several dog-friendly events throughout the year. (You can find upcoming events on the SPCA's Web site, www.la-spca.org). Remember that the next time your mutt seems to whine "You never take me anywhere."
Best Alternative Wallpaper Artist
Heather Weathers has made a name for herself in New York and here at home with her incisive commentaries on gender issues. Working in various media, she is best known as a performance artist whose efforts frequently yield interesting and unusual byproducts. For instance, her red meat bikinis (fashioned from actual cuts of red meat) were cooked and consumed immediately after being modeled. Likewise, her Ass Print Wallpaper (made from paint-smeared buttocks applied to sheets of paper) come in styles and patterns that are just the thing for anyone longing for an abstract, Rorschach-like domestic environment. Unique, and practical, too.
Best Way To Make Routine Construction Delays Seem Totally Minor and Forgivable
People who moved to New Orleans after 1990 thought they'd taken a wrong turn when they found themselves sailing down the new, smooth, barricade-free road that flanked the South Broad Street pumping station between Fontainebleau Drive and the Pontchartrain Expressway. It took folks a while to realize that after 12 years, the construction project that had spawned thorny detours, obnoxious barricades and disaster for businesses along that stretch of road was finally finished.
Best Change at Charity Hospital
The new no-need-to-stand policy. Outside Charity's emergency room, incoming patients used to stand in line next to the wall until it was their turn to see the intake nurse. Now, patients sign in, stamp their intake forms on a time clock, then sit and wait for their names to be called. Things still aren't necessarily swift or pleasant -- but at least patients can rest their legs while they wait in the famous room where the wall reads, "Welcome to the Medical Center of Louisiana, where the unusual occurs and miracles happen."
Best Extreme Roadtrip
Skaters are accustomed to making do: One cement slab becomes a limitless playground; an emptied swimming pool with curved sides is ecstasy. And so the hour-long drive to South Coast Xtreme Sports in the graying outskirts of Waveland, Miss., is nothing compared to the park's paradisiacal 25,000 square feet covered in ramps and rails. Add to that the thrill of witnessing live tricks pulled off by skateboarding legends like Bob Burnquist, Lance Mountain and Tony Hawk during frequent big-name demos.
Best Improvement on Post Office Ambience
After customers at the Louisiana Avenue post office responded encouragingly to Christmas music last December, lobby director Cheryl McGuin and the station's other employees turned the grating television off and the mellow grooves on, for good. Since then the smooth sounds of contemporary jazz musicians such as Boney James, BWB and Grover Washington have filled the often overcrowded space to a positive, tranquilizing effect.
Best Display of Creativity by Yet Another Post Office Employee
The sample postal forms displayed at the Vieux Carre post office go farther than the usual Jane or John Doe. For certified mail, the sample form reads "Jane Eyre, Thornfield Hall, Rochester, NY." Other sample recipients include Bill Cosby (9720 Figuero Drive S., Burbank, CA 90003) and Fred and Wilma Flintstone (Bedrock, CA). Those who want a return receipt from a foreign address need only follow the light-pink sample form, where the addressee is Sophia Loren, #36, Piazza d'Italia, Rome, Italy. Loren shows up a few times in the foreign section, another time receiving a package from Marcello Mastroianni, Hollywood, CA. No one in the Vieux Carre branch knows who deserves the credit for the dusty frame of faded forms. "It's old, way before my time," says one employee.
Best Fearless Sports Reporting
After the Hornets' firing of coach Paul Silas, Times-Picayune sports writers Dave Lagarde and John DeShazier repeatedly devoted their column space to blatantly question the wisdom of the move. In their columns, they wrote to demand answers from team owners George Shinn and Ray Woolridge, who shunned media inquiries in the days, then weeks, following Silas' controversial firing.
Best New T-P Columnist
The promotion of Times-Picayune political reporter Stephanie Grace to weekly columnist provided the talented writer her own space for intrepid interpretations of city news. One example was an examination of Mayor Ray Nagin's much-hyped walk through Treme to discuss neighborhood issues, with Grace's reporting going beyond the Mayor's official statements to include reactions, often uncensored and pointed, from neighborhood residents. In other highpoints, Grace critiqued Sheriff Charles Foti's standing as a statewide political candidate, and looked into the curious movement to collect petitions for the pardon and prison release for former Gov. Edwin Edwards.
Best Local TV Consumer Reporter
Two dedicated reporters receive our thanks for being where we need them. Stephanie Boswell, who joined WDSU in 1996, offers well-researched, hard-hitting reportage on topics people care about. Her May series on moving company nightmares is but one example. And WWL-TV's Bill Capo established TV consumer reporting in New Orleans -- but maybe he's too good. Because of his versatility, he is often called to fill in for other reporters, taking him away from the consumer beat.
Best Anchor on a Euphonium
When news reporting gets too stressful, WDSU-TV news anchor Norman Robinson plays the tenor tuba for relaxation. He's played the instrument for years, including at symphony performances.
Best Sibling Partnership on the News
Don't adjust your set and don't trade in your glasses. If you're watching WDSU-TV, you're not seeing double -- twin brothers Fletcher and Travers Mackel are both employed in the newsroom. Fletcher covers news and Travers handles sports.
Best Sibling Rivalry on the News
For a real sibling rivalry, tune into WWL-TV's Eyewitness Morning News, anchored by Sally-Ann Roberts, then flip over to WGNO for the national Good Morning America, which is anchored by Sally Ann's sister Robin Roberts. The winner: Sally-Ann, whose show is the top-rated local morning news broadcast in the nation.
Best Local Reality Internet Show
With The Adventures of Sherry, any second-liner, fest-goer or club rat could be suddenly famous. For a full 52 weeks, Sherry and her digital camera-toting husband, Jack, made the scene all over town and slapped photo accounts into a heavily circulated email to friends and well-wishers alike. Jack provided the color commentary under the goofy photos, which had ubiquitous Sherry acting like a cross between Zelig and the Blue Dog: Sherry with Theresa Andersson, Sherry with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Sherry hosting a crawfish boil, Sherry avoiding Quint Davis, Sherry "saluting" Jackie Clarkson. The inside jokes came flowing forth, as did the urge to hunt Sherry down and get your mug taken alongside hers. Always one for a dramatic exit, Sherry lowered her curtain on the same night that the Shim Sham shuttered, but all 52 glorious weeks are preserved on her Web site, www.adventures-of-sherry.com. Sherry, we hardly knew ye.
GOODS AND SERVICES
Best Place to Turn When a Pothole Gets Your Wheel
House of Hubcaps in Jefferson (there's a sister location in Slidell) stocks at least 30,000 new and used hubcaps at any given moment. If that ain't enough for your vintage, European or otherwise uncommon ride, they specialize in hunting down all types of hubcaps, wheels and tires.
Best Hipster Flea Market
On the third Sunday of each month, the newly opened courtyard at Mermaid Lounge is home to a flea market that boasts tables of goods brought for sale by the young and hip set. Held in the "Mermaid Garden," the sale is organized by Cree McCree and boasts wares ranging from vintage clothing to old vinyl collections. Vendors can set up for no fee, and several nonprofit groups, including Recycle for the Arts, have seized the opportunity to raise funds. The June edition featured the "Strip Down for Summer" fashion show, converting the Mermaid bar into a model's runway, and the show was broadcast on WTUL.
Best Established Shop Proprietor with an Equally Established Ponytail
You can easily spot Chick Fortner, the part-Cherokee and part-Choctaw owner of The Sun Shop on Maple Street, by his waist-length ponytail. But his store is equally distinguished for its 35 years in business, retailing handmade items from throughout the Americas, including beadwork, masks and wood carvings.
Best Way to Pretend You're a Starving Soho Artist When You Can Afford to Pay Up to $1,000 Per Night
Drop a few Benjamins at Loft 523, Sean Cummings' übersmooth new boutique hotel in the CBD, where the spare warehouse-chic decor in the 600-square-foot rooms includes photographers' tripods as floor lamps, concrete floors, long mirrors propped against walls, Italian day beds, floor-to-ceiling windows, and bathrooms featuring double-headed showers and Agape "spoon" tubs. The two penthouses include a plasma screen TV and urban terrace complete with a stone pool and herb garden, and all rooms come with DVD/CD surround sound systems and high-speed Internet access. To complete that coming-home-to-my-New-York-loft vibe, there is no outside indication whatsoever that this is a hotel -- no sign, just a sleek copper door.
Best Alternative Artist Hangout
The brainchild of impresarios Chesley Allen and Mack Henson, Z'otz Coffeehouse marks a milestone in the creative history of caffeine in this city by employing an all-artist staff, among other things. Named for the Mayan glyph (denoted by an abstract Meso-American bat) for the liminal zone between one thing and another, and especially between darkness and dusk, Z'otz features a lending library and late-night (1 a.m.) movies in addition to a dizzying array of exotic beverages including yerba mate and bubble tea. But mostly you go there for the ambience. On a recent daytime visit, the shop's second-hand chairs held small children, legs dangling, slurping glasses of cola with their dad, sitting next to two gray-haired men drinking coffee, seated next to a tableful of young women with bedhead and nose-rings. Located next to the Royal Launderette at the intersection of Touro, Royal and Kerlerec streets in the heart of Faubourg Marigny, Z'otz looks like it's always been there. Once there, you will look like you've always been there, too.
Best Supermarket Trend
Sushi to go. Used to be that fried chicken dinners were the norm (not that there's anything wrong with that), but now sushi hounds can find California rolls boxed up to take home in the $5 price range, everywhere from Meme's Market in Lakeview and Sav-a-Center in Mid-City to Whole Foods Market Uptown. Just beware the presence of the dreaded pollock ("imitation" crab), which tastes like fishy rubber no matter where you get it.
Best Place to Buy a Vintage Kimono
Cream of the Frock opened this year on Carrollton Avenue as a consignment and second-hand shop, but the owner also brings in new fashions straight from Chinatown -- blouses start at about $30 -- and bought a whole collection of mint-condition vintage kimonos from a woman on the Northshore who has collected them for decades. It's also a good place to find bargains on not-quite-new designer clothes as well as new jewelry, funky hats and more.
Best Way to Shop the Chains Without the Crowds
Go West. The national chains are increasingly finding new ground on the West Bank, and the parking lots aren't yet crowded and the stores aren't packed. Manhattan Boulevard is home to a shiny new Target that even during the holidays afforded parking within the first row. Plus, a shopping center on Manhattan Boulevard and Westbank Expressway is a bonanza of big names, with Best Buys, Barnes & Noble, Linens & Things, a newly opened Bombay Company, World Market, Shoe Carnival and more.
Best Corporate Concession to Local Tastes
The new Whole Foods Market at Arabella Station is the only Whole Foods store nationwide that brews coffee and chicory all day long, which means that customers may sip on New Orleans' favorite blend as they shop. (Whole Foods on Esplanade Avenue only sell coffee and chicory by the pound.) New Orleans shoppers know this, and now so does Whole Foods: a cafe au lait by any other blend is not a cafe au lait.
Best New Twist on a Local Tradition
Zapp's Limited Edition Pepperoni Pizza potato chips have genuine pepperoni-like spice and tang, as well as a fresh, herbaceous quality we suspect comes from the mint family. According to company spokesman Richard Gaudry, when inspiration strikes at Zapp's for a new chip, they round up the spices and perfect the flavor during casual office tastings. Zapp's Honey Mustard and Salt & Vinegar chips, standard flavors now, got their start as limited edition chips. We hope a similar future awaits the Pepperoni Pizza flavor.
Best New Twist on an Almost-local Tradition
Barq's Floatz, a new vanilla-powered soda, aims to replicate the flavor of a root beer float. It actually tastes like an even mix of root beer and cream soda, but we're not complaining because it's delicious. Packaged in a faux-frosty bottle with cartoonish visages of happy soda fountain customers, Barq's Floatz debuted in June in Louisiana and Mississippi. A June press release from the Coca-Cola Company referred to the two Southern states as "the Barq's heartland." Barq's founder, Edward Barq, spent part of his life in New Orleans; the soda company was based in Biloxi, Miss., until Coca-Cola purchased it in 1995.
Best Way to Not Take Art Too Seriously
The fun, inclusive, eclectic and inexpensive offerings and exhibit openings at SPACE Gallery are aimed at making all kinds of art -- visual and performance -- accessible to everyone. Some of the gallery's more tongue-in-cheek exhibits have included a tribute to WDSU-TV reporter Helena Moreno, a Bunny Matthews retrospective, and "Fine Art and Nice Tries," which accepted submissions by anyone who wanted to participate and asked gallery-goers to determine which pieces were "fine art" and which were ... well, you know. This fairly new space (just over a year old) has also hosted audience-participation events such as Fetish Nite, poetry slams, "alternative" film viewings, live music performances and figure drawing classes by co-owners Spencer Livingston and Robyn Menzel.
- Cheryl Gerber
- Best Incorporation of Local Flavors By A Kentuckian: Hillbilly Bar-B-Q
- Best Example of New Orleans R&B in the 22nd Century: Deacon John's Jump Blues CD/ DVD
- Best Place to Not Take Art Too Seriously: SPACE Gallery
- Best Local Candidate For A Party Switch: Senate President John Hainkel, R-New Orleans
Best Use of a Plain White T-Shirt: The 100 T- Shirt Project
Photo from What the Hell Am I Doing Here? The 100 T-Shirt Project