The Quarter is more subdued than I expect. I am making my way down Decatur Street towards Molly’s at the Market to watch the Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts. A Monday Night Football match is taking place in 15 minutes, and Drew Brees tonight is set to break Peyton Manning’s all-time touchdown record, but it feels neither like a game night nor the holiday season.
Less than two weeks before Christmas and Decatur Street’s building fronts and balconies are lit with Christmas lights and hung with red-bowed wreaths. The air is cool, but it lacks that winter chill, and I don’t notice the decorations right away, and when I do I wonder how long they’ve been up.
So far this season I haven’t heard a single Christmas jingle and not a single stranger has wished me a “Merry Christmas.” Normally, I would chalk up both (especially the former) to pure luck, but this year it feels like a collective social oversight.
The folks out tonight, just as the weather, don’t add much definition to the evening. Tucked inside bars or standing out in front of them, the crowds they constitute are sparse and quieter than usual. Whatever the reason, it occurs to me that this time of year has a way of sneaking up on you. It requires a trigger, a moment, an event to jog the memory.
Thus far, I’ve avoided the Christmas jingles, but I wouldn’t mind something less corny to remind me what this time of year can feel like. A Salvation Army Santa might do the trick, or maybe just a guy in a Santa hat. Either would do, really. I keep my eyes open for signs of Christmas life as I enter Molly’s, but I’m careful to make no demands about what the night will bring.
Molly’s at the Market is an Irish bar, an established hangout for writers and journalists. A chalk portrait of William Butler Yeats hangs near the whiskey. In the portrait, he looks a bit like Colonel Sanders but with a touch of Harry Potter. Maybe, in general, that’s an accurate description of Yeats, or maybe it’s just that portrait. The more I think about it, the harder to say.
The bar’s décor mixes it up with tchotchke, including memorabilia about the bar’s legendary founder, Jim Monahan. His ashes behind the bar, above the cash register in a mahogany urn that’s been described as looking like an air filter. Hanging from the walls and rafters are signs for local media and deceased French Quarter businesses, like Kaldi’s Coffeehouse and Bonaparte’s Retreat. And perhaps the most eclectic touch of all is that the top of the bar is lined with police patches from around the world.
The Molly’s crowd resembles the other subdued crowds I encountered tonight on my Decatur Street walk. The game is a home game, and Kisha, the bartender, tells me that away games pull a bigger crowd than home games. Her words offer one reason why things don’t feel particularly festive. Most of the Quarter’s revelers are on the other side of Poydras watching the game in person at the Dome. I order a High Life and a shot of Jameson for $6, and I take a seat next to the jukebox by the door.
Allow me to backtrack. The most eclectic touch in Molly’s isn’t the police patches, it is, in fact, a signed and framed portrait of Pope Pius XI dated Sept. 27, 1923. It hangs just over the jukebox next to the side of the bar where Molly’s regulars usually sit. Right now, that part of the bar is empty. Across the room, there is a doorway that leads to a patioed backbar where I’ve spent the occasional night drinking with strangers and friends. Patios are better in the summer, of course, and tonight it doesn’t appear to be open just yet.
As the middle of the first quarter arrives, the Saints are up by a field goal. Despite the score, much of the bar, aside from a couple actively cheering, doesn’t have the vibe that they’re here to watch. In fact, there’s a table of folks next to mine who aren’t watching the game at all. A mix of men and women, some of the men are wearing suits, and one is wearing a nametag. His name is Paul.
When I ask the group what brings them to Molly’s, a man, not Paul, tells me that they’re a MeetUp group. I ask him what he and the others have in common. “Similar interests,” he says, flashing a smile, and he doesn’t have much else to add. With piqued curiosity, I return to my conversation. A moment earlier, Esteban, my friend, arrived, and we’d been discussing, in his words, “the hipsterization of Latin and Caribbean food.”
Esteban’s take is that when you can get plenty of the real stuff around town, it’s criminally bourgeois to overcharge people for it in fancy settings, and it’s even worse that people will pay those prices to eat it. I agree, but we both know the reality is that while people enjoy variety, they are rarely brave enough to go out and procure that variety themselves. Mostly, a hipster restaurant can put all the spice of life on a menu for a price, and in order to forego the less desirable aspects of ethnic food - mingling in ethnic neighborhoods and at ethnic grocers - we diners will pay that price.
We want all that we want, but there’s only so far we’re willing to go to get it, and so we settle for chic when we really want authentic.
By now, it’s the early second quarter, and the score is 10-0 Saints. To my delight, there is still more to discover about the interior of Molly’s. Along with the Yeats and Pius XI portraits, along with the police patches and the Celtic flourishes, all of which blend into a décor with themes tangential, there is also a Cuban flag hanging from the ceiling. It’s married to a CBS News sign. I’m not sure if the way the bar’s touches blend into one another is by design, or if it’s simply that all the little parts have been together so long that time has sort of melded them into a singular look.
“They’re polyamorous,” Esteban says in reference to the group at the other table once they have left. He’d searched MeetUp.com for any 8 p.m. meetups occurring at Molly’s. The only one on the schedule was the “Finding Your Poly Life” meetup. He hands me his phone, and I check out the page. It was organized by someone with the name Paul.
In the fourth quarter, a squadron of NOPD SUVS pull up. Their flashing blue lights fill the bar. It’s unclear who or what they’re after, or what is going on. As the police situation unfolds, Drew Brees throws the touchdown pass that puts him ahead of Peyton Manning for most touchdowns in NFL history. The Saints win the game 34-7.
On our way out of the bar and into the swirl of police lights, a guy in a blue Dodgers cap pokes his head in the window by the jukebox. “Y’all see my fucking entourage?” he asks. While there certainly isn’t much of a party happening tonight, it feels like the police are here to break one up, and his joke cuts the tension.
As my feet hit Decatur, I know that the blue lights aren’t exactly Christmas lights, and tonight hasn’t been exactly the most festive, but I do my best to embrace the night. I want to see the world the way I see the interior of Molly’s, an eclectic mind meld created both by time and a let-it-be attitude.
Tonight, it’s been a little warmer than usual; it’s been a little quieter, and folks seems a little more distant. With or without fanfare, with or without all the right feelings, in a week, it’ll be Christmas, and that’s a part of the mood and the moment, even if maybe none of us in the Quarter tonight can quite figure out how just yet.