Top 5-04

A Case Against A Case Against Bourbon Street

In our most recent episode of Top 5-04: The Podcast, we attempted to come up with a list of the Top 5 Bars on Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ most notorious strip of debauchery.  My co-host, Alex, makes an impassioned argument against  the street, calling it unsafe, deriding the people who choose to hang out there, and only presenting half the truth in attacking the quality of its establishments.

It makes for great sound bytes, but as I looked into his assertions, it’s clear they don’t summarize the true nature of the street he’s attacking.

I will take this opportunity to right some of his wrongs.

How Unsafe is Bourbon Street?

Now, remember, my rambunctious colleague isn’t making the case that you should stay away from New Orleans.  Alex, like all of us, loves it here.  He’s saying you should stay away from Bourbon Street, because he believes it’s more dangerous than the rest of the city.

Well, the numbers don’t show that to be true.  Alex mentioned a murderous incident in November of 2016 in which a gunfight resulted in the death of one victim and the injuring of nine others.  Every life is important, and I don’t mean to trivialize the incident.  It was a tragedy.

But I do want to put it in perspective, and into context.  We live in a city that has a murder problem.  The number of gun-related murders (and gun-related violence in general) has dropped from its worst point back at the start of this decade.  But there was an abrupt spike in murders, city-wide, in the 12 months comprising of the second half of 2016 and the first half of 2017.

Since then, those numbers have begun to come back down.  But let’s look at that spike, because that’s when the murder on Bourbon Street Alex mentioned took place.

A report, from the month of the incident, by local television station, WWL, puts it well:

Shootings on Bourbon Street may bring lots of negative national attention, but they are extremely rare. There have been only four of them in the last five years, and a whole calendar year passed between the shooting of a bouncer on Bourbon Street on Nov. 28, 2015, and Sunday’s incident.

In the same report, crime analyst, Jeff Asher, makes the case that focusing on improving safety on Bourbon Street, at the expense of other parts of the city, is absurd.  He says, “we’ve had 470 shootings [not murders, just shootings] in New Orleans in the last year and if you stopped every single one of the Bourbon Street shootings we would have had 469 shootings in the last year.”

Alex also claimed Bourbon Street is more dangerous than any similar street in America, referencing Times Square as a comparison.  A quick Google search brings that assertion into doubt, as well:

I’m not claiming Times Square is a dangerous place to walk around.  But, I’m also not sure it’s any safer than Bourbon Street.  There’s even a so-so 1943 movie called, “Murder in Times Square.”  Yikes.


How Awful Are These People Who Hang on Bourbon?

Alex’ most impressive moment of the podcast came when he said, “I wanted to give it a chance.  Let’s make ‘fetch’ happen!” in an apparent nod to the 2004 movie, Mean Girls.  To be clear, I’m impressed that he’d seen the film (recently enough to quote it?), not that he was making the claim Bourbon Street — and its patrons — somehow need him, Adam and myself to sprinkle them with a dose of cool.

I am clearly the most fetch of the three.

Well, Alex is now picking a fight with Tulane professor, renowned author, and accomplished geographer, Richard Campanella.  If you have 15 minutes, you have to give this piece of his, on the politics of the authenticity of Bourbon Street, a read.  Its awesome, and I’ve read it a few times over the last couple of years.

In that piece, titled, Hating Bourbon Street (paging you, #TeamAlex), Campanella calls our hangup on authenticity into question:


Intrinsic to the progressive brand of Bourbon hating is the notion of authenticity, or rather, the lack thereof.

Authenticity is seductive; we embrace it because it makes us feel exclusive. Hating Bourbon Street has valuable social currency, and it’s an easy step toward assuming co-ownership of “real” New Orleans culture. But declaring something to be inauthentic positions the critic in the dubious position of arbitrating reality. What qualifies any one individual — a “progressive,” no less — to cast such bold judgment? The fact that no one person or community ever thinks of himself, herself, or itself as anything but fully real and genuine suggests that inauthenticity is at best a subjective and arbitrary construct, and at worse, an arrogant disparagement. It smacks of smugness; it is necessarily exclusionary; and it is usually elitist — yet it tumbles from the mouths of people who purport to be enlightened, inclusionary and egalitarian. Worse, inauthenticity rests on the troubling supposition that not all human beings or human endeavors contribute equally to this thing we call culture; that some are more worthy than others.

Read that second paragraph again!  Exclusive?  Arrogant?  Smug?  ELITIST?  Campanella’s not talking about #TeamAdam and he’s not talking about #TeamMatt, I’ll tell you that much.

Do Bourbon Street Bars Only Get 1-Star Ratings?

Listening to Alex, you’d think the bars Adam and I were choosing were universally hated.  But, of course, our nemesis was playing two tricks on us.  First, with one hand he was belittling the taste and intelligence of the folks who find enjoyment in the antics of Bourbon Street, while — with the other hand — he was reading the reviews of some of those individuals as gospel.

Second, he was reading exclusively 1-star reviews.

Do some people have bad experiences on Bourbon Street?  Of course they do.  But customers have bad experiences everywhere from time to time.  That includes at (The) Cure, an establishment Alex had raved about in Episode 2: 50 (Minus 45) First Dates, as well as in Episode 3: Don’t Worry Be Happy Hours.

Yelp review 1

Yelp review 2
There’s not a shortage of 1-star reviews to choose from, even at a place like Cure.

Listen — I really like Cure!  My intention isn’t to bash the place.  It’s just to show that no spot is safe from a podcast host searching for negativity on the world wide web.

For the record, Cure has a 4.0 Yelp rating.  Not flawless, but nothing to scoff at, either.  Maybe the biggest lesson?  Yelp reviews — especially those taking up the space of an outlier — do not paint the entire picture of an establishment.

Hey, look!  Even The Swamp on Bourbon Street, one of #TeamAdam’s choices (that I don’t necessarily agree with), has 5-star Yelp reviews:

yelp review 3

You wouldn’t have guessed it, based on what Alex was choosing to share.  But, to be fair, The Swamp only has a Yelp average of 2.5.  Can any bar on Bourbon Street rival Cure’s 4-star average?

Of course — and many exceed it.  You know which bar matched Cure on Yelp?  Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop!  I shit you not.  And I only say it like that, because to listen to Alex bag on Lafitte’s, one would assume the bartender is peeing in a mug and handing it to you.  Go back and listen for yourself!

The issue isn’t that my dear cohost didn’t like the place.  We’re all entitled to our opinion.

The issue is that he tried to make the case that anyone who could find something positive about Bourbon Street is somehow flawed.

Well, not according to Yelp, and not according to me.

Listen.  This piece is mostly tongue-in-cheek.  Alex is one of my great friends in the world, and he’s among the smartest people I know.  An excellent example of that intelligence was in something he said during Episode 5: Bad Boys, Bad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You?

In that episode, he quoted the 1995 film, The Usual Suspects, as he warned us, “the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Well here’s my warning to you, listeners.  Beware of #TeamAlex.

He exists.  He’s ruthless.  And he’s dangerous.


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