- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

NEW ORLEANS It's always party time in the "Big Easy."
The streets are jammed with revelers. Parades are a daily happening. Supermodels and superstars attend parties. Tourists say it's Super Bowl eve. Locals call it Saturday night.
Mardi Gras meets Super Bowl XXXVI. The NFL's championship game, climaxing two weeks of frantic fun, returns to New Orleans for a record ninth time when the St. Louis Rams meet the New England Patriots tonight. The party atmosphere, with its cool jazz and Creole cuisine, has long enchanted the league's owners. The bars never close, young women who flash more than a smile are rewarded with beads, and palm readers line local parks ready to reveal the future.
More than 125,000 visitors have crammed the town, spending $350million. And New Orleans is ready, given its annual $4.7billion tourist industry that entertains more than 8million visitors a year. They will find a Caribbean-like port where "let the good times roll" is seemingly the town motto. After all, they've been celebrating here since pirate Jean Lafitte routed the British in 1814.
"Maybe we're just a little more marinated," said local restaurateur Michael Reiss. "Not knocking the North, but [New Orleans is] a little more slower pace. People have always been very friendly. Bourbon Street is one of the most recognized streets in the world. People automatically know it's a party destination."
More than 800million people in 166 countries will watch the game that has become an American institution. Patriotism will be paramount and security quite strict around the Superdome. It seems fitting that a city that celebrates life as its lifestyle should play host to the game. Oh, death is also big in this town, as its famed cemeteries prove, but until they suffer that sting, these Creole-accented residents prefer to relish "a bon vie."
"There is no place like New Orleans," Rams cornerback Aeneas Williams said of his hometown. "This place is used to hosting big events. They're used to the parades, the Mardi Gras, the Super Bowls. You can go anywhere. I can take you to a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant and you will feel at home. That's the big difference. The people here love people, and what I love is that you can go up to someone and say, 'Hi,' and get a conversation going."
The epicenter of the carnival atmosphere is the notorious French Quarter, where a simple crossing of the street, from the business district, means transcending centuries per step. Open-air bars feature "Hurricanes" and "Grenades" mixed in large vats. Strip bars, ranging from tame to temptuous, are intermixed with upscale restaurants, government buildings and even churches.
Think of an X-rated Georgetown that's 10 times bigger and police who are unconcerned with public drinking. Even conservative adults can shun their inhabitions and dance in the streets like college students on spring break. Indeed, the local economy counts on it.
Gennifer Flowers, a former very close friend of Bill Clinton, opened a nightclub as its featured torch singer. Flowers could be considered a modern version of Bourbon Street burlesque performer Blaze Starr, who once captured the attention of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long. Flowers' nightclub is in a building that once housed (in order) a brothel, a nightclub owned by the mistress of actor Humphrey Bogart and a restaurant staffed by transvestites.
New Orleans has a storied history, most of it colorful. The southern hospitality extends beyond the French Quarter borders. It permeates the everyday culture. When passersby say, "Have a nice day," it's more than some corporate cliche. They mean it.
New Orleans is more than crawfish and carnivals. It's a gateway to a foreign flavor on American soil, like New York's Little Italy and Miami's Little Havana.
"New Orleans is a melting pot. Every year we have the greatest free show on Earth, and we have less incidents than most cities have in their normal routine," said former Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jimmy Fitzmorris. "It's a real happy atmosphere. We recognize we can get more done by being helpful to each other. We might disagree, but we don't have to be disagreeable."
The Super Bowl moves to San Diego next year. Houston, Jacksonville and Detroit follow, with Washington a possible host in 2007. However, the Super Bowl spirit never truly leaves New Orleans. After all, the NFL knows a good thing when it sees one.

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