Stranded in the French Quarter, Shirley Gould figured the best way to prepare for Hurricane Ivan was to drink a hurricane.
“Ivan’s very strong,” the Massachusetts woman said as she sipped an Ivan Hurricane at the Corner Oyster Bar, which altered the name of the Quarter’s signature three-rum-and-grenadine cocktail in tribute to the storm. “I’d like it a little weaker.”
Millions of people fled the Gulf Coast in the face of this Category 4 monster. But every day is a party in the French Quarter, and Ivan was just another guest — albeit an unwanted one.
As the plywood-covered window at The Corner said: “We don’t run from hurricanes. We drink them.”
The streets of America’s most famous — or most infamous — neighborhood were alive with people who either couldn’t get out of the city or didn’t feel the need to.
Officials imposed a 2 p.m. citywide curfew Wednesday, so people were getting their drinking in early. The Quarter is one of the few places in America where it’s legal to get a drink to go, and many were taking advantage of the privilege.
“You just can’t panic,” Sioux City, Iowa, resident Ellen Shaner, in town for a canceled Jaycee convention, said as she walked beneath the wrought-iron balconies on Toulouse Street with a hurricane in her hand and a green-and-red balloon crown on her head.
Naomi Highland and her boyfriend, Gary Critchell, flew in from Manchester, England.
“We came from the rain, to the rain,” Highland said as she snapped a picture of Critchell, umbrella overhead, standing in front of an ornately carved facade.
“We wanted to do a swamp tour,” said Critchell. “But we reckon if it floods, the swamp will come to us.”
At 5 feet above sea level, the Quarter is the highest point in this bowl-shaped city, which is the reason it was settled first. And if the tourists were taking Ivan in stride, some locals were downright unimpressed.
By 8 a.m., seaman Michael Reed at the Double Play bar had already downed two Irish coffees and was working on his fifth Rolling Rock.
“I’ve been through many hurricanes at sea,” said Reed, who already had his dollar bills lined up in front of him for the next few rounds. “Worse comes to worst,” he said, clapping his hands together in front of him as if in prayer. “What’s the old saying? There’s no such thing as atheists in foxholes.”
At the Ninth Circle night club on the Quarter’s outer edge, workers nailed up some last bits of plywood. Owner Tony Langlinais nailed an orange life jacket onto the frame — in case someone floating by might need it.
Most people in the Quarter just didn’t think Ivan was going to do much damage here. New Orleans hasn’t suffered a direct hit in 39 years, and most here were counting on that luck to hold out.
“Oh, we don’t need luck,” Kevin McCarthy said as he raised his Ivan Hurricane at the Corner. “We need alcohol.”