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Twelfth Night Reveling!
Invitation to the 1884 bal masque of the Twelfth Night Revelers. (Public domain image courtesy the Louisiana State Museum)
Twelfth Night Reveling!
It’s Carnival Time! We’re starting off the season talking about Twelfth Night, the Feast of the Epiphany, King’s Day. There are three segments to this week’s pod. In the first segment, we discuss the history of Twelfth Night, from its pre-Christian origins to how we celebrate Epiphany in the modern world.
Our second segment is about the part of King’s Day that matters most, King Cake. The tradition of the king cake goes back centuries. Celtic peoples practiced the notion of the “sacred king”. The village or tribe would choose one of their own, a man, to be the sacred king. He would be sacrificed. The sacred king’s blood would flow into the land, an offering to the gods to ensure a good harvest.
When Christianity came to Europe, the concept of human sacrifice as stopped. The “sacred king” became a “Lord of Misrule” who led the celebrations. The selection process for both roles was basically the same. The women of the village would bake bread or a cake, and put a bean into the cake. When the cake was cut up and served, the man who got the bean became the sacred king. In Christian times, the tale was changed, so that the bean represented the Christ child. That’s where the modern concept of “getting the baby” originated.
The modern, commercial king cake came about in the 1930s. Haydel’s Bakery began to include a porcelain “baby” in each cake in the 1960s. The baby became plastic not soon after that.
Buying King Cakes
You can buy Dong Phuong king cakes at the bakery, or at Pizza NOLA in Lakeview
Twelfth Night Reveling in New Orleans
The Twelfth Night room at Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter
Our third segment walks through Carnival celebrations in early New Orleans, to the first parade, Comus, in 1857. Parading on January 6th began in 1870, with the Twelfth Night Revelers. The krewe paraded in the streets until 1878. After that, they limited their celebration to just a bal masque. Tonight, there will be three parades: The Phunny Phorty Phellows, the Société Des Champs Elysée, and the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc.
Fitzgerald’s Restaurant at West End, New Orleans, 1995 (Edward Branley photo)
The craziest day at West End was always Good Friday! After the solemn aspects of Good Friday were observed, many New Orleans families headed out to West End for seafood. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t exactly as solemn as perhaps the Church wanted, but the food was good. Two of the popular restaurants were Brunings (top) and Fitzgerald’s. Both of these photos are from 1995. My family always preferred Brunings; their whole stuffed flounder is still the standard by which that dish is judged.
The Bucktown Bridge, connecting Orpheum Street in Metairie to West End in New Orleans, 1995 (Edward Branley photo)
We would come from the Metairie side of West End, crossing the old Bucktown Bridge, which, alas, ATNM, between storms and the enhanced flood protection/controls on the 17th Street Canal.
Hurricanes during the 1990s all but obliterated the restaurants, bars, and nightclubs at West End. Even before Katrina, it was impossible for the property owners to re-build, because of wind and flood issues. No insurance company would underwrite reconstruction or new development.
West End for dining and entertainment is a thing of the past, but many folks still have fond memories of fun evenings looking out on the water.
Restaurant L. Boudro in Milneburg (Public Domain image courtesy HNOC)
Lucien Boudro opened a seafood restaurant in Milneburg, in 1842. He passed away in 1867, and the restaurant closed a few years later. The restaurant was in a charming house with a gated garden. The train tracks in front of the restaurant were for the Orleans and Pontchartrain RR, known as the “Smokey Mary”. Milneburg was an active port area in Antebellum New Orleans. Ships could bypass the river passes by coming from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Borgne, through the Chef Menteur Pass or the Rigolets, then into Lake Pontchartrain, docking at Milneburg. They’d get back to Faubourg Marigny by taking the train down Elysian Fields Avenue.
I haven’t found any restaurant reviews for Boudro’s, but surely they had access to a lot of good lake seafood.
Image is a watercolor on linen. Artist is unknown.
Dinner at West End
Bird’s eye view of Mannessier’s and West End Restaurant at West End, New Orleans, Louisiana. (LSM Collection, in the Public Domain)
Fridays in Lent usually bring out all the memories of going to Bruning’s, Fitzgerald’s, and other seafood places out at West End. Here’s a photo from an earlier vintage of West End, 1892. The restaurant on the left is Mannessier’s, on the right, West End Restaurant.
Mannessier’s Pavilion at West End, 1900s. (NOPL collection in the Public Domain)
Mannessier’s Restaurant was owned/operated by the same family that owned Mannessier’s Confectionary at 705 Royal Street, in the French Quarter. They opened the West End location in the late 1880s. They added a pavilion to the property in 1899, which was taken down in 1911.
At this time, West End was more of a day trip from downtown/uptown. You made your way to Canal Street and took the West End streetcar line out to the lakefront.
(h/t WebsitesNewOrleans.com for the pavilion photo)