Laissez les bon temps rouler

My double nickel birthday falling on Fat Tuesday had me pining for a return to the city not for spectators, but for participants. The following travelogue recollections spotlight how "bon temps" are an easy pursuit in New Orleans.

NOV 1993: My Big Easy intro included a memorable dinner at Emeril's. A seat at the "Chef's Table" provided an up-close kitchen view of a young Emeril Lagasse prepping meals. The night concluded with a Neville Brothers concert at the legendary Tipatina's.

MAY 2000: Strolling through Jackson Square, my then girlfriend suggested a tarot card reading from a street soothsayer. I agreed, but asked Amy to wait briefly while I privately vetted. Thinking quickly, I confessed to Ms. Styx my intention to propose and slipped her a $20 to "influence" her cards. I waved Amy over and Ms. Styx provided her most accurate reading ever - asking me if I had an engagement ring in my pocket after she flipped the Ten of Cups celebration card. We had our 20th anniversary in February.

JAN 2001: Eight months later, I returned for my bachelor party which included a private dining room with 12 of my apostles. Beyond one grainy picture of us recreating da Vinci's "Last Supper," no further details are available until our 50-year non-disclosures expire.

OCT 2012: This Halloween trip included a very late Trombone Shorty concert and a very early Jazz Half run (the 5K, not the half marathon) where I placed a PR 18th among 456 participants while likely running under the influence.

MAY 2019: Speaking of RUI's, rendezvoused with a couple of childhood chums to compete in Uptown's Tchoupitoulas Bar-A-Thon, a race spanning 6 miles, visiting six bars, providing six beers. The race festivities ended with an odd watermelon sacrifice that is best experienced versus described. Later, at my favorite FQ dive bar, the Chart Room on Chartres (cash-only), I'm convinced we crossed paths with a zombie, a shapeshifting simian and a cross-dressing vampire (Dragula?) that was either Ted Cruz or his doppelganger. Photo proof of all three if you catch me around town with my iPhone.

Standard "must do's" for every trip include the Pimm's Cup @ Napoleon House and the muffuletta @ Cochon Butcher. An aptly named podcast, "Beyond Bourbon Street," is an excellent resource for more recommendations. I'll be dropping into the Bywater and Lower Gardendistricts on a soon-to-be-scheduled eighth visit.

If you need a local Cajun cuisine fix until travel to NOLA becomes more practical, try Jimmy Bannos' Heaven on Seven or crash Slidell native Helen Becka's house when she prepares her Louisiana gumbo ... and let the good times roll.

- Bret Conway of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist.