Southern Food And Beverage Museum

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As the world certainly understands by now, New Orleans is home to many wonderful things to eat and drink. But if you want to understand how that eating and drinking are not mere pleasure but culture – not only in New Orleans but across Texas and the rest of the South – the brand-new Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans is the place for you. I attended the ribbon cutting and am happy to report: Yes, you can get hot sauce with that.

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Almost as fascinating as the museum is the building that houses it. The structure was long known as the Dryades Market, one of a network of “city markets” that existed in New Orleans before the advent of supermarkets. Abandoned for decades, this former market is now viewed as an exemplar of a neighborhood, known as Central City, that’s on the rise again – post-Katrina, post-Recession, post a whole lot of things. The renovation by Woodward Design + Build is truly striking, a testament at all levels – financial, political and visionary – to a “Can Do” spirit that is still somewhat new to “old” New Orleans.

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Getting anything with so many moving parts open by a certain date is heartwrenching (as I learned covering the World’s Fair in New Orleans as a young UPI reporter in 1984), and everybody stressed how many great things are still in storage. Not least, there’s the Museum of the American Cocktail that will be housed within SoFAB, as the larger museum is colorfully known. Set up for the ribbon-cutting, however, were small exhibits showcasing each state in the South (I told them the Texas one needed to be bigger!), along with creative evocations of Southern cultural touchpoints like coffee and oysters.

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More twists and turns are still to come, as the opening remarks by famed California chef Jeremiah Tower made clear. There will be lectures and cooking demos in a lovely kitchen space, a separate kitchen to service an on-site restaurant and even a lovingly restored wooden bar for making, of all crazy things, cocktails.  It’s amazing how much New Orleans can accomplish when it sets its mind to it – and when it so clearly loves the subject matter. In truth, I never wanted the South to “rise again.” Here, curated and showcased in New Orleans, is the best South, the one that actually deserves to be embraced by its children forever.

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