Photos by Sophia Whitfield
Last Saturday, trendy Shoreditch was home to an event hosted by Nightjar and inspired by New Orleans and the licensed pleasure houses of the fin de siècle French Quarter, otherwise known as Storyville. Nightjar was able to toss up a fabulous evening of antics, entertainment and delicious cocktails that harked back to the Big Easy, but not as it is usually known.
As soon as you walked into the dimly lit venue, Factory 7, you were hit with the sense of mystery. As the mason jar candles cast strange shadows on the walls and fellow attendees, it was easy to imagine a Voodoo priest jumping out of the crowd with his magical paraphernalia, which is exactly what happened before the night was over. Just one of many performers over the course of the evening, the Voodoo priest shook his staff decorated with bones and introduced one of the other entertainers, a fire dancer who performed a exciting, but brief, show with her fire fan. Other performers included a burlesque dancer with Isis wings and an acrobatic woman swinging from the ceiling on a hoop, dressed like something from Moulin Rouge.
While a few of the guests dressed in fittingly mysterious costumes, some of them interpreted the code, ‘bordello chic’, in intriguing ways. Every decade between 1860 and 1950 was covered and I even spotted a man dressed as if he were an Amish teen on his Rumspringa. Perhaps not quite what Nightjar intended, but it certainly added to the overall carnival-esque atmosphere.
Nightjar has a reputation for delicious beverages and the New Orleans inspired cocktail I sampled was both divine and dangerous. The Bayou Barbeque, made with Jack Daniels, maple syrup, chocolate bitters and BBQ rim, was a fine drink – strong enough for me to feel like a whisky-sipping Southerner, but sweet enough to keep me from gagging.
But the atmosphere and drinks aside, it was the music that I had come for. There was ragtime, blues, swing, jazz and everything in between. To me, this is what a New Orleans-inspired evening should be about. Bordellos and pleasure houses could have been anywhere, but no where else in the world can groove or pull on the heartstrings quite like Nawlins. My personal favourite of the evening had to be the group Brass Volcanos (pictured above), though I have always been a sucker for brass bands. I mean, seriously, who can resist a sousaphone? The only thing missing were the umbrellas.
While I like to pretend that I know how to get down on the dancefloor, my moves paled in the shadow of the dancers from Swing Patrol. Breaking out in improved dance circles or choreographed shows, the fast stepping swingers really shook their tail feathers.
An entertaining trip into vintage New Orleans, Storyville was a fabulous evening. Bar Nightjar delivered a night of intrigue and exceptional music, and I will be looking forward to more of their evenings.
This article originally appeared in Songlines.