New Orleans debates go-cup

You can tell we’re still in the meaningless pre-season because the hottest subject of conversation around town last week wasn’t the performance of the Saints but the future of the go-cup.

To hear some of the howls of protest over the possibility of the go-cup’s demise, you’d think someone was trying to take away the roast beef po-boy, or king cakes.

Somehow in all of this discussion, the go-cup became enshrined as a New Orleans institution, at least in the minds of its defenders. It’s a New Orleans peculiarity, for sure, one that elicits shock and awe among out-of-town visitors.

It’s hardly an institution, though. A poll of New Orleanians would probably rank the go-cup pretty far down on a list of what makes this city special.

But for people of certain tastes and proclivities, and especially young adults, it is a cherished perk. I almost expected last week that some young man in a college sweatshirt would bolt in front of the TV cameras, lift his go-cup, and taunt the government: “From my cold, dead hand.”

Despite all of the recent public fretting, the go-cup is not being killed off. It’s only being regulated — regulated a lot more than, say, guns or campaign contributions.

It turns out that while a lot of people weren’t looking, restrictions on go-cups have been slipped into agreements between neighborhoods and their alcoholic beverage outlets. In some cases, such as the booming Freret Street area between Napoleon and Jefferson avenues, go-cups have been banned at all restaurants and bars.

Some neighborhoods have been able to extract these complete bans when local establishments tried to get a new alcohol permit or renew an old one. In other places, curious restrictions have been applied. When Jimmy’s — a popular Willow Street music club that many of us frequented in the previous century — was cleared to reopen recently, the city decreed that only go-cups that bear the club’s name are allowed. Other bars have faced the same stipulation.

I suppose the thinking is that if the cup with a club’s name on it winds up in the gutter, the source of the problem can be publicly shamed. However, I’m reminded of that old line that went, “I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right.” A cast-off go-cup, whether in the gutter or on a neutral ground or wherever, still gets the brand out there.

There used to be a certain charm attached to the corner bar. In the popular mythology, it was where harried working-class men would go after their shifts ended before they went home to a house full of kids, pending bills and other terrors. But that’s changed, and there have been numerous complaints in recent years about what bars can do to a neighborhood. There’s litter, noise, traffic and, in the worst cases, people urinating in nearby yards.

Particular behaviors at Carnival time that might be acceptable in the French Quarter — such as the practice of bartering beads in exchange for certain lascivious actions — are frowned upon on the Uptown parade route. Similarly, while loud drunks are allowed to stumble with impunity along Bourbon or Decatur sloshing their drinks out of their go-cups as they amble, that’s not a welcome behavior in residential neighborhoods.

Balancing our love of a good time with preserving the livability of our old neighborhoods is the challenge city leaders will have to face for a long, long time.

Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column, he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica’s email address is dpersica@gmail.com.