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Gambit's 2013 Year in Review 

A look at the strangest, most interesting and in some cases, most alarming stories of the year.

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1. TOURIST OF THE YEAR
The Dalai Lama

Forget Super Bowl quarterbacks — the year's most high-profile visitor to New Orleans was the Dalai Lama, whose May trip to the city saw colorful Tibetan prayer flags fluttering from balconies all over town.

2. SCARIEST NEW LOCAL OF THE YEAR
Pierre the Pelican

When the newly rebranded New Orleans Pelicans unveiled their new mascot, Pierre the Pelican, at a game in late October, reviews were not good:

  "The Pelicans unveiled 'Pierre' to fans on Wednesday, and he is completely and utterly terrifying. Seriously. Don't try to stare into his eyes for more than a few seconds." — Sean Highkin, USA Today

  "The thing is nightmare-inducing, and if I didn't know better, I'd say it was simply a cruel Halloween costume  meant to scare small children at New Orleans Arena." — Sam Gardner, Fox Sports

  "From a distance, it's cute and cuddly enough to make you think you shouldn't be afraid, but then you get up close and catch a glimpse of that gaping, 'smiling' maw, which is the portal for your soul's devourment." — Deadspin

  Meanwhile, busy fans set to work Photoshopping Pierre into a number of disturbing images: as the creature from both Alien and The Ring movies, as the twins from The Shining and even into both Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper and the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The hapless pelican was even the butt of jokes on Comedy Central's late-night series @Midnight. Pity poor Pierre — he just wants to be loved, and to shoot you with a T-shirt cannon.

3. DANCE OF THE YEAR
Twerking

If you grew up in New Orleans, you likely called it "p-poppin'" when you first saw it (though DJ Jubilee was using the word "twerk" as early as 1993). As the bounce scene became popular elsewhere, Americans got their first look at New Orleans-style twerking. But it was an instantly infamous performance by Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke at the August MTV Video Music Awards that brought "twerk" to the mainstream and launched a national debate about New Orleans' booty popping.

  Big Freedia told the press that Cyrus "didn't really twerk properly" ("Just get me and Miley together so I could give her ass some lessons"). The Queen Diva then asserted her own dominance in the genre by attempting to set a Guinness World Record for twerking in New York's Herald Square in October. Just last week, Cyrus tried to twerk up trouble again by grinding on Santa Claus at a holiday concert in Los Angeles. Are you shocked yet? Neither are we.

click to enlarge cover_story-1.jpg

4. TRIM OF THE YEAR
City Park/Ty Park fiasco

Have you ever asked someone to do something — then realized you should have been more specific? In October, New Orleans City Park officials hired a contractor to do some trim work, only to have him cut down two of the letters in the iconic topiary CITY PARK sign. By the time horrified neighbors intervened, the damage was done, and CITY PARK was now TY PARK. New boxwoods were planted within the week.

5. ALTERCATION OF THE YEAR
Jim Letten vs. James O'Keefe

In July, muckraker James O'Keefe of the website Project Veritas was removed from the campus of Tulane University after he and a camera crew attempted to interview former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. In 2010, Letten recused himself from a federal case that followed an incident in which O'Keefe and his crew posed as telephone repairmen and gained access to Sen. Mary Landrieu's New Orleans office. (The recusal, presumably, was due to the fact that one of O'Keefe's crew was the son of William Flanagan, acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana — Letten's then-counterpart in the western half of the state.) Later that year, O'Keefe and his partners pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in that case and received probation, community service and minor fines. But when O'Keefe attempted to give Letten a copy of his book Breakthrough, Letten gave O'Keefe a piece of his mind in return, calling him a "hobbit," "spud," "scum" and "asshole." The video of their encounter was posted promptly on Project Veritas' website.

6. ENDLESS DEBATE OF THE YEAR
Hipsters and gentrifiers

Forget "the N word" — this year we were suffused with "the G word" (gentrification) and the dreaded "H word" (hipster). If you open a business, are you a gentrifier? What if it's in a formerly blighted building? If you like to ride your bike to the Hi-Ho or Euclid Records, are you automatically a hipster? What if you moved to Bywater from Portland, Ore. in 2012? (OK, then probably you are a hipster.) There's no concrete definition of either of these terms, but it didn't stop New Orleans from passionately arguing about it all year — after all, someone or something must be making the rents rise so quickly, and it can't be us, so it must be them ... whoever they are.

7. UNFORTUNATE AD PLACEMENT OF THE YEAR
The Talk

French Quarter residents who were already unhappy over CBS Sports turning much of the Upper Quarter into a TV backlot during Super Bowl XLVII finally hit the roof when officials promoting the CBS daytime yap show The Talk hung a promotional sign on the statue of former President Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square. After a day of social media outrage, the sign was taken down and CBS issued a terse apology: "The sign, which was placed due to a light reflection issue, has been removed."

8. SECURITY MEASURE OF THE YEAR
Clear purses at Saints games

The NFL ticked off lots of Saints fans when it mandated new rules for bags carried into football arenas. Anything larger than a clutch bag had to be transparent — the NFL website actually recommended Who Dats carry their possessions in Ziploc bags, or (ahem) purchase one of the league's nifty new clear tote bags for $10. Fans who hadn't gotten the word were turned away at the gates, and there were plenty of anecdotes about Who Dats who missed most of the first quarter trudging back to their cars. Local comics Colleen Allerton and Lauren LaBorde (a former Gambit staffer) made a funny video ("My Purse, My Choice") about the brouhaha, which went viral and even got a writeup in The New York Times. The NBA followed the NFL's lead on bag restrictions, but its rules were less onerous — they could be larger, and they didn't have to be transparent, protecting Pelicans fans' privacy.

9. NAME CHANGE OF THE YEAR
Hor ... uh, Pelicans

Even though the name "Pelicans" was first proposed more than a year ago, we're still not used to saying it.

10. RETIREMENT OF THE YEAR
Angela Hill

In April, when Angela Hill stepped down from the WWL-TV anchor desk, she had been reporting news in New Orleans for 38 years. The station promised she'd be back to do special reports (it hasn't happened yet), but in September, she re-emerged as a host on WWL radio in the afternoons.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JEANIE RIESS
  • Photo by Jeanie Riess

11. OPENING OF THE YEAR
The Saenger Theatre

Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre reopened in July and the Civic Theatre followed suit in September, but it was the return of the Saenger Theatre — closed since Hurricane Katrina — that heralded the return of a complete downtown theater district. A $52 million renovation brought back everything from the twinkling stars in the ceiling to the lighted blade marquee outside, along with an entirely new stage area that will allow modern mega-musical productions (like the Broadway Across America opener The Book of Mormon) to once again play on Canal Street.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber

12. REALITY TV NEWCOMER, CHAMPION & FLOP OF THE YEAR
Big Freedia, the Robertson family and Trina Scott Edwards

We don't mean to be rude, but this was Big Freedia's year on reality TV. The Queen Diva's Fuse TV show spread her fame even further, while the Robertson family of north Louisiana saw their Duck Dynasty become one of the most popular reality shows of all time, sometimes outrating network shows. Several of the Robertsons used their popularity to champion evangelical issues and politics, most notably in Louisiana's 5th Congressional District race, where Duck patriarch Phil Robertson endorsed novice politician Vance McAllister — who went on to thump the presumed favorite, State Sen. Neil Riser.

  Not so lucky was Trina Scott (Mrs. Edwin) Edwards, whose A&E show The Governor's Wife was delayed nearly a year. When the dull, contrived show finally aired in the fall, it had the only thing worse than bad reviews: near-complete disinterest. After three weeks of disappointing ratings, A&E abruptly burned off the rest of the series on an early Sunday morning and filled The Governor's Wife's timeslot with reruns of Duck Dynasty.

13. RESTAURANT OPENING, CLOSING & RESURRECTION OF THE YEAR
Peche Seafood Grill, Brennan's, Tujague's

Donald Link's Peche Seafood Grill was an immediate smash hit when it opened in April. The Warehouse District restaurant specializes in tip-to-tail seafood — think whole fish, coated in flavorful herbs and oils, cooked over an open wood fire. Bon Appetit named it one of America's top new eateries, and when Dana Cowin, editor of Food & Wine, gushed over Link's new restaurant in an editor's letter, tables became harder and harder to get at Peche.

  Meanwhile, Brennan's — the pink doyenne of Royal Street where $35 breakfasts and a heavy tourist trade were the norm — was sold at auction in May, beginning a restaurant soap opera to rival Dynasty, or maybe Falcon Crest. The company that bought it was run by rival restaurateur Ralph Brennan, who announced plans to open his own eatery on the spot. Meanwhile, former Brennan's employees claimed the company was stiffing them for their last paychecks and tips. Earlier this month, Brennan's Inc., the company that had run Brennan's for decades, filed for bankruptcy, and on Dec. 12, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the company in the hands of Ted Brennan, shifting long-time control from his brother Pip. The family hopes to reopen, possibly at another location. Currently the familiar gold script letters that spell "Brennan's" have been taken off the facade, leaving an ugly scar.

  And it was Gambit that broke the news last March: After the death of longtime owner/restaurateur Steven Latter, Tujague's — the second-oldest restaurant in New Orleans, founded in 1856 — was rumored to be in danger of closing. Hot rumor around the French Quarter had it that the brisket-and-horseradish emporium might be turned into yet another tourist T-shirt shop. By the end of May, however, Latter's son Mark announced he had signed a new lease on the building and urged New Orleanians to come eat there if they wanted to support the restaurant's continued existence. Local chefs and culinarians came to Tujague's support, and food doyenne Poppy Tooker announced she would collaborate with the restaurant to produce its first cookbook.

14. INFRASTRUCTURE FAILURE OF THE YEAR
Superdome blackout

Oh, New Orleans. We've become accustomed to all-too-frequent boil-water orders, and having our electrical power knocked out for hours if it so much as drizzles outside. So it shouldn't have been too much of a surprise when the one glitch in an otherwise-smooth Super Bowl XLVII week came during the game itself. At 7:38 p.m. on Feb. 3, as the Baltimore Ravens were spanking the San Francisco 49ers 28-6, most of the lights in the Superdome went dark — and stayed that way for half an hour, embarrassing city officials and leaving New Orleanians shaking their heads. During the pause, Baltimore lost a lot of momentum, but still went on to win 34-31. Still, it didn't stop the Ravens' Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis from suggesting that the blackout had been purposely orchestrated by none other than Who Dat Public Enemy No. 1: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. We can live with that.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber

15. SHOPPING TREND OF THE YEAR
National chains invade NOLA

So what if Baton Rouge got a Trader Joe's first? It probably means ours is right behind. Despite New Orleanians' stated preference for local shops and products, they rushed to embrace chains both large (Costco) and smaller (Pei Wei, Five Guys Burgers & Fries and the other shops in the Mid-City Marketplace). The year-end opening of Tiffany and Co. — New Orleans' first — in The Shops at Canal Place drew attention, but if you wanted crowds, the one outside H&M on N. Peters Street drew people who stood in a four-block-long line to be the first through the doors.

  Next year will bring the reopening of Riverwalk Marketplace, transformed into The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, which will feature Neiman Marcus, Kenneth Cole, Forever 21 ... and New Orleans' first-ever Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill. Um ... yay?

16. INFRASTRUCTURE FAILURE OF THE YEAR, RUNNER-UP
Elevator failure at City Hall

City Council President Jackie Clarkson was an hour late for an October council meeting about the budget — because she'd gotten trapped on one of City Hall's elevators. (It would have made a hell of a Halloween costume.) It couldn't have shaken up the councilwoman too much, though, because two months later she reversed course on her planned retirement and is now running for her old council seat in District C.

17. SAINTSOPHRENIA OF THE YEAR
Falcons triumph and Seahawks defeat

The height of satisfaction: Beating the Falcons 17-13 at the Georgia Dome Nov. 21. And the depths of despair: Getting beaten by the Seahawks two weeks later in Seattle, 34-7.

18. AGGRAVATION OF THE YEAR
Endless street repair/streetcar repair

The never-ending reconstruction of Napoleon Avenue continued all year — and orange cones and webbing seemed to spread all over the city like an invasive plant. Esplanade Avenue was a mess right up until Jazz Fest, and the end of the year saw street tear-ups from Orleans Avenue and Bienville Street to Jefferson Davis Parkway. Some day you will be able to tell your children about the crape myrtles on Napoleon.

click to enlarge cover_story-7.jpg

19. MOGUL OF THE YEAR
John Georges

The nascent newspaper wars in New Orleans got more interesting in May when local businessman John Georges bought the Baton Rouge-based The Advocate and announced he was making a play for the New Orleans newspaper market, which was still in turmoil after The Times-Picayune's 2012 "digital transition" to publication three days a week. Georges beefed up the New Orleans bureau substantially and branded the paper with a new slogan: "Seven Days, Louisiana Owned, Home Delivered." Meanwhile, the T-P continued to innovate by publishing a tabloid edition, TP Street, on three of the days it had stopped printing a daily paper, and by year's end its newsboxes were once again advertising "The Times-Picayune: 7 Days a Week." It seems print's not dead in New Orleans — as evidenced by the December announcement that the NOLA Defender website (www.noladefender.com) plans to launch a quarterly print edition in 2014.

20. UNWANTED PUBLICITY OF THE YEAR
"The Intoxicating, Tradition-Steeped Charm of New Orleans"

The juggernaut of national (and international) publicity for New Orleans continued all year — most of it fulsome praise, a good deal of it questionable. But was there anything worse than Sara Ruffin Costello's paean to the city in The New York Times' glossy T Magazine? Costello, a recent transplant from New York, said she "had spent my adult life trying to shed my Southern roots," before rhapsodizing about all the things she'd discovered in New Orleans —most of which can be found as easily in Brooklyn as they can now in Bywater.

  Costello managed to name-drop another recent transplant, the singer Solange Knowles (the two shared a plate of empanadas at Booty's Street Food) while managing to insult a place she was trying to praise: the Erin Rose bar in the French Quarter. Costello called it "a classic joint in a century-old building with a crusty patina and mixed clientele — some with teeth."

  More than 100 people commented on the story on the NYT website, and most were not complimentary about Costello's condescension. In fact, you could say they showed her their teeth.

click to enlarge cover_story-9.jpg

21. CONTROVERSY OF THE YEAR
Tie: Go-cup a go-go/Live music permits and zoning

This summer, days before the New Orleans Daiquiri Festival, Facebook and Twitter lit up with pleas to save go -ups. From what? Gentrifying business owners looking to kick plastic cups from their bars, city officials planning legislation to repeal open-container laws, or neighborhood groups forcing new businesses to stop serving them? None of these things happened — however, fears persisted. St. Roch Tavern, after repeated infractions, had its go-cup privileges revoked by the city in June. Alcohol Beverage Control Board and City Planning Commission (CPC) meetings were closely watched as go-cups became subject to approval — though no businesses were told to stop serving them. City officials noted repeatedly there is no plan to ban go-cups; existing businesses may be prohibited from serving them if they fail to meet ABO license requirements. Arts and culture overlays, like on St. Claude Avenue, allow new businesses to have go-cups as long as they have the bar's logo on them.

  Meanwhile, zoning and music permit issues have cropped up again as they did in 2012, this time on Frenchmen Street, where New Orleans Police Department officers recently patrolled — enforcing rarely enforced regulations on the lively street. Watch for this story to become a biggie in 2014.

22. RETURN OF THE YEAR
Sean Payton

2011 Saints season with Payton: 13-3, 1st place in NFC South

2012 Saints season sans Payton: 7-9, 3rd place in NFC South

2013 Saints season with Payton: 10-3, 1st place in NFC South (so far)

  'Nuff said.

23. DELAY OF THE YEAR
Ray Nagin trial

Former Mayor Ray Nagin was indicted on more than 20 counts of bribery and other corruption charges back in January, but his trial has been delayed longer than The Governor's Wife. In October, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan granted another delay, scheduling Nagin's trial for January 2014 — a third postponement. (For those who need reminding: Nagin was charged with six counts of bribery, one count of conspiracy, one count of money laundering, nine counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns.) The question now is whether a plea deal will be reached.

24. TEMPEST IN A TIP JAR OF THE YEAR
Drew Brees tip scandal

Anything Saints quarterback Drew Brees does makes news. So when he tipped $3 on a $74 bill at a San Diego restaurant in July, a photo of the receipt went viral on social media. What a cheapskate, right? Well, not so fast — Brees pointed out that it was a takeout order and tweeted, "Had we sat down it would have been 20%+." That subsequently ignited a discussion on tipping for takeout orders (should you or shouldn't you; if so, how much) and Brees told the media that if Tipgate was the biggest controversy he'd have to face all season, he'd be happy.

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY BUKU MUSIC+ART PROJECT
  • Photo courtesy Buku Music+Art Project

25. NEW FEST OF THE YEAR
Buku, take 2

March's Buku Music + Art Project's sophomore effort proved a bigger, louder and more ambitious version of its 2012 predecessor. Multiple stages (including a psychedelic, cavernous bass-heavy lair in the float den) at Mardi Gras World hosted names like Public Enemy and Kendrick Lamar, with rising stars Calvin Harris, Kid Cudi, Passion Pit, Icona Pop and alt-J winning over thousands of sunglass-wearing teenagers wearing furry leggings and all-over neon.

  Neighbors didn't rush to celebrate its success: the festival, camped along the Mississippi River, was apparently so loud it shook windows downtown and in other neighborhoods. The high volume was a trend repeated at the Voodoo Experience, which moved its stages to City Park's new festival grounds" — close enough so Mid-City residents could watch Nine Inch Nails and The Cure from their porch or lawn chairs along Bayou St. John. Or if you wanted to stay home in Lakeview or Old Metairie, you could hear it clearly.

26. DANGEROUS SINGLE-CELLED ORGANISM OF THE YEAR
Naegleria fowleri

A brain-eating amoeba that once again showed up in the Chalmette water supply resulted in a flushing of the water system and the addition of chlorine to starve the amoeba.

27. RENTAL OF THE YEAR
$1600/month efficiency apartment

In a year that saw rents and home prices go through the roof in metro New Orleans, a November ad on Craigslist may have taken the cake. A 700-square-foot basement apartment in the Carrollton neighborhood with sink and toilet just off the living room was listed for $1,595 per month. Did the owner get the money? Who knows. The good news? Utilities were included.

28. OVERHYPED NON-EVENT OF THE YEAR
Hurricane Karen

Would it be a Category 1? A nasty tropical storm? In October, New Orleans steeled itself for Hurricane/Tropical Storm Karen, which formed off the coast of Cuba and made rapid progress toward the Gulf Coast. As it turned out, Karen was a most welcome visitor — her "landfall" brought on one of the most pleasant weekends of the year and resurrected an old photo meme: a plastic lawn chair tipped delicately on its side, as if by the tiniest puff of breeze, with the legend: HURRICANE KAREN: NEVER FORGET.

Words of the Year 2013

Compiled by Alex Woodward

Gentrification
noun: a socio-economic shift in an urban community welcoming wealthier residents at the expense of poor residents who can't afford rising property values raised by outside investors; usually used incorrectly to describe a restaurant's small plates menu

Hobbit
noun: James O'Keefe; see also: scum, snail, horse's ass
"All of you, you're hobbits. You are less than I can ever tell you." — former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten to provocateur James O'Keefe, who attempted to deliver a copy of his book Breakthrough: Our Guerrilla War to Expose Fraud and Save Democracy, on Tulane University's campus and to Letten's home

Iconic Structure
noun: A carousel? Or is it a "sky wheel"? Whatever ends up at the World Trade Center site. That thing

Le Diner en Blanc
noun: a dinner party in which attendees pay to bring their own food and drink, as well as their own tables and chairs, while dressed in all white at an undisclosed location, presumably to avoid the loud groans of passersby
"Le Diner en Blanc recalls the elegance and glamour of court society, and diners engage one another knowing they are taking part in a truly magical event." — Le Diner en Blanc New Orleans website

Rise Up
verb: a failed campaign by the Atlanta Falcons
"Rise up? Falcons bow down" — Fox Sports headline following the New Orleans Saints 17-13 victory Nov. 21.

Twerk
verb: to dance with one's buttocks displayed prominently in an up-and-down manner; popularized in New Orleans bounce music and Southern rap in the early '90s; gained wider usage (and exposure) by Miley Cyrus in 2013, also setting off discussions of cultural appropriation
see also: bounce, p-pop, twurk, wobble

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