At the ripe young age of 37, dreams seem to be finally coming true. After years of clicking heels, kissing plenty of frogs, and mis-identified soul mates, my Prince Charming bka British-Nigerian Howardite come King of Zamunda finally graced me with his presence. While I’ve always fantastized about my life partner being an African man fresh from the continent, my wedding dreams have only led me to one place: New Orleans. There’s no place like home and when you’re from New Orleans…there’s no place in the world like home. And with that said, nothing quite like any of our celebrations. Those who’ve been to our weddings know, just like our funerals, we tend to THROW DOWN.
So, in the spirit of this whole concept of Shopping Black, I’ve begun to wrap my brain around what would a wedding, produced with all Black vendors, look like in New Orleans. Since there has yet to be a super sexy and comprehensive site for Black businesses, (you can hold your breath, it’s coming)…the first place I started was to consider different venues of which I’m already familiar. Then I did the next best thing – googled “Black owned business” and “New Orleans” to see what else I’d find. Of course, a vast majority of the businesses I came across either didn’t have a functioning website or their site was janky as hell…but I did discover a few gems and I must say, so far, so good.
If you’re thinking of doing a destination wedding in New Orleans and you have #allblackeverything on the brain, here’s a list of places and vendors to consider for your ultimate Big Fat New Orleans Wedding. Solange, my good girlfriend in my head, I’m coming for you honey…and those shut the innanets down wedding photos you took in my hometown.
In Black Love,
– Shantrelle, the Black genius behind A.P. Shantology
I’ve always envisioned getting married in Congo Square. Congo Square is perhaps one of the city’s and Diaspora’s holiest sites. During enslavement, it was one of the only places, perhaps the only site in the States, where enslaved Africans could gather in large masses publicly. We drummed. We danced. We invoked. We prayed. We bought and sold wares. It was here where the Bamboula was performed in fervor. Congo Square is right outside of the French Quarter and now nestled in the aptly named Louis Armstrong Park, it’s the perfect place for an open, outdoor wedding in NOLA. Apparently, one of my cousins beat me to the punch and jumped the broom here a couple of years ago.
As some of you may or may not be aware, after getting my M.A. in African American Studies at Temple (TUMF!), I left the East Coast and reverse migrated back home to New Orleans to help rebuild and preserve the culture and history of my city Post-Katrina. While there, I had the amazing opportunity to serve as the Director and Curator of the George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art. During my tenure, the museum hosted its first wedding and reception (of attorney David Durand another New Orleanian and HU alum). The antebellum home was built after the Civil War and purchased by Dr. Dwight McKenna, an avid art collector who founded the museum in honor of his parents. The museum has high ceilings, gorgeous hardwood floors and exposed brick throughout.
Dr. Dwight McKenna isn’t the only museum founder in the city. While he was busy collecting art by African-American artists, his wife, Beverly McKenna was preoccupied amassing a massive collection of artifacts about and by free people of color. Le Musee de Free People of Color is a gorgeous, stately mansion that sits on the idyllic Esplanade Avenue in the historic Faubourg Tremé. The courtyard is gorgeous. It would be a majestic place to have a good ole time.
A mansion on St. Charles Avenue, the Hubbard Mansion is a beautiful place, filled with antique decorations and furniture. Consisting of six suites, it also has a formal dining room where guests are served meals. Given the fact that Black people were living in the Quarters behind the mansions owned by master enslavers and plantation owners whose mansions lined St. Charles Avenue, it’s an anomaly for a Black couple to have purchased and renovated one of these gorgeous homes. Your guests would love it!
So catering is clearly a tricky aspect of this wedding planning, at least for me. While I’m a world traveling, Diaspora fiend, I’m a VERY picky eater. I also plan on having a turn up reception where we dance from start to finish. Who has time for a boring and drawn out formal dinner? I’m a lover of our traditional cuisine but also mindful of the fact that Bae is Nigerian. Not to mention, a gang of friends from whose diets are much “cleaner” – gluten free, vegan, etc…(hey Maori girl!) which means that I need a special mix of dishes that can satisfy a variety of palettes and lifestyles. Since the wedding will probably not be your average garden variety 100 person wedding, I’ll also need to think about how much money we will be spending per head. So what I’m going for is DELICIOUS (not fancy) and cost effective.
I came across this listing in the Tribune’s Black Business Directory. Out of all of the catering companies listed, they were the only ones with a professional website. I contacted the owner, who was very sweet! Within a week, Ma Dukes was tasting her food. I asked her how was Byrd House’s gumbo. Her reply: “Like Mama’s.” That’s good enough for me.
A historic landmark, Dookie Chases has fed many a socialite and celeb. Apparently it’s one of President Obama’s favorite places to eat when he’s in town. Owned by the beloved and famous, Leah Chase, the restaurant is a family culinary heirloom. The food is typical New Orleans creole cuisine with all of the down home fixings. I’ve never been a fan of okra personally, I don’t care how many of my ancestors ate it. However, it’s still a favorite dish of many. This would be a nice place to have a rehearsal dinner, especially if your guests are coming in from up North and/or foreign lands.
This quaint restaurant is located right on the outskirts of the French Quarter. I can’t remember how I discovered but it’s actually one of my daddy and I’s favorite spots to grab a bite. Featuring Francophone African food, it also offers a huge selection of vegetarian dishes. I’m thinking about how I can combine two different styles – New Orleans Creole Cuisine and West African Cuisine, to suit all of my guests. Of course I don’t know if I can have two caterers at the wedding (is that possible? It’s worth trying). Random cultural fact: the first wave of enslaved Africans who were brought to Louisiana came from the Senegambia region of Africa’s west coast. Ever wondered why jambalaya tasted so familiar? Cause it is. It’s a direct descendent of Jollof rice. My inlaws make fun of me for preferring mild Jollof over spicy, but hey, it’s not my fault! Blame it on the acid reflux I developed after eating the spiciest jerk chicken in my life as a student at Howard. But I digress! This would be the perfect place for an informal rehearsal dinner if you have a small bridal party, or simply a place to direct your guests during their stay in the city.
Lil Dizzy’s is probably NOLA’s version of Cheers, where everybody knows your name. It’s a neighborhood staple. Any and everyone eats there from politicians, musicians and New Orleans’ who’s who, especially in the middle of the day. It’s a very casual environment with good traditional New Orleans food. This is a down home kind of place that would be cool for a morning after brunch or a place.
If you’re on the go the weekend of and need to grab a QUICK bite, you HAVE to stop at Coco Hut. Don’t go if you’re a true Jamaican/Caribbean foodie. Go if you just like yummy and healthy food. Its owner, Pam, is the absolute greatest! I stop by at least once every time I go home. Especially because my hairdresser is two doors down. It’s one of several Black-owned businesses that occupy the economic corridor of Bayou Road (the landlord of these businesses are also Black-owned).
Snug Harbor is one of my favorite go to places when it comes to me taking out of town friends somewhere to eat. I namely go there because it’s a more upscale version of the best hamburger place in the world – Port of Call. Historically they were owned by the same people and then I believe at some point, the owners split up. That doesn’t matter…the burger and baked potato is my FAVORITE. There’s also a selection of seafood dishes. Upstairs there’s a bistro where you can catch some of the best live music in the city. I had no idea that they were Black owned so shout out to I Don’t Do Clubs for putting me on.
I didn’t see a lot of florists on The New Orleans Black Book, there were only two. So I can’t PROMISE that I’ll use either one, simply based on their photos (again people, this is why websites are EVERYTHING in this day and age for businesses, Black or otherwise). However, I’m willing to give them a try. Again, I’m a HUGE flower person. My Grandma Gladys Ibaye always said, “give me my flowers while I’m alive, not when I’m dead and gone.” My mama adopted that creed and passed it down to me and my brothers. I buy flowers for myself (and my ancestors) weekly so I most definitely want my floral arrangements to be kick a**.
Mona’s Accents definitely look like they have the capacity to provide what I’m looking for (but I can’t tell for sure). Their website offers a variety of different exotic floral arrangements which is a plus for me.
If you’re into roses and lilies, this looks like your place (at least based on what’s on the site). I’d be interested in knowing whether or not they offer different arrangements outside of your basic go to flowers and aesthetics.
Cake and Desserts
Based on their site (which passes our website test of aesthetics), I can’t tell whether or not they do wedding cakes. They do look like they specialize in a host of other sweets that would be great for a dessert table.
What came first, the buttermilk drop or the donut hole? I’m not sure but buttermilk drops are a New Orleans delicacy and Buttermilk Drop Cafe specializes in them. These would be a great addition for a post-rehearsal dinner treat. Or even could be used as a special edible welcome gift for out-of-town guests.
The website could uses a little work but this is the first bakery that I came across in NOLA that actually specializes in wedding cakes. The photographs of the cakes themselves aren’t necessarily the greatest but the cakes do look divine! I’m not really a big cake fan, in fact, I skip the cake at most weddings and events. If I do decide to go with the cake versus the dessert table option, I’ll probably give them a try. Mama, can you check them out? Please and thank you.
More than likely, I’ll have one of my aunts make my pecan candy because I’m the weirdo who actually prefer it without pecans. However, if you want to treat your guests (pun intended) to some traditional pralines (pronounced prah-leens), check out Tee Eva’s Praline’s.
Ain’t no party like a NOLA party cause a NOLA party won’t stop! We rock, we roll, that ____ (insert ward here) got control! Buck jump time! So yeah um, did I mention that I was from New Orleans? In my opinion, music is EVERYTHING at a wedding. If the music is whack then um…no. Despite the fact that a “New Orleans” cultural tradition – second lining – has been co-opted by white brides and their families, it’s still ours. Second Lines are a BLACK, a very African tradition, rooted in our jazz funerals that can be traced back to funerary rites in Mali and other parts of West Africa. Second lining at weddings is more than just doing a side to side two step and pumping an umbrella up and down, it’s about that foot work, and getting DOWN. So, I’m keeping this in the forefront of my mind as I select a dress because my wedding won’t be a wedding without some footwork involved. I won’t go through a description of each local brass band here because there are zillions. I’ll just recommend three – my favorite band since childhood, a group I’ve grown to love as an adult and group of younger cats that are making a name for themselves. Enjoy and don’t hurt nobody! If need be, get someone local to show your bridal party the proper art of second lining. Trust me, I plan to.
To Be Continued
My homeboy Aziz is really a photojournalist, so he actually could do both – portraits and those buck jump time shots. Check out his work. Since he’ll be a guest, I’m not sure I’ll put him on photography patrol.
Another NOLA socialite, homeboy and dandy, Kasimu’s portraits are attracting a lot of buzz both in and outside of New Orleans. He’d be great to get photograph those wedding portraits and group shots. His shoot with former New Orleans Saints turned Philadelphia Eagles player Malcolm Jenkins and his wife (oo-opp!) are simply stunning, and also featured in The Dandy Lion Project.
Apparently since leaving New Orleans for the second time in 2009, NOLA has opened a few new natural hair salons. I believe one is even on the West Bank. Well until I can actually experience any of the new shops, I’d strong suggest going to get your wig did (especially if it’s natural) at Beauty on de Bayou. Dwana Makeba, a brilliant entrepreneur and maverick, has been here for years. She takes care of her clients, even when they’re away.
I was about to press “publish” on this post and almost forgot…to shamelessly plug myself. Approximately one year ago, I launched William + James, a Haberdashery for the Smart Man. Named after W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin, it features limited edition, custom bespoke bow ties. I’ve already outfitted two weddings and counting. For two collections straight, our ties have SOLD OUT. Need some fresh neckwear, holla at me! XO, The Haberdasheress
Last but not least…the most important aspect of putting together a wedding – the Coordinator. So my mama has been meeting with different people but um, the court is still out. My cousin just got married last year and apparently had a not so pleasant experience with her planner. So, basically, if you know of any DOPE and PROFESSIONAL (not saying that we aren’t) wedding coordinators based in my hometown, holla at your girl.
Clearly it’s time for someone to do a Black Bridal book, one that doesn’t just focus on the African-American bride but the African Diasporan bride (Soror Harriet Cole’s last wedding book was over a decade ago). We’re a lot more conscious and Pan-African nowadays, thanks to how many of us are traveling abroad and connecting globally with like minded sisters and brothers via the innanets. I have no desire to write a book about the modern Black bride but someone DEFINITELY should.
idontdoclubs.com (for a list of NOLA restaurants and bars)
Featured Brides in this post: My cousins and homegirl in order of appearance – Mrs. Rashida Poole, Mrs. Jamila Pecou, and Mrs. Danielle Scott-Johnson