La Casa de los Marinos

Friday night I went out to what was billed as PACHANGA, an evening of Latin dance at the Blue Rooster .  It promised me pachanga, cumbia, merengue y más, la música de mi juventud.  And it delivered magnificently—to a room of young folks who knew what they were doing.

It was almost overwhelming to watch them dancing with expressions of glee, passion, and beauty, and to relive the rapture of those rhythms of so long ago.  Fifty years…  My eyes flooded with the body memory of all those wild dances with my beautiful Jane.

Though only couples were dancing, just as I’d do back then, I started dancing by myself to a splendid cumbia, and soon some other exuberant guys joined me.  I wanted to shout out my joy.  There followed some heart-rending merengues and a boisterous pachanga that almost did me in.

Once, the DJ called out something about la casa de música, and for a blessed moment I was back in La Casa de los Marinos   I was again a demented dervish in the House of the Sailors in that ruinous building at Toulouse and Decatur, a waterfront dive aka La MarinaVamos a La Casa!

La Casa de los Marinos - New Orleans

La Casa de los Marinos – New Orleans

Sorry, but I feel an elegy coming on.  For the legendary La Marina was swept away by the relentless tides of years.  Many others besides me must still remember the glory of that dark and disreputable Latin sailor bar, that temple of dance lost forever.

I don’t know when the bar first opened, but my blessed time to carouse in its three mystical rooms was the early 60’s.  By the later 60’s I heard it had been written up in some big magazine as the chic lowlife place to go, and very soon thereafter La Marina ceased to be.

Those three rooms were steeped in darkness and wrapped in music, tremendously loud Latin music, and the roar of voices and laughter.  High above the crush of carousers and dancers, in deep shadows by the ceilings, blades of fans slowly swam around like circling sharks.

The three rooms were each special shrines.  In the first more or less civilized one, you’d socialize with drinks and shouted talk.  The second room was the place for group celebrations, being less crowded than the third and better for a formal dance like the pasa doble or the leaping pachanga.

The third room had its own even more powerful juke box and a hallucinatory mural on the walls over the crowd.  Around the room in a dreamlike swirl ran a dark flood of writhing nudes, racing motorcycle, matador with sword, and charging bull.  As above, so below.

It was here in the dense throngs of the third room that the ecstasy happened, the Dionysian transports of merengues and cumbias.  The clock was forever stopped at ten of three, though that was usually an early hour in an evening’s revelry.  We’d dance till dawn, even after.

A few years ago when I visited New Orleans again, I lunched in the stylish Café Maspero  that used to be La Casa and sat in what once was the be back corner of the second room.  I told the waitress about its history, and she remarked that they had thought it had been a pirate joint before.  In a way it was.

2 thoughts on “La Casa de los Marinos

  1. Clint Spooner

    Hey Richard – I remember La Casa well. When I was visiting (courtesy of Uncle Sam at Keesler AFB in Biloxi 1965-67) The first room was mostly Spanish, the second room was Spanish American and the third Room was American Rock & Roll. They had some giant speakers that would really vibrate when the Stones were cued up with “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” At the time, I was in a folk trio (The Blue Mountain Lake Ramblers – Bill Orr, Gary Hertz and Clint Spooner) that played at Cosimos Bar up at Gov. Nichols and Bergundy St.every Friday and Saturday evening for about a year. After we were done with our last set, we’d head for La Casa’s to finish off the evening. Great times – been back once and while La Casa is no more, Cosimo’s Bar is still hanging in there. Thanks for the recollections, Clint Spooner

  2. Hi Clint! Glad to hear from you about La Casa. I’ve had many hits on this blog post, I assume for old carousers like me. You were just after my time–I left NOLA in 1964. In my time, the three rooms were all Latin, though in my last year they put some Beatles on the 3rd room juke box. We are both blest to have it to remember. I also well remember Cosimo’s where I used to go for soft jazz. And thank you for the recollections. Richard (rbalthazar at msn.com)

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