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The Big Easy Does It

Chuck ignores his wife and orders a round of appetizers for the table: shrimp rémoulade, crabmeat maison, oysters enbrochette, fried eggplant, and soufflé potatoes. The waiters treat him with the deference that a longtime customer commands. People joke that Chuck has his secretary stand at the window in his nearby office with a pair of binoculars during lunch hour in order to tell him when the line to get into the restaurant has shortened enough so it won't look bad when he strolls right in. Galatoire's is known for not taking reservations, though it now does in its newly refurbished upstairs room. Locals, however, prefer to stay on the raucous first floor.

"You know how these soufflé potatoes got invented?" Chuck asks, showing off his Galatoire's expertise. "Napoleon was out in the field and told his chef he'd be back at six o'clock, but he didn't make it back till eight. The chef had to figure out something to do with the potatoes he'd already made, so he threw 'em in the skillet again and they puffed up in the hot grease."

"Only in New Orleans did Napoleon reinvent the potato," Kors says.

"It wasn't Napoleon. It was his French chef," Banana says. "Get the story right."

And what's the right story on how Banana got such an interesting name?"My real name is Anne. But when I was three years old I was a tall, skinny little thing and my hair was yal-la," she says. "Been called Banana ever since."

"Tell you what, too: I slipped on her peel the first time I met her," says the ever-winking Chuck.

"I have a sister named Puddy," says Banana, as the potatoes and fried eggplant arrive. The Reilys instruct Kors on how best to eat them: first they spoon a bit of béarnaise sauce over them, then sprinkle powdered sugar atop that, a strangely delicious combination. "You can't be in New Orleans and not gain five pounds," Kors says. "It's illegal. It's against the law to leave this town without gaining weight."

Kors and Banana begin to recall the days when he'd come down to New Orleans to visit Kreeger's. "They said, 'One of our best customers is about to come in, and she's honestly one of the few women in town who can understand your clothes,'" Kors says. "It was Banana. She walked in, took one look, and said, 'I'll take the whole rack.'"

"And from that day onward I haven't worn anything but Michael Kors," Banana says. "That's been twenty years. Chuck and Michael—they are the two monogamous relationships in my life."

By the time our main courses arrive, Galatoire's has become a rollicking, table-hopping party. "You should be here for lunch on Fridays," the waiter whispers over the din as he serves me my oysters Rockefeller. "Anything can happen on Fridays. And I do mean anything," he says, his voice full of sexual innuendo. Just then, a buxom Southern female hurtles toward the designer and rubs his face in her décolletage. "I'm wearing your perfume!" she exclaims. "Smell me, Michael! Smell me!"

Kors comes up for air and Banana, rescuing him, says that he must meet a friend of hers over in another, much quieter corner of Galatoire's: Ella Brennan, the matriarch of the famed restaurant clan, who is at a table filled with several other Brennan women.

"You can see where we come to get good food," says the gracious Miss Ella. "I read about you all the time," she tells Kors. "You're doin' good, boy."

"You're not doing so bad yourself," Kors tells her. "That was like finding Sirio Maccioni eating at Da Silvano," Kors says, naming Le Cirque's owner and the downtown New York restaurant favored by pasta-loving powerbrokers, as he escorts Banana back to her seat.

"I prefer the '21' Club myself—particularly if I'm in the mood for steak tartare," says Banana, who grimaces good-naturedly as the waiters clink several water glasses to get the attention of everyone in the room. "Oh, God," she groans. "That means they're going to sing 'Happy Birthday' to some poor soul this evening."

"The lovely Sophie is celebrating her ninth birthday!" announces the overly dramatic waiter. Banana quickly melts when she sees the blushing child at the next table. "Oh, how precious," she says, and decides to sing louder than anybody else tonight. The room erupts in applause as Sophie blows out the candles on her birthday cake.

"She's fabulous," Kors pronounces. "But you know what I say?If she weren't pretty, we wouldn't sing as well."

After dinner, Kors insists the group head around the corner to the Bombay Club for a French Quarter nightcap. Banana and Chuck politely excuse themselves and head home, though Mimi and Rae are game for one more martini. "The last time I was here, I watched a woman who was so drunk she threw up in her purse in the middle of telling a story," Kors recalls as he slides into a booth next to the piano player. "She did not miss a beat. She op-ened it up. Threw up. And kept right on talking. Didn't even go to the bathroom to freshen up. She wasn't a floozy, either. Quite stylish. My jaw dropped—and it takes a lot to make my jaw drop."

"That was the night I had been to a party at the Reynoirs' house," Kors says, citing another Garden District society name. "Gus Reynoir—he was a man for whom the word burly was invented—got a bunch of us to come to the Bombay Club. He even brought the piano player from his party. The poor guy who was playing here didn't know what to think. Gus went up to him and said, 'You finished for the night yet?' The guy shook his head no. Gus plopped down five one-hundred-dollar bills on the piano and said, 'You're finished now. Get up. I brought my own.' Sure enough, Gus's piano player took over. Only in New Orleans do you bring your own piano player to a piano bar. People in this city really know how to party."

Kors settles into the leather booth. Mimi and Rae put their heads on his stylish shoulders. Tonight, the piano player gets to keep his gig.

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