Extinct Restaurants

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Lee Circle Area: 1625 St. Charles Ave.

A review I wrote of Flamingos in 1979 called it “a screaming queen theme restaurant.” I wouldn’t have said that if Paul Doll–who owned it with his partner Tom Struve–hadn’t used the same line to describe what was going on in their utterly unique cafe.

The outrageousness of every aspect of Flamingos was so attention-grabbing that it’s hard to recall anything else about it. (Fortunately, I have extensive notes.)

The dining rooms were formerly the parlors of a mansion quite similar in style to the one next door, where the genteel, quiet Corinne Dunbar’s was still operating. In contrast, Flamingos’ rooms were painted in the most garish, saturated shades of pink, green, and lavender, with feathers, balloons, fabrics.

And–in every size, color, and corner–plastic lawn flamingos.

Flamingos menu was a sixteen-page magazine. A long paragraph riddled with jokes and double entendres explained each dish. It also dished at length on the entire staff of the restaurant and their various supposed proclivities. All of this was so shameless and funny that you felt bad about laughing at it–but you couldn’t help yourself.

The food actually was not was not all that far out. However, most of it was rare around New Orleans. The specialty of the restaurant was–well, quiches, which is a joke right there. These were extraordinarily good, tall and light, filled with a wide range of cheese, vegetables, and other ingredients.

The second major department was omelettes. They were better than most–not the dry kind the Camellia Grill fooled us into thinking were good, but beautiful, fluffy, moist, unscorched omelettes with interesting fillings.

Flamingos also took a stand on cold soups, which should be popular in New Orleans but aren’t. The chilled cucumber and sour cream soup was a signature. But the gazpacho was good too, as were the hot soups. They made a fine turtle soup and a flawless black bean soup.

Salads were the final area of concentration. They were enormous, served in oversized scallop shells, dressed with offbeat sauces with a lot of richness and tang.

You could make a meal of Flamingos’ appetizers. The fried eggplant sticks, sent out by the giant-sized basketful, were terrific. The Greek-style spinach pie and stuffed grape leaves were good, too. The rest of the menu included the standard number of fish, chicken, and meat dishes. When the kitchen and service staff were on all of it was wonderfully good.

However, Flamingos was not always on. Some days, everybody in the place seemed to be in a bitchy mood. That happens in all restaurants, but here the moods seemed not only to be tolerated, but encouraged. The owners had their bad days, too. If you ever ate at Flamingos on an off day, you might never come back.

The novelty had to wear off, and it did. Straight people no longer found it funny. Gay customers had seen it all before. I also got the idea that the owners themselves were tired of running a restaurant. One day, it just closed.

Paul Doll and Tom Struve died within a year of one another in 2001. Their restaurant didn’t last, but their previous project remains a major part of the city’s cultural scene. Paul and Tom were the founding managers of WWNO, the classical and jazz radio station at the University of New Orleans. They set the standards for WWNO at a time when there were few such radio stations around the country. I worked at WWNO before and after it went on the air, and knew them well. They were highly creative in every project they undertook.

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  1. Ravinia on January 5, 2015

    Tom, thanks for bringing the memories flooding back with this one! I can practically taste the quiche! I was a naive college freshman and found the whole place outrageous and fun. It was definitely a place of that time period.

  2. Lisa D on January 6, 2015

    Loved this place. They had a great blue cheese dressing for their salads.

  3. CV on April 20, 2015

    So many fantastic memories at Flamingos- drinks such as The Separater (“separate the mice from the men”) and French 75 in large cups – perfect to take out to the St Charles parades.
    The waitress there with the fantastic makeup and outfits- showtunes on the juke box.. mixed with Blondie and Duran Duran.
    Flamingos – you are missed. Glad I still have a pink tee shirt commemorating!

  4. Mae Calhoun on October 11, 2015

    Flamingos was a regular hangout for me and my roommate. Their cocktails were divine! Does anyone remember the Hole-in-One? A blended confection (as were many of the their cocktails ) with 5 shots of alcohol, followed by an ear piercing, thus the name. There was no pain, and little hesitation by the time the drink was finished. Several of my friends walked out of there with new earrings. The fun was when they came to tease about which ear you preferred. We were all bereft when they closed.

  5. john mcgrath on June 20, 2016

    I worked at flamingos 79 thru 81 I also painted the building in summer of 80 most fun job I ever had will miss Paul and Tom Mardi gras St Charles Ave and new Orleans rip

  6. Peter Casanave on February 28, 2017

    Remembering Paul and Steve. I never got to experience Flamingos, though. Paul was my thesis adviser at (LS)UNO for my MA in 1971. The radio station was still a dream then. The advice on graduation was “go do what you’re going to do and don’t look back.” So that’s what I did, came to New York and worked for the NY Shakespeare Festival, then other adventures came. Funny, but I had heard of the restaurant, but never made the connection. Until it was too late. Today is Mardi Gras 2017, and I’m remembering Paul in a hoop skirt at the drag beauty contest in front of Dixie’s. I just saw something about the Backwards Parade, and we face new challenges — politics. Thanks for reading this. If it brings back a bit of Paul and Steve, then good. Bye.

  7. jim eaton on March 12, 2017

    work for Tom and Paul for a few years , some of the best years of my life was spent at Flaminago’s and New Orlean