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.