Tshirts: K&B Drugstores in New Orleans Culture

Since Katrina, a cottage industry of New Orleans-inspired goods and tshirts has sprouted. These are not the “I Got Bourbon-Faced on Shit Street” shirts that you see in the French Quarter. Rather, these are a collection of inside jokes and local references that make New Orleanians smile. Explaining these jokes to out of towners is a reminder of how much in speak  and shared knowledge there is in this city.

Since this blog tries to explain what it’s like to live in New Orleans and acclimate those new to the city, I’m kicking off an occasional series of posts that explains the stories behind the shirts. I’ve already written about the The Trinity shirt at Dirty Coast. Today, we’re going to talk about K&B Drugstores.

“More than just a just a drugstore”
K&B was a drugstore chain that opened its first store in the late 1890s. The drugstores inspired fierce customer loyalty, as detailed in this article on NOLA.com. By the 1990s the Katz & Besthoff company had 50 stores in NOLA, and nearly 200 stores in six states. K&B was known for its house brands, including ice cream, beer and vodka!

K&B vodka

K&B ice cream

The company was sold to Rite Aid in 1997. K&B was headquartered in Lee Circle, and you can see KB written on the side of the building to this day.

K&B Plaza Near Lee Circle

K&B on 732 Canal Street.

K&B on Carrollton and Oak. It is now a Rite Aid.

K&B Purple

Storyville's K&B shirt, in K&B Purple

Anytime I’ve spoken with New Orleanians about K&B they always mention “K&B purple,”  which was the signature color of the company. This great post about K&B from GoNola.com details the back story. “A local paper products company had a cancelled order from a different store, leaving them stuck with several rolls of purple wrapping paper. K and B bought that paper at a discount, and the color caught on! Soon it became the main color of the drugstore’s “double-check” logo.”

Now you can buy K&B shirts from both Fleurty Girl and Storyville, in K&B Purple.

The K&B Jingle:

Look at almost every corner
And what do you see
A big purple sign that says
Friendly K&B
Variety, value and reliability
That’s what you get at your friendly K&B
K&B Drugstores

Fleurty Girl's K&B tshirt

K&B in Art

Nights of Drunk Driving in the Days of K&B, by Jimmy Descant

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art (where I’m a docent) has an exhibition of the work of Jimmy Descant, a self-taught assemblage artist who glues, staples and nails all sorts of found objects to wood to create his artistic statements. I urge everyone to go view the exhibition before it closes on April 8. One of pieces I really responded to is called “Nights of Drunk Driving in the Days of K&B.” The piece resembles a cross-section of an automobile, with cans of K&B beer strewn about the sides, as if they came flying out in a crash (there are even K&B pencils inside the car.) Unlike most of the K&B nostalgia I’ve seen that idealizes a simpler time, this ode to the past is filled with regret for reckless behavior.
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Home-Cooked Red Beans and Rice (with caveats)

Caveats:

– I didn’t cook the red beans and rice, my boyfriend did.
– It was vegetarian
– My boyfriend did not make it on a Monday night.

He used a recipe from the cookbook Cooking up a Storm. From the Amazon book description:

“After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, thousands of people lost their keepsakes and family treasures forever. As residents started to rebuild their lives, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans became a post-hurricane swapping place for old recipes that were washed away in the storm. The newspaper has compiled 250 of these delicious, authentic recipes along with the stories about how they came to be and who created them. Cooking Up a Storm includes the very best of classic and contemporary New Orleans cuisine, from seafood and meat to desserts and cocktails. But it also tells the story, recipe by recipe, of one of the great food cities in the world, and the determination of its citizens to preserve and safeguard their culinary legacy.”

Some Red Beans and Rice History

Red beans and rice is an inexpensive meal and red beans grow very well in the Louisiana swamps. Back in “the day” (unspecified time before now) Monday was the traditional washing and cleaning day, so women would leave the pot of red beans boiling while they tended to their chores. Louis Armstrong loved red beans and rice and used to sign his name “Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Louis Armstrong.” (I’ve seen some people do this down here with their email signatures.)

Bars that Serve Red Beans and Rice (and not always on Mondays!)
– Pals (Monday)
– Micks (Monday)
– Candlelight Lounge (Wednesday)

– Vaughns (Thursday)

The Trinity
Red beans and rice calls for what is known as “the holy trinity”: onions, bell peppers and celery. These three ingredients are a staple of so many Louisianan recipes and the name pokes fun of the Catholic influence of the region.

Dirty Coast, one of the many tshirt shops that has popped up since Katrina, sells a design (available as a tshirt, a poster or bag) celebrating the trinity in Louisiana culture.
What do you put on your Red Beans and Rice?
I just found out today that my friend adds relish to hers. “Is that weird?” she asked. I didn’t know. What does everyone add to theirs?

My friend is in the Krewe of Nyx and made this red beans and rice decorated purse.

Update, 3/8/2012
The same friend who adds relish to her red beans and rice pointed me to Fleurty Girl‘s facebook page. Fleurty Girl will soon sell a locally made red beans and rice ring!

And who is Fleurty Girl? She is one of the many purveyors of NOLA-inspired tshirts and goods that has opened since Katrina. Soon I’m going to begin a series where I’ll break down some of the inside jokes featured on these shirts (just as I did with the Dirty Coast Trinity shirt above.)

Additionally, my dear friend asked an important question in the comments section of this post: “How did the food taste?” It was SO good! I think it got better after a night in the refrigerator. (It should be noted that this friend is an amazing chef. It should also be noted that I’m a bad New Orleanian for not thinking to comment on the food earlier!)