New Orleans’ crime rate is no game, fans warned
New Orleans officials say areas frequented by tourists should be safe for game-goers
» Owner plans to make bar an isle of fun for islanders
STORY SUMMARY »
New Orleans is known for its food, fun and excitement, but it is also notorious for having one of the highest crime rates in the country, a rate that is on the rise as the city recovers from Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans officials say visitors should avoid the danger zones and use common sense when they move around.
One Hawaii expatriate is inviting Warrior fans to his bar in the middle of the French Quarter.
Iolani School graduate Lynn Sapir and his wife own Johnny White's Pub and Grill on Bourbon Street and want to make that a gathering place for Hawaii faithful.
FULL STORY »
Thousands of die-hard University of Hawaii fans are preparing for a 4,000-mile-plus journey to the Big Easy for football, food and fun -- in one of the most crime-riddled cities in the country.
The UH Warriors were expected to arrive in New Orleans this morning, followed over the next several days by at least 15,000 supporters hoping for a victory over the University of Georgia in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day.
New Orleans is recovering economically and otherwise more than two years after Hurricane Katrina. But also on the rise is the crime rate.
There have been more than 200 slayings this year, up from 161 in all of last year. Assaults, burglaries and thefts are also up from last year, according to New Orleans police.
"It's kind of unnerving, watching recent events over there," said Stuart Hamakawa, 46, of Honolulu, who will be meeting about 10 friends in New Orleans.
"We'll be cautious. Hopefully we're in a large enough group where no one will bother us. We're not going to be out there looking for trouble."
While New Orleans officials acknowledge the high volume of crime in the city, they say most of it is occurring in historically dangerous parts of the city. They advise visitors to stay in tourist areas, such as the French Quarter and around the Superdome, which are relatively safe.
"In reality the French Quarter and the business district is relatively as safe as anywhere else in the country," said Anthony Radosti, vice president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a statewide nonprofit watchdog group based in New Orleans.
He will be speaking to the UH football team tonight on appropriate behavior in the city. "Crime becomes a problem when tourists walk out of the normal areas," he said.
Bill Curl, spokesman for the Superdome, said there has been a misperception about crime in New Orleans.
"With all the attention focused on the city after Hurricane Katrina, the crime rate is a national story," Curl said. "(Visitors) don't need to be in fear. It's no different from going to any other major city in the country."
Curl added that New Orleans law enforcement is accustomed to handling massive amounts of visitors during famous events -- such as Mardi Gras and previous Superbowls.
However, Radosti cautions visitors who plan to drink in public in the French Quarter to not overdo it, since the New Orleans Police Department has zero tolerance for obnoxious, drunken partyers.
"With the police, if they ask you to move, you move," Radosti said.
New Orleans Police Department spokesman Officer Garry Flot advised visitors to use common sense, such as traveling in groups and being cognizant of their surroundings. There will be also increased police presence in and around the French Quarter and the Superdome.
Lynn Sapir, a Hawaii native who owns a bar on Bourbon Street, said Hawaii residents need to watch out for each other and avoid taunts from Georgia enthusiasts, who will probably outnumber UH fans.
"Come here, have a good time, show your aloha spirit and don't let the taunting get to you," Sapir said. "When people from the islands come here, they look different. We stand out. They have to be more akamai."
Star-Bulletin reporter Gary C.W. Chun contributed to this report.
Safety tips for tourists traveling to New Orleans, one of the most crime-ridden cities in America:
On the streets
» Keep wallets in front pockets and purses close to your body.
» Look confident, walk briskly with someone and avoid isolated areas, such as cutting through parks and vacant lots.
» Ignore strangers who approach you. There are lots of local scam artists. If you get lost, don't talk to anyone on the street; instead, find a hotel or restaurant to ask employees for directions.
» Keep a major credit card and picture ID separate from your wallet or purse in case those are lost or stolen. Don't fight a purse snatcher.
In public areas
» Use traveler's checks or credit cards instead of cash whenever possible.
» Be a minimalist by carrying as few items as possible, and avoid wearing jewelry.
» Don't hang purses on the back of a chair at restaurants or place valuables on the ground at restrooms.
At hotels and with vehicles
» Don't enter the room if the door is open.
» Don't answer the door for a hotel employee until you verify with the front desk.
» Never leave money, jewelry or valuables in your room, even for a short time. Ask for a safety deposit box.
» Don't leave suitcases or packages in your vehicle, and keep valuables out of sight.
» Park your vehicle at a lot with an attendant. It's worth it to spend the extra money.
Source: New Orleans Police Department
Alcohol on the street
Drinking on the streets is allowed in the French Quarter, but there are rules to remember when bar hopping:
» Your drink must be in an unbreakable container, like plastic cups, not in glass bottles or open cans. Ask for a "go cup" from bars.
» You can leave a bar with a drink but cannot enter some bars with a drink in your hand. Finish your drink before going into the next destination.
» Some bars and hotels allow only paying customers to use the restrooms. There are few public restrooms in the French Quarter.
» Public drunkenness and urinating on the streets are illegal. Additional officers from the New Orleans Police Department will be out and arresting obnoxious drunken partyers.
Source: New Orleans Police Department and Lynn Sapir, New Orleans bar owner
Web tips on New Orleans
Here are some useful Web sites for UH fans traveling to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans:
» The New Orleans Police Department's Web site has an interactive map feature where you can type in an address, such as your hotel's or the Superdome's, that plots the area's recent crime activity: cno-gisweb02. cityofno.com/crimemaps.
» The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau has helpful tips for travelers: www.neworleanscvb.com/index.cfm.
COURTESY OF LYNN SAPIR
Hawaii-born Lynn Sapir and his wife, Jeaneen, own Johnny White's Pub and Grill at 718 Bourbon St.
Owner plans to make bar an isle of fun for islanders
Hawaii-born Lynn Sapir said it was his sister's idea to turn his bar in New Orleans' French Quarter into an unofficial headquarters for Warriors fans headed to the Sugar Bowl.
"With the Hawaii team coming, it makes my wife and I happy," Sapir said.
Sapir and his wife, Jeaneen, own Johnny White's Pub and Grill at 718 Bourbon St. They have been through 14 Sugar Bowls and, until this year, have remained neutral.
"I've never backed one particular team over another before. We've always wanted both teams' fans in any Sugar Bowl to enjoy our bars. But this is the only time I'll be favoring a team."
So when Hawaii fans start streaming into the French Quarter later this week, they can expect to see the Sapirs' bar at the corner of Bourbon and Saint Peter streets decorated with University of Hawaii signs and banners.
Sapir said it was his sister Terri and her husband, John Cambra, who live in Kahaluu, who suggested he convert his bar into Warrior Fan Central.
"We're going to be busy anyway," Sapir said, "but this has kind of gotten out of the box. I've already received a lot of phone calls and e-mails from people who'll be sending me stuff to display and sell here."
On top of that, Johnny White's will be hosting a Hawaii tailgate party between 1 and 6:30 p.m. the day of the game, with the help of Mike Lum of hawaiisports.com.
"I volunteered using our restaurant to make food for about 400 people," Sapir said. "We'll do the usual Creole and Cajun local fare like red beans and rice, crawfish etouffe, jambalaya and gumbo, plus burgers. It'll be a $20 all-you-can-eat buffet."
A 1972 Iolani School graduate and classmate of Mayor Mufi Hannemann's (they also played football together), Sapir learned about the bar-and-restaurant business when he worked at the Rose & Crown Pub in King's Village in Waikiki.
In 1977 he went to work for Continental Airlines as a flight attendant, a job he held for 22 years.
"That's where I met Jeaneen, and we were based out of Hawaii. Back then, Johnny White's Pub and Grill was originally her dad's place, and she and her sister owned the downstairs Johnny White's Hole-in-the-Wall.
"Anyway, since I already knew about the bar business -- my parents had a business out in Pearl City as well -- I helped her run the place while we were still flying. When the restaurant space was available when her dad died, I took it over in '99 and got the place off and running in 2001.
"I'm the gofer of the place. I oversee and maintain the two businesses. And around the 1st, I'm going to be a busy person," he said.
And he'll be shorthanded. His restaurant staff is down to six, from 22, because of the exodus after Hurricane Katrina.
"A lot of places are trying to hire lots of people, especially during this time of year. We've got three bowl games, and Mardi Gras happens early next year, with Fat Tuesday falling on Feb. 5. Unfortunately, there's still not a whole lot of places to live in New Orleans. My kids, who used to work for me, are now in Houston, and they can't afford to come back. But those who are still with me, they're working five, six days a week, working extra-long hours. They know this is their time to make money."
Sapir said he and wife got lucky during Katrina. Their home was in an older part of the city at a higher elevation, so they only got four inches of water inside.
"We had to tear up the floors, but since we have an upstairs duplex, my bartender's boyfriend, who rented from us, has his own construction company, so he helped get us back on our feet quickly."
Their bar was spared damage, as it is on higher ground.
"Just six blocks away from us, there was water in the streets. We were bone dry. Soon as we got power back on Oct. 6 (2005), we were back in business. The beer got cold, and all I had to do was throw away the lemons and limes."
"When you own a bar, you learn to recognize the regulars. And after Katrina it seemed that everyone who came in wanted to give you a big hug and have someone to talk to. All of them told their stories -- where they were when the hurricane hit, what happened to their house and family when the levees broke. Some of those stories were great in how these people survived it all. That would be a book in itself.
"It was a very emotional time for about a month there. I would end up drinking shots with them."
Thankfully, the tourists came back not too long after the storm, Sapir said.
Now he is looking forward to Hawaii fans coming.
"I already got a few Hawaii things, a couple shirts, and I'm expecting one of my best buds, Tony Miloni from Moose McGillycuddy's, to send me some banners. It should make for a fun four days."
And will Sapir be at the game? "I usually never go to the game, but I'm hoping my sister can get me two tickets. And I know the food-and-beverage guy at the Superdome, so maybe he could help me out, too. But if not, it'll be like every other year, with me washing dishes."