It’s a brisk January evening in a Mid-City barroom. The place is packed: thespians with an itch for the drama get rowdy with the staff of a women’s shelter. A group of Finn McCool’s regulars, sticking around after the basketball game, buy a round for a pair of girls on their first date. All eyes are fixed on stage, where a female gladiator and a 1950s housewife square their shoulders and prepare to arm wrestle.
These are the New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestlers (NO LAW), where the excitement of a great game meets the thrill of a good show—where The Viper meets Doris DoomsDay—and it’s all for charity! Since that inaugural brawl at the beginning of this year, NO LAW has hosted two more arm wrestling gore fests and is gearing up for their fourth. Proceeds have gone to Hagar’s House, E.B. Liberty House and Books-to-Prisoners. The upcoming brawl will be this Saturday at the Half Moon and will benefit the St. Bernard Project’s Health and Wellness Center for families of fishermen affected by the oil spill.
At every brawl, eight female wrestlers compete tournament style, each with her own stage moniker, costume and entourage, responsible for collecting bets from the audience. The bets yield no return and are, in fact, donations to the selected local organization whose services benefit women and girls. Audience members don’t go home empty handed: each dollar buys you a raffle ticket, tossed into a bucket belonging to the wrestler you bet on. If your competitor wins, the round girl draws tickets from her bucket, good for bar tabs, gift certificates to local restaurants, t-shirts and top-shelf booze.
New Orleans is not the only town playing host to such fun-raising: Chicago, Taos, New York’s Hudson Valley and Raleigh, North Carolina all gained inspiration from the mother of all arm wrestling leagues, the Charlottesville CLAW (2008). But the ladies who organize NO LAW like to think that their brand of matriarchal mayhem is a little fresher than the rest: with the average age of participants a good 5-10 years younger than the other offshoots, NO LAW gets rowdy fast. Brawls take place at popular bars around the city with varying demographics: the first three were at Finn McCool’s, Allways Lounge, and most recently, Handsome Willy’s. That’s not to say they’re not looking to expand their audience: one of their major goals for upcoming brawls is to reach out to an older crowd with, presumably, deeper pockets.
NO LAW aims to not only provide the selected charity with proceeds from the show, but also with a platform to raise awareness around their cause. In the future, NO LAW hopes to expand their role as a liaison between women’s organizations throughout the city. They’d like to offer a variety of organizations the opportunity to distribute material at their events, and they have a vision of creating a resource guide listing female-friendly businesses and services in the area.
This Saturday’s brawl is at the Half Moon Bar (1125 St. Mary, just off Magazine in the Lower Garden District), and starts at 8 p.m. Bring small bills for betting and be ready to get down at the Saint for a dance party after the brawl.
All photos by Shawn Escoffery