I finally made it to New Orleans. I only wish I could have stayed a little longer; a week was not long enough to do all the things I wanted to do. If you are considering traveling to New Orleans, I have some suggestions for you based on my recent experience there.
Don’t consider – just go. There’s no reason not to. It’s plenty affordable. It’s never cold. Sure it rains some and can be steaming hot, but there’s plenty of indoor AC and cold drinks to be had everywhere you go. There are tons of things to do and you don’t need a car to get around. You can even take a bus from the airport for 2 dollars.
Go because New Orleans is one of the most culturally unique and interesting cities in the U.S. It is thought to be the birthplace of jazz which can be traced back to the influence of African slaves from different countries whose religious practices and community rituals prominently featured music on Sundays in the form of drumming, strumming, dancing, and singing. It is a city that was colonized by the French and Spanish, apparent in the street names and architecture, and finally annexed by the Americans after President Jefferson acquired it from Napoleon as part of the Louisiana Purchase. It is a city that initially showed promise but yielded little for the French and Spanish by way of riches. New Orleans had no gold, silver or even decent pearls. It did have a lot of flammable cypress trees that helped burn the city down twice and it had terrible outbreaks of yellow fever. It only became economically valuable when they realized the area could produce sugar and cotton. What can be seen in today’s New Orleans are the remnants of its complicated society – the taverns frequented by drunken sailors, a “red light” district for pleasure seekers, fine and distinctive dining, hotels once frequented by the southern leisure class, and of course, the music clubs which cultivated original American music. And it is a town still recovering from the Katrina disaster, and may never fully. It is a town with no hills or elevation of measure that is sadly sinking and may break apart from the mainland. Support it as much as you can while it is still habitable. New Orleans is a national treasure.
On a lighter note, when you go to NOLA, don’t try to stay right in the French Quarter. You can stay a few blocks outside the quarter, say on Iberville St. which would probably also be cheaper. We stayed at the reasonably priced Courtyard Marriott, a few blocks from the madness and noise of Bourbon St.
When you go to NO, walk around the French Quarter during the day, but avoid it at night unless you like to be among drunken tourists walking around with punch bowls and bong-like devices filled with what looks like transmission fluid and anti-freeze. The bars all serve pretty much the same expensive and watered down drinks and typical bar food. There are some notable exceptions which include the Napolean House Cafe and Bar on Chartres St. Try the classic Pimm’s Cup cocktail with a muffuletta sandwich. Also, try a cocktail at the Hotel Monteleone at the rotating carousel bar. If you dare to try an Absinthe based drink, the Absinthe House is the place to go, though be prepared to shell out 20 bucks for the privilege.
When you go, check out Preservation Hall at 726 St. Peter St. for live jazz by the house band. It’s 15 bucks a pop with shows at 8, 9 and 10. Get there by 7 pm to stand in line if you want a seat. You can buy a ticket on-line for a guaranteed seat, but it’ll cost you double. Be aware that there’s no bathroom there and no drinks or food are sold or allowed in so eat, drink, and pee beforehand. Preservation Hall is a hole in the wall, with no AC, but the music is fantastic and the experience is about as intimate and satisfying as it gets.
When you go, also go to Frenchmen St. for Jazz or Blues. It’s a bit of a walk from the heart of the French Quarter, and I wouldn’t recommend that you try, but you could take a bus, cab or trolley to get closer. Or if you are a Millenial, you could take an Uber or Lyft. We took a bus. We went to a place called Bamboulas. No cover. Tremendous music. Spacious. Airy. Good appetizers. Try the fried okra. Seriously. Jazz and Okra. You can’t beat it.
When you go, eat at the Ruby Slipper on Canal St. for breakfast, but be prepared to wait. The Old Coffee Pot Restaurant on St. Peter St. near Preservation Hall also has a good breakfast. For coffee and beignets, go to Cafe Du Monde if you must but to be honest, our beignets were not as fresh as we would have liked. We each got a batch of three – and in each of the batches, one beignet was fresh and doughy, and the others were crunchy and seemed old like they had been sitting out all morning under a heat lamp. We ordered a third batch and had the same result; consistent, but disappointing. The coffee was good and we bought a couple of cans of it to bring home. For lunch, try Domiciles for po-boys. It’s a bit of a hike Uptown to Annunciation St. but you can make it out there by bus or trolley. Worth the hike. Try the hot sausage or the roast beef versions. Also for lunch, eat at Coops on Decatur St. Great gumbo, and jambalaya at ridiculously cheap prices. Try the Coop’s Taste plate with an Abita beer. For dinner, well, we only went out for dinner once because our lunches filled us up for the day but when we did, we tried Deanies Seafood on or near Iberville St. I had the crawfish etouffee and it was to die for. Finally, for dessert, head to Southern Candymakers at 334 Decatur St. for pralines. We sampled quite a few from different places and found the ones from Southern Candymakers to be superior.
When you go, go to the WWII museum on Magazine St. It’s intense and the exhibits are well-designed and configured and cover both theaters of the war. It’s pricey – 24 and 34 if you opt for the Tom Hanks 40 minute introductory movie. We didn’t do the movie, but many people recommend it. If you don’t mind spending the extra dough and the extra time, go for it. Don’t miss the Boeing exhibit to see a Flying Fortress, and a P-51 up close hanging from the ceiling.
After the museum, walk over to the Cochon Butcher for lunch at 930 Tchoupitoulas St. A little pricey, but good meat and a big selection of wine and whiskey. Good desserts too.
Another nice museum is NOMA, easily accessible on the Trolley which you pick up on Canal St. It’s not a huge museum but had tasteful exhibits. The outdoor sculptures on the side of the museum are interesting and the stroll around the garden is pleasant.
All the locals we met were friendly, helpful, and quite open to talking. Maybe that’s southern hospitality, or maybe it’s that I am not used to friendliness in the Northeast where I live. NOLA, I’m going to miss you. Hope to be back soon.