New Orleans or N’awlins as the natives call it, is a little slice of heaven on earth. To call it a melting pot would be an understatement. It is a massive bubbling cauldron of joie de vivre that often spills over and you cannot but get swept up in it all. From the inebriated, bead-laden adventures of Bourbon Street to the heartwarming street performers to the mouthwatering Cajun and Creole cuisine, this little city knows how to appreciate life!
All throughout the city one sees signs that herald the mantra “Laissez les bon temps rouler” and rouler they do! The contagion to ‘live life to its fullest’ runs deep and one cannot and should not try to escape it.
I figured I owed this blog to the city, having spent the last week elbow deep in it, soaking up everything it had to offer and then some. This will be the fourth but definitely not the last trip here. The first trip was pre-Katrina and for the longest time, I avoided going back. I didn’t know if I was ready to see the culture I loved so much broken from the havoc that Mother Nature had wreaked on it. Trips 2 and 3 simply drove home that point. The city was reeling from the aftermath of Katrina. The generally happy masses were a little subdued. They tried to live up to the reputation the city was known for but their eyes told a different story. Their smiles were lukewarm instead of dazzling. It broke my heart.
This time I’m pleased to announce that the city and its residents have broken that curse! Old buildings with water damage are being resurrected, there’s fresh paint on the walls and the streets are being repaired. There is a definite air of optimism. The musicians no longer sound forlorn like they are paying an homage to the ruins. The one thing that stood out this time is that the locals no longer talk about Katrina and if someone brings it up, they politely change the topic. N’awlins has definitely moved on and they are coming back with a bang! Tourism is soaring and the economy is thriving from the crowds it draws. Bachelor and bachelorette parties, quirky weddings at cutesy off-beat venues and hordes of people trying to get away from their daily grind, flock the city! It warms my heart to see a place I love so much rise to it’s original glory. As averse as I am to this usually, this time around, I even proudly wore my beads as a sign of solidarity.
Given that we were veteran NOLA-ers on this trip, we intentionally channeled our activities and experiences to imbibe as much of the locally approved aspects, staying far away from all the touristy options. It’s amazing when you’ve been to a place a few times, the one thing you know is what you don’t want to do. Hotel Mazarin served as the place of abode in the French Quarter aka FQ so most mornings were spent around it. It’s hard to venture out too far after a night of unconstrained drinking. 😉
Here’s how most mornings were spent –
- Frozen Irish coffee or a Bloody Mary at Erin Rose off Conti Street.
- Either at Erin Rose consisting of po-boys, depending on how much alcohol needed to be soaked up from the system. They are known for their Killer Po’boys and they live up to that name, available everyday (except Tuesdays) until midnight.
- Or croissants and beignets with steaming hot coffee at Cafe Beignet off Royal Street (a far superior and lower wait spot than the Cafe du Monde institution that the tourist books recommend).
Post breakfast, the mornings were spent drink in hand, strolling leisurely through the streets, peeking into the various stores offering everything from trinket jewelry to heritage pieces to art to tees. Every so often, and it was more often than not, stopping to listen to the musicians play, be it a full band with trombones and the works or young artists with makeshift drums. The first night there, we walked past a corner with a young girl playing the violin. The piece she played was so beautiful, there wasn’t a dry eye around us. Her tip bucket when I put money in it, reflected that same appreciation from the audience.
Once the morning coffee had kicked in, the day really started to unfold. Hanging out at the same watering holes every day or night ensured that we made friends with the locals and the bartenders. This in turn translated into awesome suggestions for places to visit or checkout, making us realize how much there was to experience around here.
If it’s not already obvious, I’m a diehard epicure so the trip centered around food and obviously music, specifically jazz, an all-time favorite.
Here are some of the must try food places we were recommended. Given the portion sizes, we weren’t able to try them all at the risk of going into a food coma.
- Coop’s Place off Decatur Street. The food here is phenomenal, the staff amazingly friendly, the drinks serviceable.
- Commander’s Palace off Washington Avenue for their lunch buffet. Their dinners are expensive and are best deferred for a special date night or an anniversary celebration.
- Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits off Poland Avenue for their wine selection and small plates with an incredible cheese selection. Recommended for an evening experience since they provide an outdoor courtyard seating. Sadly with all the rain, this had to be relegated to the next visit.
- Sylvain off Chartres Street, another courtyard gastropub experience known for their amazing menu with fish being their most sought after item. It actually has a wait for preparation.
- For the adventurous at heart, Pho Tau Bay off Tulane Avenue offers some of the best pho. The beef pho with tripe and tendon combo by far makes for the best hangover cure!
No visit to NOLA is complete without a long night of music at Frenchmen Street in the Marigny neighborhood. The street is home to some of the most beloved live-music spots like Spotted Cat, Maison, Three Muses, Snug Harbor, d.b.a. Bar hopping with a musical twist. Opt for Uber/Lyft and make sure to carry a lot of cash including singles to tip bartenders and performers and you are set for a long night of absolute enjoyment! The street also offers plenty of late night food options from fried chicken or a warm late night pie fix at The Praline Connection to a more formulated meal at Mona’s Cafe for some middle eastern fair.
I would be remiss if I didn’t do an honorable mention of the bartenders at our nightly hangouts. Brooke, Courtney and Rianna at Erin Rose and Chris and Erica at The Chart Room. They made the stay beyond memorable. We also met some amazing people, had some amazing conversations and enjoyed some much deserved time away from home. While I was ready to come back to home base by day 7, the stay this time around in one of my favorite cities was nothing short of stellar!
N’awlins, I will be back again and again and well….again!