WHAT TO DO
New Orleans is a magical city with its unique blend of cultures, cuisines and genuine hospitality. Whether you are in town for Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest or to just experience this fascinating place along the Mississippi River, the Big Easy has so much to offer.
There are several great neighborhoods to explore in New Orleans, each with its own personality. One must begin in the city's oldest and most famous sector, the French Quarter. I appreciate the history and beauty it offers as I wander the cobblestone alleys, courtyard gardens and look up to admire the notable wrought iron balconies. A good place to begin your tour of the Quarter would be down along the river at Decatur Street and work your way inland. There you'll find the souvenir shops, bars and restaurants. Take a peek inside the nearby French Market where vendors have been selling their goods for hundreds of years, making it one of the oldest public marketplaces in America. Next, head over to beautiful Jackson Square and marvel at the majestic St Louis Cathedral. This postcard pretty spot has a park where you can relax and watch local artists, musicians and fortune tellers do their thing. From there head to quaint Royal Street for its sophisticated antique shops and many of the Quarter's finest residences. In my opinion, the one must stop you should make in the French Quarter is Preservation Hall on St Peter Street. Dating back to 1803, it is one of the most storied live music venues in New Orleans. Be sure to see the resident act perform, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. You will most likely have to wait in line, but they are worth it. Lastly, end your exploration of the Quarter at New Orleans' most famous entertainment strip - Bourbon Street. Obviously it's not for everyone, but you must experience it at least once and preferably at night. From the numerous bars and strip clubs to the local jazz musicians and drunkards, it should provide you with a few memorable stories to tell, or not... Before heading out, drop in on Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo on Bourbon Street for a trinket or two.
After the odyssey that is the Quarter walk over to a few of its neighbors, Treme and Faubourg Marigny. From its musical history, Treme is home to Congo Square (now Louis Armstrong Park), which was a gathering place for slaves. This is where they met to play music and thus is the birthplace of jazz. To experience jazz like a local, head to the Marigny and the amazing Frenchmen Street. This four block stretch of jazz bars, nightclubs and galleries is a fun time. It just might be the best concentration of live music venues in the country. Although there are several to choose from such as Blue Nile and Snug Harbor, my personal favorite is The Spotted Cat. Admission is free just as long as you enjoy the music, along with several local beers.
For a truly unique New Orleans experience, take a ride on the St Charles Avenue Streetcar (fare $1.25) out to the Garden District. Along the way the old school streetcar will clatter through the CBD (Central Business District) on an oak shaded median and pass some of the city's most exclusive addresses. With some of the most beautiful homes in the city, the Garden District has acquired fame for its antebellum mansions and manicured gardens. I enjoy walking this neighborhood for a peaceful break and to explore some of the impressive cemeteries of New Orleans, like Lafayette Cemetery No 1. From there, continue on to Magazine Street at the southern border of the Garden District. It is an excellent shopping destination with many novelty shops as well as several great restaurants and bars.
For the museumgoer, my two favorites are the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) and the National World War II Museum. They are both excellent. Located in the also spectacular City Park, the elegant NOMA was opened in 1911 and draws from classic Greek architecture. A grand central staircase carries visitors to some of the museums highlights, such as the famous eggs by Peter Carl Faberge and one of the largest glass collections in the country. Conveniently located in the Warehouse District is the National WWII Museum. Opened in 2000, it is a must visit for any history buff like myself. The moving, highly educational exhibits focus on what it was like to be involved during those historic years. From oral histories of military personnel, short documentary films and collections of many artifacts from the war, this gave me a continued appreciation of what "the greatest generation" sacrificed for our freedom. One particularly interesting thing I learned at this fascinating museum was the story behind the LCVP or "Higgins Boat." On display, originally designed by local entrepreneur Andrew Jackson Higgins for commercial use on Louisiana's bayous, these flat bottomed amphibious landing craft moved tens of thousands of soldiers onto Normandy's beaches during the D Day invasion on June 6, 1944. I would recommend at least 3 hours to visit the museum.
WHERE TO EAT
New Orleans is a food lover's paradise, not to mention a drink lover's as well. Therefore this section will focus on both where to eat and where to drink in the Big Easy. A few of the classic food joints are located in the French Quarter (Vieux Carre). Some might have long lines, but they are a must visit in my opinion. Acme Oyster House on Iberville Street has tasty raw and chargrilled oysters, legendary shrimp po' boys and a delish gumbo. Arnaud's on Bienville Street has been in business for a century. It is well known for its flamed cafe brulot, a 'burnt brandy' after dinner drink. Down on Decatur Street is Cafe du Monde, the place where everyone goes for the famous cafe au lait and sugar dusted beignets. You can either get table service under the green and white striped awning or head around back to the takeout window and get your goodies to go - nearby Jackson Square is the perfect place to enjoy your coffee and beignets. Remaining on Decatur, stop in to Central Grocery for a massive sandwich. This old school Italian grocery store makes authentic muffulettas and they are killer. Once again, find a bench in Jackson Square and dive in. Staying in the Quarter on Decatur for one last gem, try Cane & Table. It's a chill place with a marble bar and quiet courtyard that does excellent rum based cocktails and eclectic small plates. May I suggest the Silver Tongue to drink and pair it with the crispy rum ribs or the peas n rice.
The Treme District has 2 must visit soul food spots which celebrate the neighborhood's African American and Creole heritage. Located on St Ann Street is Willie Mae's Scotch House. Its juicy and tender fried chicken is often called the best in town, or even the best in the country. Waiting in line for lunch at Willie Mae’s is a memorable experience on its own, with various languages and walks of life commingled. The menu of nourishing soul food that also features veal, baked chicken, and mac and cheese is rounded out by top notch sides like fried okra and brussels sprouts. Around the corner on Orleans Avenue is the legendary Dooky Chase's Restaurant. This Treme landmark was founded by New Orleans icon Leah Chase. Famous for its Creole gumbo, shrimp Clemenceau, fried chicken and private collection of African American art, Dooky Chase's is a NOLA institution.
The Warehouse District is home to 3 of chef Donald Link's culinary masterpieces. On St Charles Avenue there is Herbsaint. This casually upscale restaurant does a delicious daily gumbo, charcuterie and a not to miss muscovy duck leg confit with dirty rice. Stay for dessert and try the banana brown butter tart. Next, head over to Cochon on Tchoupitoulas Street for some tasty pork with turnips and cabbage. The black eyed pea and pork gumbo is ridiculous and the fried boudin with pickled peppers is a must. Around the corner from Cochon is Butcher, my favorite sandwich shop in town. Every sandwich is perfect, but the one I continue to order is the muffaletta. The tasty side dishes include a marvelous mac 'n cheese and there is also a bar with a rotating selection of beers, wine and cocktails. Do not miss this place.
Over in the beautiful Garden District on Magazine Street there is a great corner bistro called Coquette. There is an upstairs dining room, but for a lively scene sit at the long bar downstairs and chat up the locals and creative bartenders. The New American menu changes daily and the craft cocktails are quite good. Also on Magazine Street is Gris-Gris. It pays homage to Southern comfort food with classics like shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, and chicken and dumplings. Last but certainly not least is what most consider to be the grande dame of New Orleans fine dining, Commander's Palace on Washington Avenue. In a lovely garden setting it offers true and attentive Southern hospitality. The Creole classics include a spicy turtle soup, shrimp and grits along with pecan crusted Gulf fish. For dessert I highly recommend the strawberry shortcake. The weekend brunch is a not to be missed New Orleans tradition. Commander's Palace is a very nice place and not inexpensive, but it is worth the experience.
Now for those thirsty fellow patrons, New Orleans has too many great drinking spots to name so I will share some of my favorites. Mostly in and around the French Quarter, start at Bar Tonique on North Rampart Street. This is a bartender's bar because they make some of the best drinks in town. The Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street is one of the city's fabled bars that served absinthe before it was outlawed in 1914 (Oscar Wilde was a customer). The prices are higher than most in this historical saloon, but it's fun and the popcorn is free. For another historical bar make your way to Napoleon House on Chartres Street. This French Quarter favorite has been around for a long time and their special is the Pimm's Cup, made of gin, lemonade, soda and a cucumber slice. Next, head to French 75 Bar on Bienville Street for a classic setting and bartenders in white tuxedo jackets. The signature cocktail shares the name of the place and is a combination of cognac, syrup, lemon and champagne. For a different New Orleans experience, head to the Uptown neighborhood for Snake & Jakes on Oak Street. This dive bar in a shacklike setting is a New Orleans institution. With super late hours, year round holiday decor and a stellar jukebox - you'll be sure to say "who dat!" Also in Uptown is the legendary music venue Tipitina's on Napoleon Avenue. Check it out, it is one of New Orleans' great musical meccas. There are two more must visit bars and I will mention them in the next section.
WHERE TO STAY
New Orleans has several places to call home during your stay, but there are 2 that stand out above and beyond the rest. They are both landmarks and offer superb amenities along with a rich history. The Hotel Monteleone is located on Royal Street in the heart of the French Quarter. In my opinion it is the perfect location for anyone who wants to be in the center of it all. It has welcomed many notable guests such as Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote and yours truly. The rooms are spacious, there is a heated rooftop pool and most importantly it is the home of the famous Carousel Bar & Lounge. This classic New Orleans hotel bar is the city's only revolving bar. Since 1949 it has lured guests in to take a spin on the 25 seat, circus clad Merry Go Round. It is one of the most popular places to drink in town.
Another iconic place to drink is at the Sazerac Bar located inside the magnificent Roosevelt Hotel on Roosevelt Way, just outside the Quarter. With its elegant bar stools and plus banquettes, you feel like you've gone back in time. Be sure to order the official drink of NOLA, the Sazerac. It is whiskey, simple syrup, bitters and it is tasty. The hotel itself is beautiful, from its glittering lobby to its stately guest rooms, the Roosevelt offers a grand experience. There is also a world class spa and a serene rooftop pool. The perfect way to end any visit to the great city of New Orleans.