Last weekend I took my first trip to Louisiana and visited New Orleans to celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday. As New Orleans was the kick off of a new age for him, I will use it as a kick off for my blog. In doing research for our roadtrip I found advice on experiencing New Orleans to be lacking. Today, I write for that reason. My guide compiles what I wish people had told me, what I did, what I wish I would have done, and what I would do differently.
The Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone might have been my favorite place in NOLA. It is easily the most unusual cocktail bar I have ever entered. The center of the bar looks like a classic carousel that the bar top and stools rotate around. We learned from the bartender that it takes fifteen minutes to do one full rotation. If there is not a seat available at the bar when you walk in, wait. It is worth it. I ordered a Golden Cadillac, a delicious, creamy licorice hinted drink that would be best compared to a White Russian. It was fantastic.
Gumbo, jambalaya, and a po boy were on my list of foods to eat. I wish I would have been able to try more of each to have some comparisons to offer, but Mr. B’s makes a great Gumbo Ya Ya (for non-seafood eaters) and yummy Barbecue Shrimp. If you are looking to eat at a busy restaurant but didn’t make a reservation, ask the hostess if the bar is full service, as you can usually seat yourself without a wait. This is what we did at Mr. B’s. Also, if you want to try some of the finer restaurants but are travelling on a budget, eat at these places during lunch hours. You can often order smaller portions of dinner offerings at a lower price.
I was told repeatedly that Cafe du Monde is a New Orleans must. This coffee stand is open 24 hours so it isn’t too difficult to avoid this place during early morning hours when you will wait in a long line of tourists. Grab three warm, powdered sugar covered beignets for a whopping $2.65. Cross the street and shop the work of local artists in Jackson Square.
Obviously a walk down balcony lined Bourbon Street where the Mardi Gras magic happens is in order. Another must-walk street in the French Quarters is Royal Street. Replace all of Bourbon’s bars with art galleries and antique shops and you’ve got Royal. In the unassuming art galleries you’ll find the work of both local artists and renowned artists, such as Picasso and Dali, for sale. While you’re on Royal street, if you want to pick up a souvenir that really says New Orleans, I’d suggest stopping in Bevolo for a gas lamp like the ones you see all around the city.
A trip to New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without live music. For good blues we were told to go see Big Al at the Funky Pirate, but were also advised to “follow our ears.” We didn’t make it to see 495 pound Al, but found some fun brass bands at Vasos and BMC off of Decatur.
Saturday morning we went to Brennan’s. As our waiter mentioned, Brennan’s is in Webster’s dictionary under Bananas Foster, but The brunch prices seemed to reflect the name more than the quality of food. If you want to dine there I’d suggest eating no more than their recommended turtle soup or their famous bananas foster.
Sunday we opted for a less expensive morning meal and ended up at Merchant: a little cafe on Common Street that serves crepes, croques, and coffee. Both the Pancetta and the Triple Cream crepes were scrumptious. While the cafe is small, don’t expect to pop in for a quick bite as the leisurely staff makes everything fresh once you order.
After exploring the French Quarters take the St. Charles street car to the Garden District. You can get an all day pass for $3. Bring exact change for your fare. Take a walk through the neighborhood, and admire the unique architecture marked by gas lamps and floor to ceiling shutters.
Head down to Magazine street, a 6-mile strip of mostly locally owned restaurants, galleries, and shops, and swing by Sucre for artful pastries, chocolates, macarons, or gelato. I ate an outstanding caramel peanut tart while my boyfriend sipped a Rocher gelato shake. This is one of the best patisseries I have been to in all of my travels.
I thought it would be fun to eat a bowl of gumbo at Commander’s Palace, but without reservations and a standing only bar, the wait would have taken up more precious time in New Orleans than I was willing to let it. Not to mention, I felt slightly under dressed in my casual skirt. For alternative dining in the neighborhood, hop back on the St. Charles street car and head to Slice Pizzeria: delicious brick oven pizza, a break from tourists, and NOLA Brewery beers.
If I had another day I would have loved to take the Gray Line Katrina Tour, walked through the WWII Museum, or visited the Audubon Aquarium. I’d also try a few different eateries including, Mike’s on the Avenue, Dick and Jenny’s, and The Columns. If you have any NOLA favorites, please share below.
My pre-trip suggested reads: Design*Sponge’s New Orleans City Guide, The Urbanist’s New Orleans: What to Do, gusto & grace: a map of NOLA, The New York Times Travel Guide, and The New York Times 36 Hours: 150 Weekends in the USA & Canada.
UPDATE 6.29.12: Anthropologie recently publised this guide in their magazine.