Welcome to the Big Easy. I hope you brought your stretchy pants.
I arrived in New Orleans for my first time for a creative conference. I was a bit nervous but I reframed that as excitement as I impatiently waited at the luggage carousel. (I had to check my luggage because I had inadvertently booked the United cheapskate Basic Economy seat that requires you to pay $25 check your carry-on.) About 30 minutes after connecting with my rideshare, I found myself in the lobby of my hotel, waiting to check in at the charming Old 77 Hotel just outside of the French Quarter District.
I was immediately struck by the chic vintage interior. Exposed brick, swanky open bar coffee, bar and restaurant. It was definitely my kind of scene.
Is modern vintage a thing? It was the perfect blend of old and new, of rustic and refined.
I got settled into my room and then took a 15 minute walk to the heart of the French quarter to meet up with Maya Elious. First order of business? Beignets at Cafe Du Monde. It was hot and humid and we were hangry. Beignets solved one of those three problems.
Cafe du Monde is world renowned for its New Orleans donut, the beignet. Outdoor seating is filled with sticky little round metal tables and a bustling staff. FYI it’s cash only. We each ordered one order of beignets, still warm from the oven. Uh, deep fat fryer.
We wandered the French quarter, taking in the sights and sounds of street musicians and art vendors. And although I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it… it actually did remind me of Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, but you know, with the addition the homeless and the day drunks.
We wandered in the humidity, taking in the texture of walls and streets, admiring the architecture. The narrow lanes are lined with ferns and shops that have been there for hundreds of years.
I returned to New Orleans, and as soon as I smelled the air, I knew I was home. It was rich, almost sweet, like the scent of jasmine and roses around our old courtyard. I walked the streets, savoring that long lost perfume. – Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire
Scent and the City
The experience of the city begins as soon as you depart the jetway of your incoming flight and enter the airport. There’s a smell of sugar and dough in the air from the airport’s Cafe Du Monde. The Lyft smelled of cheap air freshener and way too much of it and the driver’s business cards from his various MLM endeavors lined the back seat.
The French Quarter smell of beignets, marijuana and cigarette smoke. There are also trash cans and horses, hot in the sun, mingled with the smells of cooking wafting from restaurants.
I didn’t see evidence of Hurricane Katrina. Although I’m sure she was everywhere, both visible and invisible upon the psyches of everyone left in the city. I made new friends at my conference who have lived here all their lives and they said “we measure time as Before Katrina and After Katrina”.
The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) is a thing of beauty. Due to the time constraints of my conference, I didn’t get to stroll the park with its beautiful pond and sculpture garden, but if you have time in your itinerary, add a day at NOMA.
Bourbon Street, oh Bourbon Street. Fraught with drunks, major road construction, and nightclub hosts beckoning to lure the tourists (and their money) into their clubs. Men with exotic snakes stand on the corners, working for tips. Harley Quinn wanders about scantily clad, working for tips. Here’s a tip, after scoping out Bourbon Street, head to Frenchman Street instead.
It’s like Las Vegas but with an old soul, great music and less silicone. It’s The Big Easy…
Oh, and apparently it’s legal to walk around with cups of alcohol, as long as they’re plastic cups.
My NOLA phrase essentials are:
- Lagniappe – unexpected blessings, a little something extra for you.
- Beignets – deep fried unexpected blessings under 2′” of powdered sugar
- Laissez les bon temps roule – let the good times roll. See also beignets.
Music to make your heart skip a beat
As soon as you start talking to a local, they are eager to make recommendations for restaurants and bars and music. The three go hand-in-hand and are rarely separate.
From jazz and blues to salsa and zydeco, music is everywhere, in every bar and jazz joint and on every corner from street musicians or locals camped out with their speakers. I even stumbled upon a b-boy breakdancing on the sidewalks of Frenchmen Street. #Dope
A feast for the senses
You’ve heard the phrase “a feast for the senses” and that’s just what NOLA is. But of course she’s also a feast for the for the stomach. I hollered at my friends via email before I left, “Where should I eat in New Orleans?” The main response was “everywhere” but here’s the tried and true list from a friend.
Where to eat and what to order in New Orleans
- Mr. B’s – Get the BBQ shrimp
- Cochon – Delectable and highly rated
- Cafe du Monde – beignets!
- Bacchanal – Sunday night, live music, outdoor space. You can get food there and then sit outdoors.
- Muriel’s – good and cheap martinis at lunch (it’s New Orleans so yes, you can totally have martinis at lunch. Or breakfast)
- High Hat – great food off the beaten path
- Creole Creamery – try the honey lavender
- Stanley – good po’boys
- Cooter Browns – if it is football (or any other sport) season and you want to watch a game in a casual place with good food, this is it; strong local scene
- Drago’s – charbroiled oysters!
- Napoleon House – Pimm’s cup!
- Frenchmen street – live music
- Howlin Wolf – good live jazz music
- Pat O’Brien’s – Known for Hurricanes, but it’s the place to say you went
On my last night in NOLA, a local suggested a midnight run to Dat Dog on Frenchman Street. Now, let me be clear on my stance about hot dogs – hot dogs are vile. However when in Rome, as they say, I figured I’d give it a shot as it was after all, my last few hours in the Big Easy. Dat Dog takes the humble hot dog to an Olympic level with their unusual and gourmet combinations with a variety of sausages, meats and toppings. I had a Duck Dog with a berry compote while my companions had an alligator dog and some sort of seafood awesomeness. Wow. This old dog just got schooled in a new trick.
What began as a simple blog post about my first trip to Louisiana has evolved into a passionate love letter to the Big Easy. Here’s a link to my NOLA Pinterest Board so you can plan your epic visit to New Orleans. Start pinning, my friend and perhaps we can meet there soon.
So my dear NOLA, are you ready for me next year?