Travel Log: New Orleans

A few of us went down to New Orleans earlier this month to help my brother and his wife kick off their last few months in the city… I realized that NOLA has easily become one of my favorite cities in the U.S. and decided to write a post. While it is bit quieter now than it was pre-Katrina, NOLA keeps the good times rolling with its uniquely vibrant culture, warm-hearted locals, great food, and soulful music. Here are some of my recs for the Big Easy…

Eating: New Orleans is known specifically for Cajun and Creole cuisine, as well as generally southern cuisine. However, there’s plenty beyond that if you feel the need. Here are some memorable places I’ve been to (no particular order):

  • Commander’s Palace – 5-star dining, local cuisine, historical restaurant, 25-cent martinis. Yes, martinis for $0.25. Our group of six went here for a friday lunch, ate lots, and got drunk on $5. Afterwards you can walk it off at the old cemetery across the street.
  • Sunday jazz brunch at Court of Two Sisters – make reservations in advance! Exquisite buffet, great atmosphere (eat outside in the courtyard), great service (old southern charm in a tux), and beautiful live music.
  • Sunday Jazz Brunch or Dinner at Muriel’s on Jackson Square – Great location, atmosphere, service, food, etc. The Sunday Jazz brunch offers very unique local cuisine (not buffet style), very tasty. The restaurant itself embodies the french quarter’s characteristic architecture and charm. Whether you dine here or not, you cannot leave NOLA without exploring the séance room above Muriel’s.
  • Café du Monde – Tourists and locals alike find the coffee and beignets here irresistible (and a great deal). They’re open all day & night and if you’re lucky some local musician(s) will set up out front for an impromptu performance. If not, the people-watching will do.
  • Surrey’s – My bro’s favorite brunch place and justifiably so… very fresh, very tasty, but tiny (so count on a wait). This is out on Magazine Street so it’s also less trafficked by tourists.
  • Bennachin – West African food in the French Quarter. Small restaurant, good food, colorful atmosphere.

Bars/Nightlife: One of the things I love about New Orleans is that the weather and the laid-back culture make jeans and t-shirts appropriate almost anywhere at any time. But I would advise against flipflops if you’re going to a bar with wobbly drunk girls in heels…

  • Bourbon Street – I hate Bourbon Street, but if you’ve never been you should stroll on through. Whether you’re there for Mardi Gras or Mother’s Day weekend, Bourbon will deliver on its promise of trash, tits, and vomit. Plenty of bars/clubs line the street, but the only rec I have is Pat O’Brien’s for their famous (and potent) Hurricanes. The open courtyard atmosphere also seems to raise its relative level of sophistication.
  • Columns Hotel – This is a beautiful and historical hotel in the Garden District, where they’ve converted the ground floor into a public bar/lounge. Genuine elegance of an old Victorian construction and great ambiance for a mellow night.
  • Lafitte’s Bar – Claims to be the oldest bar in the country by some qualified definition. It’s definitely the oldest bar I’ve been to and it’s worth checking out. Nothing fancy here… just another chill bar for some drinks… try the local beer Abita (Amber or Purple Haze).
  • Marigny – The Marigny is a part of NOLA that’s slightly outside of the French Quarter. I think this is where most of the locals hang out. There’s a cluster of laid-back bars and restaurants here, including some great places to check out local music. I’ve been to the Hookah Cafe a couple of times and really like the joint. Great atmosphere, great hookah, and awesome live music (usually no cover).

Other things:

  • Le Pavillon Hotel offers complimentary PBJ sandwiches at 10p.m. I’ve never had a chance to check that out and I’ve whined about it a fair bit.
  • The ghost tour was fun when I was down there for Halloween. It’s a cool story-telling experience and a fun way to learn about the history of some of the buildings in the french quarter. The fact that you can drink outdoors in NOLA also makes this an interesting tour.
  • Sports – It’s fun to attend a Saints or Hornets game just to see the showcase of New Orleans pride.
  • Magazine Street – while it’s still recovering from a post-Katrina recession, Magazine Street is full of quaint shops, restaurants, and ice creameries.
  • Harrah’s – If you gamble…
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