New Orleans or New A’wlins as the locals call it is a city of Southern comfort, soul food and soul music at its heart!! There are also extremes, on one hand you have laid back neighbourhoods put back together after Katrina and then there’s the infamous Bourbon Street, which is debaucherous and dirty and not at all what you’d expect from New Orleans. Tourists from around the world come here and drink themselves to oblivion on $3 shots and whilst we were happy to have seen this, we were much happier to leave it for the local’s version. Frenchmen St. was everything we hoped it would be, authentic, honest and exactly what we had in mind when we thought of New Orleans as a destination. Jazz bands play venues up and down the street and the delicious food options vary from local cuisine to modern and other influences.
Here are some of our highlights, chats with locals and general tips:
Where to stay:
We stayed in a wonderful boutique hotel called The Hotel Modern that was located at Lee Circle in New Orleans’ Warehouse-Arts District steps away from the Contemporary Arts Centre, Ogden Museum of Southern Art and Julia Street, a thriving gallery scene. This hotel has some intriguing quirks, firstly there’s Miss Scarlett the resident concierge (a parrot) who has been with the hotel since December 2011, then there’s the décor eclectic and modern but with a hint of traditions. The hotel is understatedly luxurious and very comfortable and the staff extremely friendly and helpful. Our room had two very comfortable twins and the toiletries were by NYC beauty brand C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries which has since become our new favourite beauty brand.
Street cars are probably the best way to get by, you can get the St Charles street car from one end of the city to the other for as little as $1.25. Cabs are pretty easy to flag down too and if you are feeling active you can walk or rent a bicycle. We pretty much walked the full distance of the very picturesque St Charles St, taking in churches and university’s on our way which took about 40 minutes. There’s also a number of walking tours available – a walking tour of the French Quarter if you want to get your bearings and are interested in something more structured (we preferred a more fluid approach so just made a plan to conquer an area and made our own way there). Other fun options include a cocktail walking tour and haunted tours. If you want an even broader view of the city, you can take the Hop-On Hop-Off Tour that travels to different parts of the city.
Bellocq bar, named after E.J. Bellocq, a quiet marine photographer’s gripping images of a pre- prohibition sexual revolution provide inspiration to this bar. Their innovative menu is all based around fortified wines as the main ingredient for its cocktails which are all created in-house. We spoke to Bar Manager Sal Agnello regarding their inspiration “we wanted to use products that have been around for years.” He says of Vermouth “it’s a natural progression, it’s so on trend right now”.
We tried a selection of drinks at Bellocq, low proof alcohol cobblers such as the ‘original’ Sherry Cobbler, plus some high proof alcohol cobblers which were as potent as you’d expect but also dangerously delicious one of which was the Yellow Chartreuse Cobbler, a fusion of herbal liquor and jalapeño that was perhaps a little too feisty for our delicate tastebuds.
One of our earlier finds was Bar Tonique which is definitely worth a visit for a late night drink or two if you find yourself near the French Quarters.
Another great bar to check out is Cure, it’s also one of the most innovative of New Orleans’ bars and is located on Freret Street, a neighbourhood that has experienced a boom post-Katrina and is now home to a variety of restaurants, music venues, shops and more.
If you find yourself in the French Quarter, don’t miss the famous Café du Monde beignets. The coffee stand has been serving beignets and café au lait on the same corner for more than 100 years. We were also coincidently in town during the Oak Street Poboy Festival, which showcased the best of the classic New Orleans Poboy sandwiches. The festival was free and took place on Sunday November 23 at the intersection of Oak Street and South Carrollton Avenue. Restaurants from around the city compete in a variety of categories like “Best Shrimp Poboy” (we tried one of these – they were great) or “Best Sausage Poboy,” and there’s live music from some favorite local bands. Unfortunately we arrived just as the festival was closing so didn’t spend as much time comparing the Poboys as we would have liked, still the little we did try was very impressive!
Something we are a little ashamed to admit but feel it’s our duty to report is that the chips in New Orleans were possibly the best we’ve ever had, Bellocq had the most perfect home made fries covered in gruyere cheese, just divine! Tableau also had a similar offering and were equally as addictive.
New Orleans is alive with street music and alike, we were fortunate enough to catch The Tradsters live in one of the venues on Frenchman St, definitely worth a listen to if you like jazz music.
Magazine Street is a great area to explore, and the Hop-On Hop-Off Tour stops on Magazine. Magazine is home to several miles of shopping, restaurants, spas, museums and art galleries. There’s some good shopping options just past Jackson Sq in the French Quarter too.
Don’t forget to stop off for a visit to the Mississippi River which is just off the famous Jackson Square, a historic park in the French Quarters which was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. Also take in as much music as you can, we were fortunate enough to see lots of great musicians performing on the streets all over the city streets and don’t leave without trying at least one Poboy or Beignets after all these treats are famous for a reason!!
For more information on New Orleans check out New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau