Celebrating Life, Music and Fine Cuisine
in the Big Easy
BY JENNY PETERS
It’s a place where costumes are king, and not just over the weeks leading up to and including its famous Mardi Gras celebration, for NOLA citizens will dress up and parade in the streets given the slightest excuse. And – throughout the French Quarter and the Marigny at least – there’s “music in the streets both night and day,” as Paul Simon so famously sings.
So pack your favorite chapeau, drop a tutu in your suitcase and join us for a trip to the Big Easy.
PERFECT PLACES TO STAY
Despite the fact that you’ll probably not see much of your hotel room during a trip to New Orleans, the city that keeps the music playing and the cocktails flowing well into the wee hours, finding the perfect place to stay will help to make the visit sublime.
To enjoy the lap of luxury, choose the classically elegant Ritz-Carlton on Canal Street, at the western edge of the French Quarter, or the Windsor Court Hotel, also just on the edge of the Vieux Carré (the original name of the Quarter). Both provide top-notch service and a quiet oasis to rest after a full day/night in the city. Or discover the Soniat House, a private home built in the 1800s and now a stunning 30-room antiques-filled boutique hotel with balconies and a classic FQ garden. Book a Grand Suite for the ultimate experience here.
To get right into the thick of things, you’ll want to stay at the Royal Sonesta Hotel right on Bourbon Street, booking a room with a balcony overlooking the crazy crowds that wander that famous party street. Looking down on the masses (and throwing some beads to revelers) is an endlessly fascinating experience, but don’t expect to get a lot of restful sleep in this noisy spot. The nearby Hotel Monteleone (circa 1886) is another famed FQ luxury hotel; even if you don’t choose to sleep at this famously haunted hotel, stop in for a drink at the Carousel Bar, which slowly rotates as you sip your Mint Julep.
For terrific views of the city, the Troubadour Hotel in the Central Business District (close to the Superdome and the Convention Center) is a lovely place to call home, with nicely appointed rooms and suites and a rooftop bar called Monkey Board, a perfect spot for sunset Happy Hour or late-night quaff.
TOP TIMES TO VISIT
There truly is always something happening in New Orleans, but certain times really draw crowds. The strongly Catholic city’s Mardi Gras festivities roll from Three Kings Day (Epiphany) on January 6 each year straight to Mardi Gras Day. Massive parades roll almost every night (and some days) in the last two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, when people dress in elaborate costumes and fill the streets of the French Quarter and the Marigny, where music and go-cups (carrying alcoholic drinks on the streets is accepted all over town) rule.
There are formal balls, funny traditions (don’t miss “The Greasing of the Poles”) and lots of beads, cups, stuffed animals, decorated shoes and even painted coconuts sailing through the air, to the delight of small children and grown adults. Enjoy, but remember that Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and the city really does go quiet.
Another must-do in NOLA is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a massive musical extravaganza that occurs every year in late April and early May, seven days of outdoor concerts (12 stages featuring all sorts of genres) enhanced by the best festival food you’ve ever tasted. Essence Festival is always in July, held in the Superdome and featuring a distinctly African-American musical lineup, as well as seminars, parties and more. And Voodoo Fest happens annually at Halloween – that multistage music celebration leans toward EDM and alternative rock.
Regardless of when you go, make time to see the incredible National World War II Museum, one of the world’s best. Then head to Audubon Park, where the fascinating Insectarium and Nature Center await (the city’s zoo and aquarium are also there). Add in City Park to see its famed (and massive) live oaks, the spot where duels used to occur; and stop into the New Orleans Museum of Art while there to see the works Edgar Degas painted while visiting NOLA.
EXCELLENT CULINARY EXPERIENCES
NOLA is justifiably famous for its food and it is truly hard to go wrong by simply wandering around and choosing an eatery that looks appealing. But making time to go to some of the culinary classics is definitely in order, so put Commander’s Palace, Napoleon House, Antoine’s, Brennan’s and Mandina’s on your short list.
For classic local hangouts that give wonderful food for surprisingly reasonable prices, have a po’boy with fried shrimp, oyster or catfish, sandwiches served on crusty French bread at Parasol’s or Mother’s; beignets at Café du Monde; and a thirst-quenching shaved ice sno-ball at Hansen’s, Pandora’s or Ike’s.
And of course, anyone who loves great meals needs to visit at least one of New Orleans’ numerous James Beard-award winning restaurants. Some are old favorites, like Dooky Chase’s soul food eatery and Emeril’s Restaurant (opened in 1990), while others are brand-new classics including Shaya, Cochon and Bayona.
Eat, drink, dance, costume up, take in the arts, have fun at a fest, enjoy the parks, stroll the streets and repeat. That’s the way to do a visit to New Orleans proud!