Destination New Orleans
At the airport, I sent text messages to my fun-loving friends, Tina and Rachel. They had both lived in New Orleans, and I figured they’d have advice on places for me to check out. When they got my text, I elicited the same emotional reaction from both of them: “I’m so jealous.” Tina and Rachel began to dispense stream-of-consciousness sensory recalls of some of their favorite things in New Orleans. There was some moaning about crawfish boils and overstuffed po’boys. Tina told me that she missed “food by the pound.” Rachel told me to get a “hand grenade at Tropical Isle and a hurricane’s from Pat O’s.”
They were also tentative about which of their favorite places might have closed or changed locations, while remaining hopeful and curious about all the new places that have popped up post-Hurricane Katrina.
I’d visited New Orleans once pre-Katrina. On my recent trip, I witnessed New Orleans experiencing a tremendous rebirth. Tourism has always driven the city, and many hotels, restaurants, and bars have reopened just as soon as they could after the city was pumped dry.
Elevated areas, such as the Faubourg Marigny, the Warehouse District, the Garden and districts, or Uptown, remain largely intact. The French Quarter almost feels as if nothing ever happened. Some low-lying neighborhoods, such as Mid-City or the Lower Ninth Ward, are still deeply affected. Recovery is slow, but the neighborhoods are alive.
WHERE TO SHOP
Whether it’s your first time or your 10th, the best rambling happens on Magazine Street. Easily accessible by taxi from the French Quarter or Downtown New Orleans, this six-mile-long stretch of the Garden District and Uptown neighborhoods feature some of the city’s best antique stores, art galleries, and boutiques. In the French Quarter, Royal Street is famous for fine China, handcrafted items, used books, imported rugs, jewelry, furniture, silver utensils and tableware, crystal chandeliers and other 19th and early 20th century home furnishings.
Magazine Street and Royal Street are about sheer discovery – you never know what you might find. If you’re seeking predictability in the form of a mall with a food court, or maybe just air-conditioning or escape from the rain, The Shops at Canal Place feature boutiques like jeantherapy, chains like Banana Republic, and the very civilized Saks Fifth Avenue.
Some of our favorites include Hemline, which stocks fabulous cocktail dresses from the likes of Jenny Han and Haven, as well as very affordable jewelry. Muse, on Saint Peter Street, showcases up and coming designers alongside staples from Hugo Boss and Betsey Johnson. If your style runs toward beachy and boho, then check out Gae-tana’s (7732 Maple Street), which looks like a beach shack and is packed with summery clothes. For the men in your life, pick up some shaving products at Aidan Gill (or book him an appointment for a proper old-fashioned shave). Plum on Magazine Street has a funky selection of housewares and kitschy gifts, like retro postcards.
WHERE TO EAT
“You have to go to Camellia Grill!” Rachel ordered during our chat about New Orleans. A burger at Camellia Grill seems to be rite of passage for anyone visiting New Orleans. Rachel added that a po’boy at Mother’s or Short Stop is a must, the latter being “more local and ghetto fabulous.”
Tina and Rachel might be dazzled by some of the newer restaurants. One noteworthy restaurant was Luke, presided by John Besh, a celebrated local chef. Old-school cocktails, such as the well known Mint Julep, or lesser known like the Absinthe Suisse, are served at this brasserie style restaurant next to the Hilton St. Charles. The French and German menu included so many fatty cuts of slow cooked dishes that sounded so delicious, that my dining companions (6 of us in all) hemmed and hawed for half an hour trying to decide on a main course. When the food arrived, we attacked each dish to find that everything was as rich, flavorful, generously portioned, just as you’d expect food to be in New Orleans.
The terrine of slow cooked foie gras with toasted brioche and sea salt was a hit even among those who were not ordinarily fans of duck liver. The pressed sandwich of whole roast "cochon de lait" at Luke wasn’t as good as the po’boy version I’d tried at JazzFest, but delicious nonetheless. I have no idea what the matzoh ball soup was doing on the menu, but it’s there just in case you’re feeling under the weather, like I was the afternoon I’d tried it.
WHERE TO THROW DOWN
Tina, a self-professed “seasoned festival-goer”, told me that Tipitina’s is the place to go after a festival like JazzFest, for the ultimate after party. Indeed, no visit to New Orleans is complete without a visit to Tipitina’s, the very source of some of the most famous songs in the history of New Orleans music. Tipitina’s started out in 1977 as a neighborhood juke joint. A group of young musicians had provided a place for Professor Longhair, a revered rhythm and blues musician, to perform in his final years.
Today, Tipitina’s is an internationally famed spot located at the corner of Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas. On any given night, and especially if there’s a festival in town, you’re bound to find locally reared stars, including Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, the Meters, Cowboy Mouth, the Radiators, Galactic, and Better Than Ezra. Tipitina's has also hosted artists like Wilco, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, Lenny Kravitz, James Brown, and Parliament Funkadelic.
WHERE TO REST
Chances are, you're not visiting New Orleans to catch up on your sleep. Whether you're in town for a festival, conference, or just to hang out with friends, your time in The Big Easy is likely to be downright Bacchanalian. I recommend that you rebound from all the excess in comfort and style at either one of these themed sanctuaries.
For fans of the French Quarter, The Renaissance Pere Marquette is a boutique hotel a block away from the legendary Bourbon Street. Originally built in 1925, the Renaissance Pere Marquette was renovated in 2001 as a chic hotel. Each of the hotel's 18 floors is themed with Jazz memorabilia and gorgeous photographs by a local photographer named Romney. Business travelers are sure to appreciate the comfortable Herman Miller Aeron chairs, party people are sure to enjoy the chic lobby lounge, and everyone will appreciate the modern oversize bathrooms.
For gallerinas, The Renaissance Arts Hotel is ensconced inside a historical warehouse in the Arts District. Built in 1910, the warehouse was renovated into a hotel in 2003. A living art gallery, you'll be inspired by the massive Dale Chihuly glass chandeliers, sculpture gardens, and original art in your room. The heated rooftop pool is a serene place to recover from a long night.
As with my friends Tina and Rachel, New Orleans remains full of spirit. The city continues to welcome visitors with streetcar rides, impromptu brass band parades, and plenty of food (“by the pound”.) Just be sure to get out of the French Quarter and explore more of New Orleans.
Some photos courtesy of NewOrleansOnline.com