Traveler: Danielle Gervalis
When: January 2017
Where: French Quarter, Garden District and Frenchmen Street
Overall Experience: Once you touch down in NOLA, you start to feel energized about hitting the town. You want to get out there and see what the Big Easy is all about. Yes, it’s big on the party scene, but it’s much more than that. The city has bounced back from unbelievable destruction and kept its zest for life and merriment. Quite frankly, its night life is better than Vegas. You are going to love what this city has to offer.
Transportation: Snagged a sweet Southwest deal for the flight at $200 per ticket round trip.
The ride to/from the airport to the French Quarter is about 20 mins and costs $41 for a taxi for 2 people and $29 for an Uber. New Orleans is walkable so you most likely will not need a rental car.
You can take the street car throughout the city. It’s $1.25 per ride and if you don’t have exact change you will get the remaining funds printed on a paper card that you can reuse. You can’t have open containers on the street car. When you want to get off, you just pull the string and exit towards the back. The doors are heavy and you will need to push HARD to get the door open, all while the remaining passengers cheer you on!
Hotel: Courtyard New Orleans Downtown Near the French Quarter: Standard hotel room, the mattresses were firm, the room has a mini-fridge and there is free Wi-Fi. The location was an easy walk to Bourbon and Decatur Streets and there is a street car stop directly across the street. Since it is the open courtyard style within the hotel, it can get very noisy in your room if there are guests hanging out in the lobby. Bring ear plugs.
Day 1: French Quarter – Bourbon Street
I dropped my bags at the hotel and it was time to hit the streets, Bourbon Street that is. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were lots of revelers in the streets. And what was this?! They all had drinks in their hands! Yes, NOLA allows citizens to imbibe in the streets as long as it’s in a plastic cup, and all the bars are ready to provide them. The first stop was Pat O’Brien’s, which is a popular hangout and home of the Hurricane cocktail. It’s a large bar with multiple rooms, including a piano bar and a gorgeous brick courtyard with a large centered fountain. You will want to stay at all day long. The jovial day drinkers are dispersed throughout the five bars, the servers wear green jackets and are quick with refills so you never have to leave your perch, and the crowd is a good mix of all ages. Despite all this, I had things to see, so I left with my cup and continued to mosey down Bourbon. Next I made my way to the Tropical Isle another mainstay and home of the Hand Grenade cocktail. You’ll see people walking around with tall plastic lime green grenade shaped drinks, this is where they come from. I settled for a horny gator, but keep in mind if you want the souvenir gator shaped cup, you need to order the large. The bar has an upstairs wrap around balcony where you can watch the crowds make their way through the streets and even throw some beads! It has a college-ish feel with a younger crowd but I think it deserves a pop in if you are in the area.
As you walk to your next bar, if your cup runs empty, no worries! You don’t even need to walk into a new establishment to get another adult beverage as there are walk up bars for you to grab a quick road beer! There is no end to the street wide entertainment, there are magicians, artists (also scam artists – don’t stop if someone tells you they like your shoes. All lies, hurtful lies.), and the most adorable kid drumming band you will ever see. Seriously, throw these kids a $1. You need some music as you are barhopping and this is your new day drinking themesong.
Continuing on to Fritzel’s, which is a European Jazz Pub. I have no idea if there is a difference between American and European Jazz (if you do, please let me know in the comments), but the music is inviting and the place is cozy. Like most bars with live music in the city, you won’t pay a cover but you will have to buy a drink per set. A small and reasonable price to pay. Continuing on the jazz trend, try the Maison Bourbon Jazz Club, where according to the bartender Harry Connick Jr. got his start. This place really puts you in the NOLA mindset. The music is out of this world, it feels as if you are transported back to the prohibition era. The drinks are on par with the intoxicating music, I recommend the Hot Buttered Rum if it’s a cool night.
Next door is the Ticklers Dueling Piano Bar, where they will play pretty much whatever you want for a few dollars. The musicians encourage crowd participation and dancing so get ready to sing and sway along. Once you’re done belting out a tune, you can head upstairs to the balcony and throw more beads to the lit up pedestrians. If you run out, there are plenty of shops up and down Bourbon Street where you can buy a pack for under $5. Fancier themed beads can go up to $10 a piece and make great gifts.
After you’ve drunk your way up and down Bourbon Street, it’s time for some food to soak up all of those Horny Gators. Your best bet for dinner is a gyro at Ali Baba’s on 732 Saint Peter St. It’s the perfect ending to an evening. The service is quick and the food is delicious. The pita is soft, the meat is tender and well -seasoned, and the sauce is done to perfection. Best of all it’s under $10.
Day 2 – Voodoo Tour, Garden District and Frenchmen Street
I packed Day 2 with activities but the schedule was manageable and well worth it. The first planned activity was a free pre-booked Voodoo tour at 11am, which gave me enough time for breakfast and a quick tourist stop. I started the day with a walk down Decatur St to Jackson Square, the site where France turned over New Orleans to the United States after the Louisiana Purchase, to check out the plaza and St. Louis Cathedral.
To the right of the church is the Presbytère, a Louisiana state history museum, and out front you will see a boat. This 24 foot fishing boat and a man with a ragtag crew of Veterans who commandeered it, tells an extraordinary story of saving 400 people during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It’s a solemn piece of history and a testimonial to human endurance and compassion. Now it’s time to wipe your eyes, be impressed with the city’s resiliency and get some breakfast.
I stopped at Petite Amelie (extension of the popular Café Amelie) on the corner of Royal and Dumaine for sustenance. Their chalkboard menu consists of a variety of bagel sandwiches, including my favorite lox, pastries, homemade juices and coffees. Try the ZuZu juice which will get your stomach back in the game and any of their substantial sandwiches.You won’t be disappointed.
Now it was time for some Voodoo booked via the Free Tours by Foot – New Orleans led by the intrepid, knowledgeable Robie. This guy is the real deal. He likes to get the group involved and set the record straight about the Voodoo religion. So don’t expect to learn how to take revenge on your enemies with a Voodoo doll, that’s not how it works (turns out the dolls were like medical records for the healers of the faith). It truly is fascinating and the tour itself is about two hours, beginning in Louis Armstrong Park at Congo Square, which was a Sunday meeting place for enslaved and free African Americans since the 1700s.
Next you walk past Marie Laveau’s house (the rebuilt version, the original w
as torn down) and hear how this influential woman used information about her wealthy clients to benefit the downtrodden within New Orleans society. Robie, the guide, weaves an enthralling story about her life and death and replaces the heresy with even more interesting facts. Finally, your last stop is at the Voodoo Authentica Cultural Center and Collection, one of three authentic Voodoo shops in the city which sells a variety of candles, charms and “gris gris” (avoid the Bourbon Street stores if you are looking for the real deal). As the tour is free, make sure you tip your guide, they really do a great job getting you invested in the culture.
It was time to explore a different part of the city and head down to the Garden District. It’s easily accessible via the St. Charles street car and has a variety of stops that will get you where you need to go. I was headed toward Magazine Street for lunch at Basin Seafood and Spirits. This place serves the traditional NOLA must haves as well as some lighter options. I recommend you try the charbroiled oysters and seafood gumbo. Your stomach will thank you. In terms of cocktails, the perfect day time drink is “The Good Life”. Cheers.
Fortunately, the Garden District gives you plenty of beautiful architecture to see as you walk off your meal. The area has a striking compilation of creole cottages, centerhall houses, and double gallery homes. The pastels, shutters, tall windows, hanging plants from the wrap around balconies and porch stoops will make you start checking Zillow for your future home, until you see the prices. Womp, womp. Top your tour with a stop at the Buckner Mansion, which was built by Henry Sullivan Buckner in 1856 to rival an ex-business partner’s mansion. It became a business school from the 1920s until the 1980s when it became a private residence and was most recently featured in American Horror Story: Coven.
Finally, it was evening and time to head to Frenchmen Street for drinks, jazz and dinner. I started at d.b.a. which has an extensive international beer menu and live music with a dance floor. Be forewarned they charge a cover for their late night shows. Across the street, you will see an unassuming red door next to the Apple Barrel Bar with the name “Adolfo’s” across it in cheap lettering surrounded by sticker accolades. If you walk up the stairs you will see a small cramped restaurant with about 15 tables covered in the red and white checkered tablecloths. You would be remiss if you didn’t wait for a table. The restaurant serves Creole-Italian cuisine, I didn’t even know that was a type of cuisine but I’m ecstatic I tried it. It was the best dinner I’ve had in the city. The portions are large and the prices are borderline cheap for the quality. For an appetizer, try the candele with crab and corn. For dinner, you must try the ocean sauce. It’s their specialty, it’s delicious and I’ve never had anything like it. I’m salivating just writing about it now….. Once you finish your heavenly dinner, there are a variety of bars with live music around you to choose from!
Day 3 – Waterfront and Last Stops
My flight out of NOLA wasn’t until 2:30 so I had a few hours to check out the last places on my list. Obviously, a trip to this city would not be complete without a stop to Café Du Monde. Fortunately, it wasn’t mobbed and I was able to grab a table in the tented area. They also have a walk up, take out option. The entire place is cash only and they expect payment as soon as the beignets and chicory flavored coffee are delivered. However, they do live up to their reputation. They are hot, fluffy, and sweet and covered with about 10lbs of powdered sugar.
After my sugar high, I took a stroll next door along the Mississippi River and admired the city’s coastline and made my way back to the French Quarter to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and Bar for a drink at this historic location. Yes it was 10 am, but this is New Orleans and there are no rules. The building itself is the oldest structure continuously used as a bar in the United States. It’s named after pirate and Battle of New Orleans hero Jean Lafitte who legend has it used the bar as a base for some of his smuggling operations. Then it was time for some more food! Fortunately, a stone’s throw down the street sits NOLA Poboys, which apparently has gotten so successful they are opening franchise locations. The food is legit. I had an oyster poboy yankee style, which means not as spicy, haters. The French bread is flaky and the oysters were incredibly fresh. If you are looking for a fast and delicious sandwich, you can’t go wrong here.
Stuffed and happy I caught my flight and started planning my next trip back this bewitching place.
Good to Know:
- Look up and around. The architecture in New Orleans is really beautiful. You might miss some pretty balconies and Mardi-Gras displays if you aren’t paying attention.
- Plan to walk a lot. There are times when Bourbon Street and surrounding alleys are closed off to traffic due to all the party animals, so you may have to walk a few blocks to grab a cab.
- Wear flat, closed toe shoes. I can’t stress this enough. It’s like playing hop scotch just walking down the streets and sidewalks. There are friggen potholes everywhere and most of them are filled with puddle and god knows what.
- If you are interested in buying artwork, there are countless galleries all over the city. The art scene is alive and well in NOLA.
- Bring cash. Some places are cash only but it’s also much easier when you are getting walk up drinks
- A lot of the drink specials are 3 for 1, so bring friends!
- I never felt unsafe and the city is well-lit but Frenchmen Street seemed a little dodgier than most areas so keep an eye out.