What time of year to go will depend on what you're looking for.
1. If you want the wild,
party-hearty side of New
Gras is for you. It's always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (find
Easter Sunday on a calendar and count backwards 46 days to figure
out when Ash Wednesday will be), so it most often falls in February,
occasionally early March. Don't have a calendar handy? Here are the
Mardi Gras dates for the next
2014 March 4
2015 February 17
2016 February 9
2017 February 28
2018 February 13
2019 March 5
2020 February 25
2021 February 16
There are parades, floats, and general
over New Orleans
for a week or ten days beforehand, leading up to the biggest parades
on Fat Tuesday (that's what "Mardi Gras" means in English) itself.
There are drunken frat boys all over Bourbon Street (yes, there are
also the legendary topless young ladies), hotels are very
this time (they raise their normal rates to nearly triple the price per
night), and it's impossible to get into the good restaurants. If you
do plan to go for Mardi Gras, you need to make hotel reservations many
months in advance if you want to stay in the Quarter.
2. If you're a music lover with a
lot of stamina,
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage
Festival is a two-weekend celebration of the rich musical roots of
Louisiana. It's always held the last weekend of April and the first
weekend of May, and the same caveats apply as for Mardi Gras: the
their room rates, you can't get into the good restaurants, and the
itself is a huge, wonderful, exhausting experience. There are six or
music stages all going at once, over two hundred vendors, daily crowds
averaging 150,000 people (no, that's not a typo), and you'll be lucky
you can get close enough to the main stage to see anything at all. The
food is always delicious, and there are always incredibly long lines at
each vendor. The last time I went to Jazz Fest, which was years before
it got as crowded as it is now, I waited in one line for an hour to get
food, another for 45 minutes to get a drink (by which time the food was
stone cold; I should have done these two in reverse order), and then
another line for an hour to use the restroom. Of my seven-hour day, at
was spent waiting in lines. Oh, and then there's the rain factor, which
sometimes turns the fairgrounds into a great big mud party. It's still
the best music in the world, in huge doses, and a wonderful event if
young and/or energetic.
3. If you want to explore New Orleans at more leisure and at a time when it's less crowded, go in the "off season." December and January are particularly quiet, and the hotels have some great bargains on the same rooms you'd have paid a fortune for at Mardi Gras. (Try travelocity.com or expedia.com to see what deals you can get). In December many of the better restaurants offer pre-Christmas "revillion meals," which are set-menu dinners at greatly reduced prices; this is a good opportunity for budgeters to check out some of the higher-end eateries. Another slow time is mid-summer; very few tourists can handle the heat when it's hurricane season (the weather, not the drink!). It's 95+ degrees and 95% humidity every day and the mosquitos are the size of young helicopters, but if you're tough enough not to wilt, there are summer bargain packages in July and August at all the hotels, and you'll practically have the town to yourself.
4. If you want to go with a group,
music, check out my pal Nancy Covey's Festival Tours site.
She does tours of Cajun Country at Jazz Fest time. I've been on her
tour, and it's always wonderful.
Understanding Local Time: I
have no idea why
(the humidity is
the usual excuse), but nothing in New Orleans ever happens at the time
it's supposed to. If a music show is supposed to start at 9 pm, it
more likely starts at 10 or even 11. On the other hand, if you make
a reservation for dinner at a good restaurant for 7 pm, you had better
there at 7. If you're not on time, they'll give your table away. If
you are on time, of course, your table won't be ready yet. Go
figure. New Orleans is not the place to go if you're in a hurry, or are
a punctuality freak. Relax. There's a reason why tourists call this
town The Big Easy.
you leave home: Make a list *in advance* of what you want to
see/do, and also what restaurants you want to eat at. Remember that if
you are only there for a few days, it's best to figure out how much
time various activities will take (for instance, the Audubon Aquarium
takes about an hour to see, plus allow another 10 mins. or so in the
gift shop before leaving) in advance. For the same reason, block out
parts of each day to do things that are close to each other. If you are
interested in the visiting Riverwalk Mall, Harrah's Casino and the
Aquarium, do all those on the same day, since they're all together in
one place; then part of another day can be given to do a different
block of things at the other end of the Quarter, for instance, the
French Market, a muffeletta for lunch at Central Grocery, and seeing
Don't pack every minute full; leave time for lagniappe. Strolling through the Quarter on your way from one activity to another, you may find a bookshop you'd like to browse in for awhile. I'd say plan 4-5 or so hours each day, and leave the rest of your time open for spontaneity.
Take an umbrella. No matter what time of year you go, there are inevitably thundershowers. A small folding umbrella doesn't take up all that much room in your luggage. Trust me. However, don't take a long plastic raincoat. The humidity makes those very uncomfortable. For online weather in advance go to New Orleans Weather Report
Take one really nice outfit (a good dress for women, coat and tie for men). This is the South, and many of the better restaurants do still have a dress code. For the rest of the time, just take casual clothes and make sure to bring comfortable walking shoes. The weather is extremely hot and humid from mid-April through early October, so pack accordingly; while you'll really feel the heat outdoors during the summer months, everything indoors, including stores and restaurants, is air-conditioned to iceberg levels, so an easily removable all-purpose lightweight overgarment would come in very handy. Speaking of clothing, there are several washaterias (laundromats) in the Quarter, one at the corner of Ursulines and Bourbon, one at Burgundy and St. Ann, and one at Bourbon and Dumaine, and most hotels offer same-day or next-day laundry and dry cleaning service. So, to borrow a phrase from that experienced tourist Charles Kuralt, take half the clothes and twice the money you think you'll need.
Safety/security: You'll note that some places on this list are indicated as being in an unsafe area. In general, remember that New Orleans is exactly like Los Angeles, Detroit, New York or any other urban city with high unemployment and a depressed economy, and it's worse post-Katrina. You need to be heads-up at all times, and don't do anything silly that you wouldn't do at home. If you carry a map, take a moment before leaving your hotel to look at it and get a general idea about where you're heading. Standing on a street corner staring at a map, or having one hanging conspicuously out of a pocket or purse, marks you as a tourist and therefore a potential target for pickpockets. Don't wear a lot of expensive jewelry on the street. And unless it's Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras, don't wear beads. Stay out of dark alleys late at night, walk with the crowds on the streets in the Quarter, and be very aware of scams. A common trick is the "spill," in which one person (sometimes a child or young adult is used for this) gets close to you (or to a member of your party) and spills something, like a cold soda or an ice cream, on your clothes. Amid apologies and the bustle to help you clean yourself off, a confederate vanishes with a wallet extracted from someone's purse or pocket in the crush. Don't let yourself be distracted by anything and you'll do fine. I know New Orleans has a bad rep, and some of it is probably deserved, but I have been going there alone two or three times a year for over thirty years, and because I use a mix of common sense and caution, nothing has ever happened to me at all. (Well, I got stuck in an elevator once, but that's a story for another time and place).
Access: Some of the streets in
to accommodate wheelchairs; for instance, Decatur street is cut all the
way from Canal to Esplanade but *only* on the riverside of the street,
the lakeside. Chartres, Royal and Bourbon are also curb-cut, but only
the "upper Quarter," from Canal to St. Ann. Also note that all
the Quarter the sidewalks are very uneven, with the
poorly maintained and broken up, and in places where the sidewalk is
cobblestones it can be particularly awkward even for those who walk
note of caution to all, especially those who use canes or walkers:
watch your footing. The Riverfront Street Cars that travel
between the Riverwalk Mall and the French Market are lift-equipped, but
the historic St. Charles Streetcars are not. Local RTA buses are
all wheelchair accessible, but most airport/hotel shuttle vans, and
all taxi cabs in New Orleans, are not. If you use a wheelchair and need
a taxi, make sure when you call (or have your concierge call) for one
that you tell them to send a van. If
you need to rent a wheelchair or motorized scooter for the duration of
your visit, try Mr. Wheelchair, Inc. in
Jefferson at (504) 828-6457.
A word about street names: It gets confusing, because once outside the French Quarter, streets change their name with no warning. If you walk through the Quarter from Esplanade to Canal, as soon as you cross Canal, the street that had been Royal St. becomes St. Charles Ave., and Decatur St. becomes Magazine St., and Chartres becomes Camp, and......
And street numbers: The
begins at Canal with
100 and goes to Esplanade, which is 1400. Therefore, an address at 400
Chartres will be four blocks in from Canal, while an address at 1200
Chartres will be two blocks in from Esplanade. Going the other way,
numbers start at 400 at Decatur (because about four blocks were "lost"
to the levee) and go up to Rampart, which is 1000.
GRAS INDIANS: The HBO television series "Treme" has brought
lot of questions from folks who want to know where they can go to see
Indian practice. Folks, the various tribes parade and mask at
Mardi Gras and at a few other times (the primary one being on Super
Sunday, which is in mid to late March). Very occasionally they
will allow guests at their practices
throughout other times of the year, but these are not really advertised
or "open to the public" events. The best way to find out where and when
there will be an Indian practice is to ask someone you know who lives
in New Orleans and is a member or a friend of that community.
ALL PHONE NUMBERS IN NEW ORLEANS ARE IN THE 504 AREA CODE
HOTELS IN THE FRENCH QUARTER
I have stayed at all of the following French Quarter hotels, which I list in order of my personal preference. They are clean, seem very safe, are well away from the Bourbon Street late-night noise and fun, and are reasonably priced for their location. All have the usual amenities, including air conditioning and swimming pools, and are guarded at night.
1234 Chartres at Barracks 529-2492
Hotel Provincial 1112 Chartres at St. Philip 581-4995
Chateau Motor Hotel 1001 Chartres at St. Philip 524-9636
Friends, listen up: there's a good reason why the city's hotels all have air-conditioning, and the windows are always closed. While you may be tempted to shut off the a/c and open the windows to breathe "natural" air (especially in the evenings when it gets a little cooler), be aware that most of the year New Orleans' natural air is filled, April to October, with natural mosquitos, and that once they get into the room they're impossible to get out. If you're not interested in this form of "donating blood," keep the windows shut! This is also a good reason not to bother to pay more for a balcony room during the summer months, since no matter how romantic you think it may seem to sit outdoors on a lacy, filigreed French Quarter balcony sipping a mint julep or iced tea, the reality check involves standing in line to buy Bug-B-Gone and anti-itch cream at Walgreen's.
Finding other hotels in the Quarter:
are chains, of
course; the "big hotels," such as the Hilton and the Sheraton, both
presences on Canal St. Other
that those, the Internet is probably the easiest way. Go to any search
engine and type in <New Orleans Hotels> and you'll get plenty
of choices. Better rates are often available, especially in the
through one of those online travel outfits like priceline.com or expedia.com.
I recently got a terrific deal at the upscale Monteleone Hotel (which
I normally could not have afforded, but enjoyed very much: they have a
rooftop swimming pool, a carousel bar, a daily breakfast buffet, and a
very helpful concierge) by checking out hoteldiscounts.com. You can
also book hotel reservations through Offbeat's
web site. As a general rule I would say that if you're traveling alone,
do not stay in any hotel located on either Rampart or Canal
streets. This is not because the hotels themselves aren't good, but
because of the dangers of walking to and from your hotel by yourself
late at night. And if you want peace and quiet at night, don't stay in any
hotel on Bourbon Street!
list of hotels in New Orleans which welcome dogs can be found here.
For those of us whose idea of heaven
bookshop in town.
Beckham's Books, 228 Decatur, 522-9875. Two doors from the Louisiana Music Factory.
La Librarie, 823 Chartres near St. Ann, 529-4837.
Crescent City Books, on Chartres near Iberville, on the river-side of the street.
Dauphine Street Books, 410 Dauphine St.
Faulkner House, 624 Pirates Alley, 586-1609. The noted Southern writer lived upstairs at one time, and wrote (at least) one of his novels here. The street-level bookstore's selection of titles does include many first editions of his books, as well as works by other writers. Used, and some new.
Arcadian Books, 714 Orleans St., 523-4138.
THINGS FOR US TOURISTS TO DO:
Take the mule-drawn buggy ride around the French Quarter. NOTE: there are two price structures. The very expensive ones are the "private" buggies, which usually seat two or four persons. These cost around $60 per person for a half hour tour. However, on the weekends there are also "bench-style" buggies with four or five rows of seats; these cost about $20 per person for the same tour! The only difference (other than price) is that a bench-style buggy only leaves when it's full, so on a slow day you may climb on board and wait a bit until enough other folks join you. The buggy drivers tend to tell elaborate, but not necessarily historically accurate, tales about various spots in the Quarter, so I'd regard this ride as entertaining (which is always is) but not gospel. All buggy rides begin and end in front of the iron gates to Jackson Square Park, on Decatur St.
Ride the St. Charles Streetcar from the beginning (board it on the corner of Canal and Carondelet, across Canal from the French Quarter) all the way to the end and back. It's a cheap tour of the beautiful Garden District. Takes about 90 minutes round trip; streetcar fare is $1.25 per person each way. You must have exact change. If you want to visit the Garden district in more depth, there are walking tours; info at the Visitors Center on St. Ann Street on Jackson Square. To ride the regular city buses and streetcars, check the schedules here.
There's a very good daily Free Walking Tour of the Mississippi River, given by the park rangers at Jean Laffite National Park, 419 Decatur St. Every morning at 9:00 a.m. they open their gate (you walk down the carriageway and turn left to their entrance) and a park ranger hands out badges (on string, which you'll wear around your neck during the tour) to the first 25 people that show up. Each person in your party must show up to get his or her own badge; you can't send one person over there to collect five of them. Then you go away and get a quick cup of coffee and come back at 9:30 a.m. and the tour actually starts. It's informative and free; starts with a short discussion, and then takes about 60-90 minutes of walking, always at a comfortable pace. I highly recommend that you do this tour on one of your first mornings in New Orleans.
Take the ferry across the Mississippi River to Algiers. It leaves from the landing at the foot of Canal St. and takes you across and back. Free to walk-ons, $2 for cars. However, be careful if you do this late at night. If you miss the last ferry back, it's a $60 cab ride the long way around.
For an elegant treat, have afternoon tea: My own favorite is Le Salon in the Windsor Court Hotel. It's the old fashioned high tea, with plates of delicious bite size nibbles, served at 2:00 and 4:30 p.m. daily; Le Salon is non-smoking (a concept, by the way, rarely found elsewhere in New Orleans). Cost is approximately $35 per person, or about $10 more for an "upgrade" which includes a glass of wine. Dressy casual. Afternoon tea is also offered daily at The Ritz Carlton Hotel; price is about the same. Make sure you make reservations for either of these.
Ride a steamboat on the Mississippi River. There are a couple different ways to go; the Natchez is the "party boat," with a lively crowd at the bar and a Dixieland band, or there's the Creole Queen, a twice-daily paddle-wheeler which makes a stop at Chalmette, site of the Battle of New Orleans. I prefer the latter for its interesting history and the free tour once you get there. You all remember Johnny Horton's hit record? "In 1814 we took a little trip/along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip'/We took a little bacon and we took a little beans/and we fought the bloody British in a town in New Orleans." Well, Chalmette is that "town in New Orleans," and Colonel (Andrew) Jackson did so well at that battle that they put a statue of him just outside St. Louis Cathedral, changed the park's name from Place D'Armes to Jackson Square, and later elected him President of the United States. It costs about $20 per person for the Creole Queen fare, and more still for drinks from the bar. It takes about 30-45 minutes downriver, another half hour for the (free) tour at Chalmette, and 30-45 minutes chooglin' back up to dock next to the Riverwalk at the foot of Canal Street. Departures at approx. 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., but some days they only run one tour, so call. NOTE: when you board the boat, take a seat on the side facing the French Quarter. On the return trip upriver, sit on the side facing Algiers (that is, facing the opposite bank from the Quarter). This will match what you're looking at with the captain's running commentary over the loudspeaker.
If you'd rather look at fish than
try the Audubon
Aquarium of the Americas at the foot of Canal St.,
861-2537. It's very impressive, one of the top five in the country,
beautifully laid out, and very child-friendly (last time I was there,
a row of giggling youngsters took turns petting a baby shark).
There's an albino alligator (see photo), a penguin exhibit, and wait
till you see the jellyfish! Admission
approximately $17 per adult and worth every penny. If
you plan to visit the Audubon Zoo,
there are a lot of Aquarium/Zoo combo tickets in conjunction with the
steamboat ride that takes you from one to the other. Make a couple of
phone calls or ask at your hotel desk; you'll save quite a bit of
Check out the "steamboat houses," two beautiful old houses built as steamboat replicas in the early 20th century by a retired riverboat captain. They face the levee, at the corners of Eganic and Douglass. You'll need a map and a car for this one, as it's a ways outside the Quarter. And while you're driving around, there's an interesting old ruined house at the corner of Carondelet and Washington. Very Southern Gothic; looks like Anne Rice should live there, but she doesn't.
Want to learn how to do the two-step? Then head for dinner at Michaul's Restaurant, 840 St. Charles Ave., 522-5517. They serve Cajun food, and have live music and free dance lessons Monday-Saturday, closed Sundays. No one laughs at beginners, so you can lurch around the dance floor like an elephant. It won't take long till you're an expert.
If you're in the mood for ghosties and ghoulies, there's a very good tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1 that leaves twice daily from in front of the cafe in Pirate's Alley (next to the cathedral), put on by Magic Tours. Get a coupon or info sheet at the Visitors Center on St. Ann St. in Jackson Square. Cost is about $18. The tour guide takes you to the tomb of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, and also stops at many other, probably more historically authentic grave sites. It's always safest to tour these big cemeteries in a group of this kind; don't I said DO NOT can you hear me say DON'T EVER go into a cemetery alone, even in daylight. **If you want to take a Swamp Tour, the one I've tried is the Cypress Swamp Tour, which costs approximately $25 per person and is the only one I know of that actually sends a van to pick you up at your hotel. Call the day before with the number of persons in your party and time you want to go (there are usually two or three tours a day). It's the closest in to New Orleans (about a 30-minute drive out of town, in Westwego) and the tour itself takes about an hour and a half. You'll usually see at least a couple of alligators, and the Cajun boat operators tell (wild, probably about half-true, very funny) stories about their bayou customs. This tour is fine for children; there's a pre-boarding area that has a few local critters in pools or cages that the kids can learn about from a park ranger.
**If you love music, try the Cradle of Jazz Tour
offered by John McCusker, a photographer for the Times-Picayune who's
also a renowned local jazz historian. For $30 per person you get
a seat in his van while he drives you around New Orleans, playing great
old recordings on the van's CD player and pointing out interesting
that played a part in the Crescent City's jazz history. The tour, which
lasts about three hours with a coffee/restroom break, stops at many
including the original site of the old Storyville District, the
home of Jelly Roll Morton, and other places that you would not
want to go without a guide. I'd advise against bringing small children
along; they'll be bored. He only gives these tours on Saturday
and you need to book well in advance; once the 8-passenger van is full,
the tour is closed. He can be reached at 282-3583 or care of the T-P.
**Of literary interest are a handful of noted addresses within walking distance of one another in the French Quarter: At 632 St. Peter St. is the brick townhouse where Tennessee Williams lived while writing "A Streetcar Named Desire." Nearby at 624 Pirate's Alley is the town house where William Faulkner lived and wrote his first novels, "Soldier's Pay" and "Mosquitos." And Truman Capote lived and wrote his first book "Other Voices Other Rooms" at 711 Royal St.
**Civil War buffs won't want to miss the Confederate Museum, located just across Lee Circle from the Contemporary Arts Center, at 929 Camp Street, 523-4522.
**Plantation tours: there are a couple of old (Civil War-era) plantation homes within an hour or so of New Orleans that can be toured via coach. Info sheets and coupons are at the Information kiosk in the Jax Brewery (on the ground floor) and at the Visitors Center on St. Ann St. in Jackson Square.
NOTE: The concierge at your hotel may have discount coupons available for you to do some of these things at a slightly lesser rate; the Aquarium and the Creole Queen, for instance, usually supply the hotels with a bunch of these discounts. There are also discount coupons at the visitors' center on St. Ann, a good first stop since they also have free maps. Or, before you leave home, check out New Orleans Online, where you can download some very good discount coupons.
WHEN YOU GOTTA GO There are very few public restrooms in the French Quarter, believe it or not. Of course, every restaurant has one for use by its customers, so remember that when lunching or dining out, and if your hotel is centrally located, there's always your own room. Others can be found: in the center of the French Market about half way between Cafe Du Monde and the flea market; in the Riverwalk Mall; in One Canal Place; and all three floors of the Jax Brewery (the ground floor one has a separate entrance that's wheelchair accessible). Just outside the Quarter, there are also facilities in Harrah's Casino.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD: RESTAURANTS IN
If you can manage it, try to eat all
your meals early. Early lunch (11:30-noonish) means you can opt to skip
breakfast, and early dinner (5:30-6ish) means you will never have to
wait in line to get in to a restaurant, you'll get more attentive
service because the place won't be slammed, and you'll be through with
dinner in time to head out for whatever night life you have planned.
Make dinner reservations in advance if you can; if not, hope that your
hotel concierge has good connections and can get you in to the places
you really want to eat. Also, try to only eat in "real" restaurants.
Eating in places that are something other than a restaurant but "also"
serve food as an afterthought means your meal won't be as good as in a
place that concentrates on just feeding you. There is so much terrific
food in New Orleans that there's no reason you should ever have to
settle for less.
The general rule is that you'll never need reservations for breakfast, and only rarely for lunch (the exceptions are the fancy, high-end places). But be prepared to wait in a lunchtime line on weekends; you can avoid this by eating early or late. Dinner reservations are essential at the really nice places, and often they are booked up weeks in advance, so if you have your heart set on eating at a particular place while you're in town, call ahead. Few restaurants in New Orleans offer non-smoking sections. If breathing smoke while you eat is a concern, make sure you find out what the policy is.
**A breakfast favorite among locals, in the gay section of the Quarter, is a breakfast/lunch diner (mostly bacon and eggs, pancakes, grits, etc.) called the Clover Grill, 900 Bourbon at Dumaine, with a GREAT jukebox (Aretha for breakfast is my idea of heaven) and a very high-camp counter attendant. Open 24 hours! **Breakfast is also good at The Old Coffee Pot, 714 St. Peter, 524-3500; this is, as far as I know, the last place left which still serves calas, an old Creole breakfast dish of rice balls deep fried and eaten with maple syrup. And other good breakfast fare too, including choose-your-own ingredients omelettes and wonderful pain perdu (literally "lost bread") which is their version of French toast, made with the same bread they use for a po boy sandwich. **There's a little croissants, coffee and sandwich place called The Croissant D'Or, 617 Ursulines near Chartres; open 6:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m. Wed.-Mon., closed Tuesdays. Note, they have a few breakfast items that are not on display; you have to ask. For instance, they make a very good fresh fruit salad that goes well with their spinach quiche, or perhaps a bran muffin. If the weather's good their patio is nice. The Monteleone Hotel on Royal has an excellent but pricey breakfast buffet. Half a block away from the Monteleone, Cafe Beignet offers inexpensive breakfasts.
One of my regular lunch spots is Napoleon House, 500 Chartres. Although touted for its historic significance (it was built as a refuge by the then-Governor of Louisiana for Bonaparte, who was supposed to have been rescued from Elba and ensconced there; the plot never came off, but the house remains), it's not just a tourist trap; it has good food, and I'm a sucker for the casual courtyard atmosphere. Sandwiches, salads (my favorite is the avocado stuffed with tuna salad), a good corn chowder, pastas, jambalaya, etc., and classical music on the sound system. Excellent bar, where locals often stop for a drink after work. **Two doors from the Louisiana Music Factory, at 204 Decatur, is a good Creole place called Olivier's. Slightly pricier than the average, but only slightly, and very good food. Lunch and dinner. 525-7734. For burgers and fries-type diner food, the Camellia Grill has opened a second resutaurant in the Quarter, at Tolouse and Chartres.
If you like high end, expensive elegance try Galatoire's, 209 Bourbon St. near Canal. They require men to wear coats and ties, and if you don't have one, they have three or four "loaners" in assorted sizes on hooks behind the front door. No one may wear shorts or sandals. Although they do take reservations for large groups, the tradition is to wait in line in the lobby. They're open for lunch and dinner. The smoking section is upstairs. Note to Angelenos: it's like Musso and Frank's Grill in Hollywood, both in atmosphere, and in that the menu is entirely a la carte; but Galatoire's is about 100 years older than Musso's. **Antoine's, 713 St. Louis just above Royal, is the oldest restaurant under continuous family ownership in New Orleans, founded in 1840 and still going strong. Their menu is entirely in French, though in recent years they've consented to add English translations. Continental food, very expensive, in an old world atmosphere. They have fifteen (!) large dining rooms, ten downstairs and five upstairs, and you're encouraged to walk from room to room and read the framed historic newspaper clippings and autographed menus on the walls. Reservations essential. 581-4422. **Mr. B's is another of the many Brennan family-owned sites. They offer very good food and service in a comfortable, masculine atmosphere; a long bar, dark wood paneling, comfortable seating, and free validated parking behind the restaurant, a major plus in the Quarter. (If you park back there you enter through the kitchen). Do make reservations for dinner, and dress nicely, though at lunch they're lenient toward tourists in shorts.**Another Brennan restaurant is called -- gosh -- Brennan's. Their "Sunday brunch at Brennan's" is a tradition; right after church the place is jammed to the rafters, with everyone dressed in their Sunday best (and those Southern women in their "church hats" are a sight to behold!) Reservations essential. Oddly, I never really "got" their brunch; had it twice, was underwhelmed by the food and overwhelmed by the cost. And there are very few selections; it's a series of three or four different prix-fixe menus. I'd actually rather just eat there at a regular meal, but everyone else I know loves the "scene" at brunch. **The Gumbo Shop, 630 St. Peter, 525-1486, although a popular tourist hang, has very good food. There's always a line on the weekends, but I've had weekday lunches there many times with no wait. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. Right across the street fro, the Gumbo Shop is La Divina Gelateria, 621 St. Peter, where you can get some great Italian ices. 302-2692. ** Bayona, at 630 Dauphine, is chef Susan Spicer's pride and joy; she serves Creole and Continental food, expensive and excellent. They're at 525-4455. **Still another Brennan-owned place is The Palace Cafe, 605 Canal St. near Royal. Reasonably priced lunch specials lured me in, and the food was so good I went back several times. No matter how full you are, don't skip dessert; they do it amazingly well there. **There's also The Creole Kosher Kitchen, 115 Chartres; I've not tried it yet. However, veteran New Orleans restaurant critic Tom FitzMorris points out that there are only two strictly kosher restaurants in the New Orleans area: Casablanca , and the Kosher Kajun Deli. He says: "Casablanca (3030 Severn Ave., 888-2209) is a Moroccan restaurant with a highly varied menu and deli sandwiches. It is inspected regularly by a Chabad rabbi and is certifiably kosher. The Kosher Kajun (3519 Severn, 888-2010) is primarily a sandwich shop, although they also have soups and a few platters. They also sell a full line of kosher groceries, including glatt meats. A handful of other restaurants --most of them in major hotels--will prepare a meal in kosher circumstances, using new dishes for the meal and food from kosher suppliers (probably Joel Brown at the Kosher Kajun). But that's usually for private parties, not a la carte service. Andrea's is the only independent restaurant I know other than the two above who will perform this service, but it requires advance notice and consulting with the chef." **Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse (what, them again?) at 716 Iberville St. features primarily steak, as its name implies, though there are other dishes on the menu as well. The service is attentive to the point of suffocation, but the food is great. **Acme Oyster Bar is a legendary stopping place. How many can you eat? They have something called The Fifteen Club; if you can eat 15 dozen in under four hours you get your name on a plaque on the wall. If that's your idea of immortality, so be it. Don't try this at home. **The Pelican Club on Exchange Alley just off Bienville has some of the best food I've ever eaten in New Orleans; only open for dinner, not for lunch. Worth every penny. **The newest Brennan place is called Bourbon House, at 144 Bourbon St. I had two very good lunches there. 522-0111. **Salt 'N'Pepper Halal Food, 201 N. Peters (between No. Peters and Decatur), 561-6070, features Indian and Pakistani cuisine, and all meat is guaranteed Halal. **And I suppose everyone should go to Cafe du Monde once, if you never have. All they have to eat is beignets, (pronounced ben-yays), a square fried doughnut covered with powdered sugar. But hey, it's a landmark, and open 24 hours. And you know perfectly well that you're not going to get out of New Orleans without your cholesterol level matching Sammy Sosa's batting average, so you might as well relax and enjoy it.
AND DID I MENTION THE FOOD?
PART TWO: RESTAURANTS OUTSIDE THE FRENCH QUARTER
Restaurant August, 301
Tchoupitoulas, 299-9777, is one of Chef John Besh's inspirations, and
ranks in my top five. Reservations a good idea, and a must on weekend
nights. ** Patois,
6078 Laurel, 895-9441, is one of the excellent new Uptown restaurants;
I had a great Sunday brunch there.
Palace is another Brennan enterprise, this one in the Garden
District at 1403 Washington Ave. It's also very expensive and dress-up,
but the food and service are outstanding. Emeril Lagasse made his name
here, and Paul Prudhomme of K-Paul's
is another former Commander's chef who went on to open his own place.
You definitely need reservations, and men must wear coats and ties, no
one may wear shorts.
Again, I try
to have lunch rather than dinner here. At lunch men can usually get
with just a coat, but not a tie. Oh, and avoid the jazz brunch on
where the limited menu is mass-produced and entirely uninteresting. **Brigtsen's,
723 Dante in the Riverbend area, is so wonderful that it's often hard
to get a reservation; I suggest you call a couple of weeks before you
plan to arrive in New Orleans. Really. It's in an old house, the menu
changes daily, and everything is hand prepared from scratch. Although
I don't drink, I'm told that their wine selection is among the best in
town. And I can personally testify to their desserts! Quite expensive
but excellent. Open Tues.-Sat., for dinner only. **A
good "neighborhood" Italian joint (meaning few tourists, mostly locals,
but always busy) is Mandina's,
3800 Canal St. in Mid-City.
Hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; Noon-9 p.m. Sun. Another
ditto is Liuzza's, at
3636 Bienville, 482-9120, which I like a lot for both food and
atmosphere. Warning, they don't take credit cards but there is an ATM
machine on site. Because
family style and mostly patronized by locals, the service is a lot more
casual (read: slow) at teh neighbordoohd places than at upscale,
expensive French Quarter eateries
which depend on keeping tourists
Just don't be in a hurry when you eat at these two. **Same goes for Li'l
Dizzy's, 1500 Esplanade in
Mid-City, the place for down home soul food at resonable prices, and
the staff is great. 569-8997. **Inexpensive
and excellent Middle Eastern food can be found at Mona's, 3901
Street in Mid- City. 482-7743. They also have a take out deli. There's
another location that I haven't tried: 504 Frenchmen St., 949-9115. **Pascal's
Manale, 1838 Napoleon, 895-4877 is an old time Italian eatery with
leather booths and a great bar. They're famed as the originators of
shrimp, which isn't actually barbecued at all, it's cooked in garlic,
is delicious and messy. Somewhat expensive but good. Reservations a
on weekend nights. **Herbsaint,701 St.
Charles, 524-4114, is one of chef
Donald Link's creations, and the food is
brilliantly conceived and presented; as if that wasn't enough, he told
me on my last visit there that he used to play in a blues band! **Breakfast
is great at Elizabeth's on
Chartres near the levee; their praline bacon is a work of art. They
also serve lunch; their shrimp po boys and sweet-potato fries are
terrific. **Another good down-home breakfast place is The Trolley Stop, 1923 St. Charles
at St. Andrew (and yes, the St. Charles trolley stops right outside).
Very reasonably priced. **Cafe
Degas, 3127 Esplanade in Mid City,
good Continental food, mid-priced range. For down home fried chicken
that can't be beat, try Willie Mae's
Scotch House, 2401 St. Anne at the corner of Tonti and St Anne
in the Treme,
822-9503. In addition to the fried chicken there's a great smothered
chop, red beans, cornbread, butter beans and fresh lemonade. **But
what about Emeril??
Those of you who've been regular watchers of chef Emeril Lagasse on his
TV cooking shows will be disappointed to learn that he's hard to spot
any of the restaurants he owns in New Orleans: NOLA on St. Louis in the
Quarter, Emeril's, and Delmonico's at St. Charles and
Erato. When he is there, though, he's usually pretty
accessible. I hear the food is good at the latter two; I've only been
to NOLA once, and though the food was wonderful, the service was
desultory and the noise level painful. I'm not fond of eating at a
place where I have to shout across the table at my companions. On my
list of things that are just too hip for me, NOLA ranks high. **I
recently had a great
Mexican meal at Juan's
Flying Burritos, 4724 Carrollton (at Canal), and there's
one on, I think, Magazine St. **Dick
& Jenny's, 4501
Tchoupitoulas, 894-9880 is informal (no dress code, no
reservations) but elegant. Excellent food and service. Dinner only,
closed Mon.-Tues. **Cochon, 930 Tchoupitoulas St.,
588-2123, is, as their name implies, heavy on the pork dishes, but I
had an excellent redfish there (I know my pal Chuck Taggart is rolling
his eyes at someone who could intentionally not order pork at a pork
restaurant; there's even a pig on the sign!). This is also co-owned by
Donald Link. And across the lake is **Middendorf's,
Highway 51 (I-55 at Pass Manchac), Manchac, 386-6666. They slice
catfish paper-thin before frying it, so that it comes out sort of like
chips. It's a family-friendly place, reasonably priced, but a 45-minute
drive from downtown New Orleans, so it's tough without a car. Closed
KATHERINE'S TOP MUST-DO RESTAURANTS, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER:
longer with us but fondly remembered: the late great Uglesich's.
FRENCH QUARTER SHOPPING
**If you insist on spending
the shops in the Jax Brewery (near the corner of Decatur and
Jackson Square). **Decatur Street near Barracks is home to
or five musty antique/junk shops that are always an interesting browse.
** Christmas tree ornaments, lights, decorations, and all other
holiday-related things can be found at Santa's Quarters,
Decatur. 581-5820. Open year round.**The Riverwalk is basically
a mall with
a view of the Mississippi River. It's at the foot of Canal Street,
the street from Harrah's Casino. If there's a mall in your home town,
about half the national big-name chain stores are going to be the same
(Godiva Chocolates, Victoria's Secret, Sharper Image, etc.), with the
remainder being Louisiana-based outfits. There's an Internet Cafe
(see below) on the second level, and most of the top (third) level of
is a food court (I sure wish the malls in Southern California had
food!). There's a store called Mardi Gras Madness on the same
as the food court that has interesting window displays of ornate Mardi
Gras costumes, as well as masks and beads and whatnot for sale inside.
There are pricier, upscale clothing shops and department stores (Brooks
Brothers, Saks Fifth Avenue, etc.) in One Canal Place, the tall
building at the foot of Canal, across the street from the entrance to Harrah's Casino.
One Canal Place is also where you'll find the only first-run movie
theaters in the Quarter. **International
Vintage Guitars, outside the Quarter at 1011 Magazine St. (near
Lee Circle) 524-4557 is a music store for the serious or casual guitar
nerd. And also outside the Quarter but definitely worth an afternoon's
exploration is Magazine Street
(which is what Decatur turns into when it crosses Canal), a
bustling area of specialty shops (for retro fans, check out RetroActive at 5414 Magazine, open
Mon.-Sat. 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., phone 895-5054) and restaurants.
IF YOU BUY SO MUCH THAT YOU NEED TO
Royal Mail Service, 828 Royal St., sells boxes of all sizes, large padded mailing envelopes, packing tape, labels, etc. and will ship anything anywhere, including overseas, via mail, Federal Express or UPS. 522-8523. Another ditto is the French Quarter Postal Center, at 1000 Bourbon St. Also, the two Walgreens in the Quarter both sell mailing envelopes (padded jiffy bags) and tape and labels.
MARKETS, DRUGSTORES, ETC. IN THE
Central Grocery is a wonderful Italian market and deli at 925 Decatur, famous for its muffaletta sandwiches. If you're new at this, be advised: order just one muffaletta for two people. They're huge. You can also get yummies to take home. Very good Italian olive salad, bottled, is about $8/quart, and it's perfectly safe to buy it the morning of your flight home, and it will travel without spoiling. (Those of us who travel by train are SOL, however). Verti Marte on Royal near Ursulines is a 24-hour market and deli with delicious and inexpensive down-home food for takeout. There's also a Rousse's Market on Royal at St. Peter (right across from the LaBranche House); this used to be an A&P, but now says, proudly, "Louisiana-owned" on the sign above the entrance. It's gotten a lot more expensive since the change; at the back corner of the store there's a take-out deli that the locals swear by. There are two Walgreens Drugstores, one on Royal at Iberville, and the other on Decatur across the street from the Jax Brewery. Walgreens has a big selection of travel-size bottles of shaving cream, toothpaste, and other toiletries, in case you run out of (or don't want to bother to pack) your own.
There are hundreds of them, in every souvenir shop and bar on Bourbon or Royal, outside all the banks along Chartres, in most visitors centers, souvenir shops, hotel lobbies, etc. Use common sense when making a withdrawal. Be heads up, don't flash a lot of cash, don't make withdrawals late at night, or at all if you're nervous about the area. The best ones to use are in hotel lobbies, shops, or restaurants, where there are always plenty of people around.
If you need an actual walk-in bank for things an ATM can't do (to cash travelers checks, for instance), there are several in the upper Quarter, among them: corner of Chartres and St. Louis, corner of Chartres and Toulouse, corner of Chartres and Bienville, corner of Royal and Iberville.
RECORD STORES IN THE FRENCH QUARTER
Go with the best, forget the rest: and the best is the Louisiana Music Factory, at 210 Decatur St. (directly across the street from House of Blues) with a great selection of regional music and all kinds of jazz and roots music. The LMF also has free live in-store performances every Saturday afternoon. If you're still into vinyl LPs, and/or 78s, be sure to go upstairs. There's a huge room full of albums and 78s that many people don't even know is up there, since the whole main floor is just CDs. And they sell lots of roots music-related t-shirts, too.
PLACES TO HEAR LIVE MUSIC
Street musicians play daily. Usual spots are in front of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, along the French Market on Decatur, and along Royal Street where it's closed off to traffic, and along Frenchmen Street in the Marigny. They just set up their gear in the middle of the street at unpredictable times and play for tips. It's always considered good etiquette to throw something into the hat, especially if you take their picture.
There are hundreds of nightclubs in New Orleans, and music comes pouring out of every open doorway. This is a woefully incomplete listing, but check Offbeat's web site for more. Again, remember that New Orleans doesn't have very many non-smoking venues; after an hour or two in most of these places, your clothes are going to smell like an ashtray and the back of your throat will hurt.
Mid City Lanes, Rock'n'Bowl is now up and running at their new location at 3000 S. Carrollton at Earheart, 482-3133 (next to Ye Olde College Inn). This is a bowling alley by day that has live music at night. They do serve food, usually red beans and rice and a fried fish platter. The late Snooks Eaglin was a regular at the old spot on at least one weekend a month, and Wednesday and/or Thursday are zydeco nights. Though I'm not much of a bowler, I love this place. Their new location keeps the great feeling of the original place, with a larger and more accessible space that is a boon to those who were challenged by the previous venue's steep staircase. This is the old place:
**The best room to hear jazz is Snug Harbor, 626 Frenchmen in the Fauborg Marigny, 949-0696. Dining room opens at 5 p.m., music starts about 8. Definitely a serious listening room (a rarity in New Orleans!). **Margaritaville, 1104 Decatur (at French Market) 592-2565. Formerly the legendary jazz club Storyville, now owned (and painted flamingo pink, and renamed) by Jimmy Buffett. Don't eat the food there, it's awful, but there are free music matinees most afternoons/early evenings during Happy Hour, sometimes featuring excellent local talent. Nighttime bookings (not free) range from rock and pop to blues and soul. **Tipitina's, 501 Napoleon at Tchoupitoulas 895-8477. This Uptown bastion of New Orleans R&B takes its name from a Professor Longhair song. They usually book New Orleans' best, and there's also a branch in the warehouse district, but I've yet to visit that one.
**Donna's, the longtime home of
brass bands at Rampart and St. Ann, sadly closed it's doors forver in
late August 2010, reopened briefly in early 2011, but as of now is
225 Decatur 529-1421. Despite its name, it books very little blues, but
does feature a lot of top name entertainers from the rock and pop
and every now and then some good New Orleans R&B. **Preservation Hall, 726
St. Peter, 523-8939. A Dixieland jazz landmark. No food or drinks or
bathroom, just a bare room with bare walls and uncomfortable backless
bench-style seats, and whoever's in the current edition of the
Hall Jazz Band playing like it's 1930. An amazing experience. Open
Wed.-Sun. nights starting at 8:00 p.m. **Kermit
Ruffins has recently opened his own place. Kermit's Treme Speakeasy Restaurant
is at 1535 Basin St., open 7 days a week starting at noon. A restaurant
by day and evening, there's also live music, notably Kermit and his
Barbecue Sweingers every Sunday and Monday night. And I know I speak
for many when I say that Kermit makes the best barbecue in town.
309-5828. **Irvin Mayfields Jazz Playhouse
is located in the Royal Sonesta Hotel at 300 Bourbon Street. An elegant
space, with a full bar and a light snack menu available, there are
first-class jazz acts to be heard here. 553-2299. Frenchmen Street, just outside the
French Quarter, boasts a vibrant music scene - 12-14 clubs in a few
short blocks, and street musicians on every corner.
How to find out who's playing where
In advance: Offbeat has a searchable database; just type in the date(s) you want to know about and it will give you a printable list of gigs. They also have a new iPhone app that will send most recent info straight to your cell phone.
When you get there: pick up a (free) copy of Offbeat at any restaurant, bar or record store in the Quarter. Also, New Orleans' daily paper, the Times-Picayune, has a section on Thursdays called Lagniappe that's the calendar of live music for the weekend, and it tends to be more current than Offbeat, which publishes only once a month. Gambit, a free weekly arts and entertainment paper which comes out on Thursdays, also lists music as well as current gallery shows, museum exhibition schedules, etc.
immediate and positive that
you can do to help New Orleans reconstruct itself: Starting
now, do *all* your gift shopping via mail order from local,
independent New Orleans and Louisiana businesses. Although their stores
may not be there any more, most of them had web sites already in place
and were already set up to do mail order before the levees broke. Most Louisiana-based ISPs are back
up and running. The only
way these businesses will survive
long enough to rebuild their retail outlets is if they can do enough
business to bring some money in during the transition time. Here are a
few suggestions, and I'll add more as I think of them, or you can
email me your own suggestions:
The Louisiana Music Factory
(The music of Louisiana: CDs, LPs, music-related t-shirts and other items)
Cafe Du Monde
Bourbon French Perfume
(for sweet smells)
(Christmas decorations of all kinds)
Grocer of Lafayette
(food, food and more food)
Mid City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl
(order some of their great t-shirts!)
Cookin' Cajun Cooking School
(pralines, packaged mixes and more)
(gift subscriptons, and they have great t-shirts too)
New Orleans School of Cooking
(order some chicory coffee, or pralines, or Creole mustard)
(again, order some t-shirts)
Aunt Sally's Pralines
And for more about New Orleans
music and fun,
the best radio
station in the universe; you can listen online!
New Orleans Good Times Guide (a free book of coupons)
Best of New Orleans
My pal Chuck Taggart's wonderful Gumbo Pages