There is no city quite like The Big Easy … anything goes. There are a few things you can be certain of, like good grub (The food!), great jazz, good drinkin’ and easy livin’. But other things are completely unexpected. Like the Hurricane – it’s just a sweet alcoholic drink made with rum and fruit juice – but have too many and you’ll never shake the nickname Hurricane Hardin. (Nope, not me, but we may be related.) Or, you stumble on “a naked bike parade” that you can’t turn away from, even though you want to. Or, that restaurant owner, who will remain anonymous, that when asked for a picture, stuck his tongue in your ear when the flash went off. (Yep, mine.) Only in New Orleans.
But I’m proud to have been born in this city that continues to sing, dance and enjoy the grit and glory of this thing we call life, even often amidst great adversity. We could all use a little of this city’s soul, and you can grab a piece of it, even if just for a weekend.
What you’ll see here is a compilation of the best of the best from my last two trips to Nawlins.
…where to crash and get some R&R
NOTE: All of these hotels are on the edge of the French Quarter. If you’ve ever stayed near Bourbon Street, you’ll know why we chose the edge.
Full disclosure – this was a W Hotel when we stayed here and we were upgraded to a huge suite thanks to fellow editor Jen’s husband. (He was at a bachelor party so it was the perfect excuse for a weekend getaway.) This hotel has a very friendly, helpful staff and its atmosphere is the right amount of party, without being as obnoxious as some of the hotels in the French Quarter. It’s a quick walk to the action but offers solace from the screams and shouts on Bourbon Street, while still being cool.
I’ll admit – when I first booked this hotel for a girls’ trip, I was a little nervous at the formality of it all. But it was one of the recommended hotels from my Am Ex card and anyone who knows me, knows how much I love and trust Am Ex. (And no, I did not get paid to say this.) But this place was the perfect spot to be stuck during the crazy thunderstorms that frequented this particular trip. We caught up over three-hour breakfasts next to the large windows in the dining room, sipped wine and nibbled on cheese in the bar and experienced their Spa, where I received one of the best facials I’ve ever had.
Everyone is familiar with the reputation of this classic hotel brand, but this particular location comes highly recommended from several sources, all of whom we trust to give good advice. Our little birdies raved about the overall ambiance that mimics an old mansion you might have found back in the day – from the classic French-inspired décor to the beautiful garden courtyard to the exquisite chandeliers and artwork. Plus, their spa looks amazing.
…where to chow down and then unbutton the top button
If you are a foodie, I’m sure you’ve heard of this New Orleans staple that specializes in Haute Creole cuisine and has had many a renowned chef at the helm throughout the years. I’d bet that any meal there is good, but I’d recommend Sunday brunch. If you’re feeling saucy, start with the Sazerac, but know that if you don’t finish it, they might make you leave the city (take it from Jen and me). It’s hard not to be happy when you’re being serenaded by a Jazz band (they sing to you tableside) and eating fantastic food. The Shrimp and Tasso Henican is one of the best dishes I’ve EVER had – it’s white shrimp stuffed with spicy Cajun ham and sprinkled with hot sauce.
Jaques-Imos (pronounced as one word)
This restaurant is a bit of hike, but you can take a roadie. It’s definitely a local’s joint touting the real deal Nawlins food and boasting that they have been “not famous since 1996.” It’s super casual and the tables are close – we struck up a conversation with a local couple near us and got some good pointers on where to go afterwards. They have all the Cajun classics like Shrimp Etoufee and Duck and Andouille Gumbo, but the standout dish is the Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake. Tip: This is not a dessert.
This is one of the newer restaurants to hit the New Orleans culinary scene and I would not have been able to get reservations had it not been for fellow blogger and foodie for This Yuppie Life, one of my companions on this trip. But she knew someone who knew someone and we were taken care of by the sommelier. Every detail of the experience and ambiance made me ooh and aah – you’ll want your heels and your appetite for this reservation. Doris Metropolitan specializes in steaks, but a lot of the food has a Mediterranean influence. (I’m currently obsessed with the Jerusalem cookbook my friend Molly gave me by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi.) We shared the Artichoke Flower Salad with tzatziki and it was incredible, and I followed it up with my favorite cut of steak – the New York Strip.
I loved the quaint, cozy atmosphere of this place. If I lived in New Orleans, this would be my go-to spot. Any place that has Champagne & Fries as an appetizer feels like home to me. There were so many tempting cocktails on the menu that we made the bartender choose – we loved the “Champagne” Cocktail with Cava and Lavender and the No Fun with bourbon and strawberry balsamic shrub. The food is also delish and classic from the Pappardelle Bolognese to the Pan Seared Scallops with Israeli couscous. And you’re always in good hands with the daily fish preparation.
Yeah, we know. This place is as touristy as they come but in this case, there is a reason it is so popular. Jen and I went here twice – the first time we split the beignets and the second time we ‘fessed up and each ordered our own. Can’t have too many of those beignets. Seriously. Coupled with their perfect Café au Lait, this is the perfect way to start a Nola morning. But don’t sleep in too late – the line can get long. Those tourists.
… where to drink up and get down
NOTE: Most bars in New Orleans have no official closing time – they just stay open until the party is over … which can be dangerous if you’re not one to have your eye on the clock. And you shouldn’t – you’re in The Big Easy.
If the music in New Orleans doesn’t move you, then we have nothing more to say to each other. For the best in live music, Frenchmen Street is the place to be. My crew walked from dinner in the French Quarter and drifted into the Spotted Cat where it was definitely not amateur night. For only $10, I was treated to a high caliber group of musicians whose amazing rendition of Georgia Grind had everyone on their feet. Even my friend Molly joined in.
At the corner of Bourbon and St. Philip is the oldest bar in the US, providing the Bourbon Street fix you feel like you need on a trip to Nola. Given its history, it’s viewed as one of the most haunted buildings in the city and that’s saying a lot. It’s rustic, drafty on those few and far between cool nights (I happened to be there for one of those) and the perfect place to grab a New Orleans classic cocktail while listening to the piano man and picturing what must have gone down here in the 1800s.
So, we’re sitting in Jaques-Imos finishing a meal and Jen and I get a wild urge to dance, so we strike up a conversation with the local couple next to us and they sent us here. If you like swanky clubs with bottle service, this probably isn’t the place for you. In fact, it definitely isn’t. It’s a dive bar with a young crowd but the night we went, the DJ played old school hip hop and we danced and sipped until the clock hit 5am. Oops. Some of you may go to this place and think, why did they send us here? And our response is – we warned you.
I JUST BOUGHT THESE PANTS
…where to nab the best threads
Located in the Garden District, this street is a great place to stroll, sip and shop. Everything from antique furniture to local boutiques to vintage clothing retailers awaits you here and it’s a great respite from the non-stop action downtown. Definitely wander off the road to see some beautiful homes.
This is your typical upscale shopping mall where you will find your favorite brands and department stores such as lululemon, Saks and Anthropologie so if you’re in a pinch, this is the place to go. During the rainy trip, we killed some time here – my favorite shop was Jeantherapy (can’t take the LA out of the girl), and I made a nice galoshes purchase as well.
Street vendors galore at this Nawlins landmark – grab yourself a drink and peruse the many artists who grace the outskirts of this beautiful park that you’ve seen in many a movie about vampires, witches or ghost legends. I always love to pick up street vendor art and, if you’re feeling curious, get your palm read.
ANTS IN YOUR PANTS
…what to do when you can’t sit still
So it’s February 14(ahem, Valentine’s Day). The normal thing to do is book yourself a tour to learn about ghosts and vampires … if you’re Jen and I. We were seriously psyched about this tour and we hate most group tours. Snag a spot on the 8pm tour (the day tours don’t have the same kind of feeling), grab a cocktail (you’ll get refills along the way) and let your guide regale you with stories of haunted mansions (Nic Cage’s old residence, for example), unexplained disappearances and how the vampire myth (Is it a myth?) came to be.
For a little something different, you can easily book a trip to the swamp through your concierge – it’s only about 30-40 minutes outside of the city and they all offer pick-up and drop-off from your hotel. For us, the muggy swamplands of the Louisiana Bayou were a must see! We fed marshmallows to the resident gators from the safety of our boat … and even held a little guy! They’re really cute when they’re small!
There is something alluring about the seedy past of New Orleans, or what we imagine that seedy past might have been like. Nothing fulfills these fantasies quite like walking through one of the many haunting graveyards throughout the city. Across from the Commander’s Palace is my favorite cemetery – Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. If you need some convincing, Anne Rice used to live around the corner and imagined most of her stories inside these walls. For a quick glance at the Top 10 graveyards, click here.
This is definitely not something you would think of doing in New Orleans, but I learned about this museum after meeting two members of the board on a visit to the Golden Door. I love studying the history surrounding this time period in history. A nerd, I know. With the high marks it gets from visitors, it’s gonna be a priority on my next trip.