Destination: New Orleans
Care to know the one thing that tells you everything you need to know about New Orleans?
Hurricane Katrina couldn’t wipe that infectious grin off its face.
One expects such tenacity from the descendants of the Acadians, Germans and hodgepodge Europeans who made the ill-advised if fortuitous decision to decamp on the muddy banks of the fickle Mississippi.
The Vieux Carré (“old square”), as the French Quarter was originally known and is sometimes still referred to today, stands as a testament to the endurance of America’s largest – and arguably funkiest – population currently living below sea level.
During its long history, NOLA has been handed over from Spanish to French to American jurisdiction with barely a pause in the revelry for which it is legendary. If anything, New Orleans seems to become more impervious to change as the rest of America changes around her.
Headed “way down yonder” for the first time? You’re the envy of everyone who’s ever been there, thanks to the enduring magic of Louis Armstrong’s “land of the dreamy scenes.”
For maximum fun, enjoy these 10 distinctly New Orleans experiences on foot, starting with the first. And for heaven’s sake, bring your appetite!
Coffee and beignets at the Café du Monde: Since 1862, this 24/7 riverfront institution has kept the party going by pairing chicory-laced café au laits with its heavenly beignets (ben-YAYS), fried dough squares, sometimes filled with fruit, sprinkled with powdered sugar. You must try it. In fact, I think it’s the law.
Jackson Square: Now that you’re already in the Quarter, stroll across the street to Clark Mills’ equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president and hero over the British in the pivotal Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. That’s St. Louis Cathedral looming behind him. You’ll enjoy the street vendors and performers who encircle one of America’s loveliest parks.
Muffuletta at Pierre Maspero’s: As you stroll uptown/upriver toward the Central Business District (CBD), stop into this 1788 hideaway for one of the best muffulettas in town. Wazzat? The Big Easy’s original salami-and-ham Creole po’-boy, topped with melted Provolone and an olive spread to die for.
Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt: Walk on (if you can) across Canal Street to the historic Roosevelt Hotel and its famous Sazerac Bar, named after what many consider the world’s first mixed drink. The hotel’s legendary watering hole was once the unofficial headquarters of Louisiana Gov. Huey “Kingfisher” Long, who liked to hold morning press conferences here in his pajamas.
Hop a street car: It may not be called Desire, but rest assured: the St. Charles streetcar you catch uptown played a pivotal role in a certain Pulitzer Prize-winning play by a resident playwright named Tennessee Williams. It’s just a 20-minute ride upriver to…
The Garden District: Step off the streetcar and back in time into one of the best-preserved collections of Antebellum, Italianate, Greek Revival and Victorian homes in the country, fronted by covered porches with weathered rockers that languish beneath the mature growth that once was their sole respite from the long, hot summer. Speaking of which, on your return to Jackson Square, make a note to visit the home of the guy who wrote “The Long, Hot Summer”…
William Faulkner house: The preeminent Southern novelist sowed his wild oats and found his literary footing in this French Quarter walk-up off of Pirate’s Alley, where he wrote his first short story collection, New Orleans Sketches. Today, this literary tourist attraction houses a vintage bookstore.
Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB): On your return trolley ride back to the Quarter, stop by this lively nonprofit for a crash course in the culinary traditions of the American South. Getting hungry? Who’s up for…
Dinner at Brennan’s: Opened in 1946, this family-owned, recently refurbished NOLA landmark features eight dining rooms, each steeped in Southern charm. By law, you must order the dessert the family invented back in the early 1950s, Bananas Foster. Well, it should be a law anyway.
Bourbon Street: I know; you’ve seen this to death on TV commercials, Super Bowl pre-games and whatnot. Just go, preferably after dark. This storied 13-block strip of juke joints, burlesque clubs and street performers has been celebrating the sheer joy of being alive since 1798.
As they say in the Big Easy, laissez les bon temps rouler – Let the good times roll!