I can appreciate any place that is like no place else.
No place else is like New Orleans.
While New Orleans is influenced by many places – the Caribbean, Africa, France, the Deep South – the particular recipe in which it stews those ingredients is unique. It’s weird, sweaty, claustrophobic, historic, beautiful, loud, fun, messy, bawdy, boozy, delicious – and a thousand other adjectives – and it’s not for everyone.
Ask 10 people about New Orleans and five will love it for its food and charm and cocktails and five will hate it for its stench and mess and drunks. I’m in between. I both admire New Orleans and recognize I don’t share its lifestyle.
Kristi and I visited in mid-September, tying it to a conference she was speaking at. We arrived on a Thursday, left the next Tuesday, and drove to Baton Rouge for an LSU football game on the Saturday in between. We stayed right in the French Quarter.
This was the first visit to New Orleans for both of us and with our hotel at the corner of Canal Street and Bourbon Street, we took many walks up and down the famous stretch of asphalt.
Yes, it’s impossibly touristy. Yes, it’s loud and full of drunk people and bachelorette parties and strip clubs and 3-for-1 beer specials and live music. Yes, it’s a must-see for anyone new to New Orleans.
Bourbon Street does have merit, however, beyond mere spectacle.
The Red Fish Grill offers high quality fresh fish and seafood, steak, local specialties, cocktails and desserts all reasonably priced. One aspect of New Orleans’ dining I did not anticipate was the number of high-end, fine-dining establishments. That could be my ignorance. I’m not talking about $30-$40 entrée fine dining, I’m talking about $40-$60 entrée fine dining.
Kristi doesn’t eat fish and finding a steak for less than $50 was no small task. Red Fish Grill came through for us, though, with her able to eat meat while I enjoyed the shrimp and grits on one visit and the jambalaya on another. Be sure to liberally apply the butter they provide to the table bread. It has some sort of cheddar infusion, making it a decadent treat.
The Bourbon House offers what must be one of the richest selections of whiskeys and bourbons anywhere in the world. Crescent City Pizza offers big, cheap slices of a much-higher-quality-than-need-be to stay in business and cold draft beer.
Beyond Bourbon Street
The French Quarter, thankfully, consists of much more than just Bourbon Street. More bars and restaurants than you could ever hope to sample exist inside this easily walkable district.
We enjoyed Kingfish for happy hour. The competition among bars has created a great happy hour scene with good deals everywhere. Take advantage of them. Kingfish felt more “local” than the other places we tried and their cocktails and appetizers are first rate. If you’re going to try a Pimm’s cocktail, do so here.
The great surprise of the French Quarter to me, and, again, this may be my ignorance, was the extraordinary number of art galleries and antique shops. Between the river and Bourbon Street a wonderful world of galleries and shops can be found.
On the down side, the more touristy spots throughout the French Quarter are littered with panhandlers. They aren’t the most aggressive I’ve encountered, but their presence is felt. Homeless people are regularly seen sleeping on the sidewalks all over the Quarter. Prepare yourself.
Speaking of the sidewalks, they are in atrocious shape. So are the roads. Uneven, narrow, pocked with holes… the worst sidewalks I’ve ever seen. If you have trouble with mobility, be careful.
Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria by the aquarium and river was a solid quick-service choice for lunch. The Carousel Bar and Lounge inside the gorgeous Hotel Monteleone offers a nice pit-stop. Dress up a little if you stop by.
You want a travel “hot take?”
The world famous Café Du Monde serves fried dough with powdered sugar. Nothing more, nothing less. Its beignets smell and taste like funnel cake to me. They’re served hot and it’s a New Orleans institution, but it’s skippable in a pinch. I don’t eat pastry and I don’t drink coffee.
Beyond the French Quarter
There is more to do in New Orleans than drink. We found two brief visits into the gentile Garden District enjoyable. This neighborhood is full of beautiful old homes, quiet streets, more dreadfully depredated sidewalks and a greater “local” feel throughout.
From the Quarter you can take a street car into the Garden District and hop on-and-off all day for $3.
Try Dat Dog for unusual hot dogs and sausages (my pick) and Superior Grill for predictable Mexican (Kristi’s choice).
We didn’t have a “plan” on our walk through the Garden District, we just started walking and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon taking us wherever it may.
History and nature buffs should visit the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park in the French Quarter which offers information on day-trips to other park units in and around New Orleans and throughout the State of Louisiana. I look forward to incorporating these into subsequent trips to the area.
It is what it is
You know exactly what you’re getting with a trip to New Orleans. New Orleans isn’t going to change for you. What you have to ask yourself is if that’s the trip you want?
If you don’t think it is, try this “travel hack:” visit Savanah or Charleston, they’re essentially New Orleans on 1/7th scale with enough rowdiness to have a taste, great food, drinks, galleries and history, but much less of the drunken, homeless, bawdiness that turns many people off of the French Quarter.