New Orleans is a colorful city. Not just the buildings. Not just the music. But the people. It is a stewpot jambalaya. Stay away if you can't handle a little spice.
Our trip was short but sweeeet! Our youngest son, George, is a jazz musician and we were fortunate enough to hang out with a couple of his musician friends, longtime natives Wes and Desi Anderson. Wes teaches music at Loyola University, and we loved the bulletin board (photo below) hanging outside his office. Wes and Desi steered us to many of their favorite spots. Their recommendations were so great, I thought they were worth sharing with all of you:
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD!
It really doesn't matter if you are ordering up a three-course meal in a fine dining establishment or poboys and donuts at a gas station -- the food in this town is freaky good.
Dickie Brennan's Tableau (photo above) is an elegant affair with a menu as tight as a Miles Davis rif. The restaurant is housed in a graceful three-story building with an array of dining spaces including a cork-walled wine tasting room. Fiorella's Cafe for good gumbo and poboys. Restaurant R'evolution for an unusual and delicious spin on Creole cuisine. Part of the Royal Sonesta Hotel, it can be hard to nab a reservation but the maitre d' will take your name and call you when a table becomes available. Domenica for gourmet pizza right in the beautiful Roosevelt Hotel. Happy hour is 3-5 every day and they offer half price pizza and booze. Drago's for charbroiled oysters that, I'm sorry, might be better than any charbroiled burger on the planet. Cooter Brown's for poboys and roast beef on French bread. Dat Dog for indisputably delicious late night pre-hangover food and old movies. District Donuts, Sliders, and Brew for incredible fried dough. I had bacon on my peanut butter and maple frosted donut. My son said the fried chicken slider made him want to get lost and miss his flight home.
At Sucré, we enjoyed confections and afternoon tea. I picked up a container of their famous gooey chocolate cookies, which are in my freezer right now. If you're a local, leave a comment on the blog and you'll be entered to win a cookie, hand-delivered by moi. (I buried this contest because I really don't want to part with them.)
At The Camellia Grill (photo below), I had the best pecan waffle in my life. The wait staff do not write down your order. They use diner slang and holler it at the kitchen. It's a job I could do. (I do it every day!) And when I noticed no women worked behind the counter, I asked our waiter if I could apply. He told me I'd need to take a 60-question memory test. He warned me that plenty of people get hired and last 1 hour.
I GOT THE MUSIC IN ME
It's true! Music pours out of every orifice in this town, just like the muddy water does sometimes. One of the theories behind New Orleans' nickname, The Big Easy, references how easy it is for a jazz musician to land a gig. I recommend having a fat stash of bills for tipping because the street musicians are just as likely to captivate you as the hired cats inside venues.
Here's our recs for music: Snug Harbor on Frenchman Street. This is Bourbon Street for mature music lovers. The Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta. Avoid paying for a reserved table by showing up an hour early and grabbing a drink and appetizer. Davenport Lounge in the Ritz Carlton. Mahogany Jazz Hall Burlesque and Absinthe House where you have to be 21 to see the burlesque show. Preservation Hall for a lo-fi experience that hasn't changed much since 1961 when it opened. People are perpetually lined up for their hourly shows. Or you can pay extra to go to the front of the line. (Dress appropriately for the weather - there's not much HVAC to speak of.)
SHOPPING IN THE BIG EASY IS EASY
We enjoyed two shopping districts: Magazine Street where we stopped in at Hazelnut, the home decor boutique owned by Mad Men actor, Bryan Batt (who played Salvatore, the closeted gay art director). It's a nice spot. So nice, I ended up at a FedEx location, shipping myself a couple of goodies.
We also strolled Royal Street. I got a kick out of the antique gun and sword shop (photo below) that's across the street from the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana. A little further down, I wandered into M.S. Rau, the esteemed antique store that has been in business for over a hundred years. I saw a set of Royal Copenhagen china commissioned for Catherine the Great, selling for a mere $300,000. Lyndon, the gentleman purveyor, told me that if I ordered it new, today, it would take Royal Copenhagen ten years to produce it.
STROLLING WITH OPEN JACKETS AND OPEN HEARTS
A detour at Bevolo Lighting (photo below) is a worthwhile stop. You'll watch artisans using old-world techniques to create the copper gas lights New Orleans is known for.
I fell in love with the portraiture of artist Mark Bercier, whom I met at B.E.E. Galleries on Chartres Street. He is a talented painter and one class act of a man. if you drop by, tell him Mithra says 'hello'.
We also spent a wonderful sun-drenched morning strolling in the Garden District, home to the fantastically macabre Lafayette Cemetery and the former residence of vampire author Anne Rice.
New Orleans, the media want you to know, has always put the “fun” in funeral, but the reporters don’t bother to investigate why that is, what celebration in the face of death might mean in a culture that has known slavery and yellow fever, a murder rate north of Medellin’s, a hundred-year flood. Nor do they examine the prevailing norms of funeral customs in the West—customs borne out of time and resources and wealth, the luxuries of hospitals and Doppler radar and drone wars, the ability to leave the dirty work of caring for the dead to others, the choice to act as though the dead and dying do not exist in the same world we do.
From "Death is a Way to Be" by C. Morgan Babst.
We were fascinated by the crypts, as are all tourists. Our friend Wes told us that in New Orleans, you die twice. First by whatever way you meet your maker, and second by drowning. I think a similar axiom applies to loving New Orleans. You fall for it as soon as you arrive and realize that maybe you lived a previous life here. And you fall even harder for it when you see it out your airplane window, surrounded by water, and looking terribly vulnerable.
If you like reading about cool destinations, you might enjoy my travelogue from London this past fall.