There is always a party going on in New Orleans and why not? The French Quarter is always dressed up and ready for fun and any given week there’s a festival to suit anyone’s fancy, the food rivals the best culinary centers of the world, and the hospitality can’t be beat.
Geena, Super G, and I were ready to party when we landed in New Orleans early in the afternoon on a Friday. We quickly dropped our bags at the Sheraton Hotel (500 Canal Street), directly across the street from the French Quarter and stepped out to find a quick bite to eat before joining our tour guide, the award-winning Roberts Batson.
I had never been to New Orleans, the state’s first most European-like city, aside from our hometown San Francisco.
New Orleans was founded in 1718 by Sieur de Bienville. Sieur discovered the Louisiana territory, which encompassed 828,000 square miles, in 1682 and claimed it for France’s King Louis XIV. The French Quarter, then called La Nouvelle Orleans, made up the city. After being traded back and forth between France and Spain for nearly 85 years, the United States purchased the territory for a cool $15 million in 1802. As a part of the U.S., New Orleans became Louisiana’s first capital, but it never lost its European flavor nor did it welcome Americans warmly in the beginning.
However, the city quickly boomed as a gateway to the Caribbean and became the U.S.’s fourth largest city at the time. Visitors were attracted to the Parisian flavor the city offered, with the French Opera House, which was at the heart of the city’s culture.
Cajuns and Creole society that came in separate waves added its own cultural flavors and influence to New Orleans.
Cajuns, descendents of a specific group of exiled Catholic, French-speaking trappers and farmers who were exiled from Nova Scotia by English-Protestants in 1755, brought their lively culture that embraces life and filled the city with their own lively music and famed cuisine that continues today.
Creole society, a mixture of Islanders, West Africans, slaves, free people of color and indentured servants along with French aristocrats, merchants, and other prominent community members, developed the city’s Creole architecture and cuisine.
It’s difficult to put a finger on what exactly Creole is because it’s a “chameleon term,” the word could be derived from the Spanish criollo or the Portuguese crioullo and could be used to describe a “variety of tomato, an exotic cuisine, or a poetic architectural style,” according to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The liveliness the city is known for is New Orleans’ essence that wafts through its creative community to politics. Walking through the French Quarter with Roberts we gained more insight into the city’s more recent famous faces, political dramas, and festivities.
There’s always a party going on in NOLA, what locals affectionately call New Orleans, two of the most famous festivals are Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, but a great party can be found nearly every week of the year.
We opted for bar hopping during our New Orleans weekend adventure. Drinking and moving from one bar to the other is easy in the French Quarter, where you are allowed to take your drink with you out onto the streets. We started at a party at the Steam Boat Natchez (400 N. Peter St., #203) at the Toulouse Street Wharf then made our way to Bourbon Street at the Bourbon Pub (801 Bourbon Street) in the gay corridor of the Quarter and made out way down the street weaving in and out of the row of bars and nightclubs back to our hotel room.
Girls looking for some wacky fun should check out the “Run with the Bulls” NOLA style at the San Fermin in Nueva Orleans featuring the Big Easy Rollergirls as the bulls (July 12 – 15). Get a little bit risqué with Dykadence, NOLA’s queer girls answer to Southern Decadence, one of three of the city’s queer festivals, (August 30 – September 2) or at New Orleans Burlesque Festival, a playground for all things burlesque attracting amateurs and professionals celebrating the revival of the art form (September 13 – 15).
Go on a taste bud expedition with any one of New Orleans host of culinary and intoxicating expeditions. Taste buds delight in Tales of the Cocktail four-day-long mixer creating the cocktail trends of the tomorrow (July 25 – 29). Beer lovers might be down for the New Orleans on Tap Beer Festival (September 29).
Drinking on an empty stomach isn’t an option anytime, but in New Orleans food is definitely not to be missed. Foodies will want to check out COOLinary New Orleans sampling the city’s restaurants featuring specially priced prix fixe menus ranging in price $20 for lunch and $35 for dinner or less at participating eateries throughout August.
Chow down on the best BBQ and enjoy the Blues at Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival. This free festival bringing together blues and BBQ (October 12 – 14) is presented by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation that puts on Jazz Fest.
Experience a New Orleans sandwich tradition at the Po-Boy Preservation Festival. The city’s best restaurants come out and give a nod to the Po-Boy showing off their own versions of the meat sub sandwich that can be enjoyed while listening to live music, learning about the history of the Po-Boy, and more (November 18).
Art, literary, and music lovers can get their creative juices flowing in the city’s Art District at Art for Arts’ Sake, this festival kicks off the city’s art season by throwing open its gallery and shop doors on Julia Street (October 6). Creative types can get experimental at the New Orleans Fringe Festival (November 14 – 18).
Of course, Halloween just wouldn’t be the same without Voodoo. Spook seekers can get their groove on at the Voodoo Music Experience featuring some of the world’s hottest bands playing alongside some of NOLA’s hippest local performers in City Park (October 28 – 30).
Moving into the quiet nights of winter, music and words comfort the solitary soul, combining the two New Orleans’ Words and Music festival joins well-known literary talent and performers to celebrate William Faulkner. And who can ever forget, “Stella!!!,” Marlon Brando’s famous scream from the New Orleans street up to his wife, Stella, in Tennessee Williams’ “A Street Car Named Desire.” New Orleans’ dramatist is celebrated annually at the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival in March.
New Orleans gets people out of their armchairs and springs to live mid-April with the French Quarter Festival, the south’s largest free music festivals that presents 800 local musicians that attracts more than a half-million people to eat, drink, and dance.
To get into the NOLA mood, check out Louisiana Soundtrack, courtesy of the Louisiana Office of Tourism.
Moving beyond the French Quarter and festivals, history and music lovers might want to check out Tremé neighborhood. The historic neighborhood that is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, is home to cultural institutions such as the New Orleans African American Museum, Backstreet Cultural Museum, St. Augustine Catholic Church, and Armstrong Park to name a few noted landmarks.
After making our way through the bars and nightclubs with patrons pouring out onto the cobblestone streets, we made it back to our room at the Sheraton, a comfortable place to stay with easy access to all of the action, but far away enough to get the relaxation and rest one expects and needs on a New Orleans vacation.
Many of New Orleans’ 263 hotels and resorts that boast of 37,100 rooms have recently undergone multimillion dollar makeovers to accommodate the 8.75 million visitors that have come to experience the decadent city. The Sheraton is getting in on the game as NOLA plans to boost its visitors to 13.7 million by 2018, according to the NOLACVB with its own $45 million dollar touch up as well, Sheraton Hotels and Resorts announced at the beginning of June.
Refreshed and ready for another day in NOLA, we bypassed tourist hot spots such as the Acme Oyster House, Café Du Monde (locals told us that the trick to get a beignet at the famed Café Du Monde without the wait is to go around 2 a.m.), and Central Grocery Company that had lines around the block in favor of dining with the locals.
We breakfasted at the Old Coffeepot (714 St. Peter Street), one of New Orleans’ oldest restaurants. Established in 1894, it still serves up the city’s hottest breakfast and brunch. We enjoyed our breakfast out on the patio surrounded by a colorful mural celebrating New Orleans culture and lush greenery. The warm mid-morning sun eased us into the day as the caffeine hit our veins after a night of partying.
We spent the day strolling through the streets checking out antique stores and art galleries shopping and enjoying a traditional Po-Boy sandwich for lunch. That evening we decided on a romantic evening starting with dinner at Olivier’s Restaurant (204 Decatur Street). The charming upscale French restaurant was initially packed with a half hour wait, but we were seated within 10 minutes with two other couples after the staff quickly rearranged three sets of tables for us in the back near the bar to accommodate our three groups.
Super G selected the Boeuf Bourguignonne with a glass of 2005 Chateau Recougne Bordeaux Superieur from Bordeaux, France. Unfortunately, the meat wasn’t tender enough, but Super G enjoyed the wine. I couldn’t resist the crab and salmon cakes, which were delicious. Taking a break from drinking, I happily sipped an Italian raspberry soda. The atmosphere was perfect. In spite of the small restaurant being packed, we were able to enjoy each other’s conversation without attempting to raise our voices above the din of the noise nor were we disturbed by our neighbor’s conversation at their table that was very cozy with ours.
New Orleans offers gastronomic delights from on the cheap to luxurious dinning with 1,292 restaurants.
Flying into the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in the late morning on Southwest, which as three additional routes from the East Coast, one from Chicago, and another from Las Vegas. Preferring to spend our money on drinks and food, especially when it’s as easy as a ride on the Jefferson Transit’s E-2 bus from the airport to the center of the action, we opted to bus it for a bargain $2 per person versus the $30 or more to pay for a cab or shuttle.
To plan your trip to New Orleans, visit NOLACVB.