Especially in this post-Katrina era, New Orleans deserves a revisit
New Orleans almost needs no introduction. So few cities conjure up such vivid, visceral images: boisterous jazz musicians, sun-dappled plantation estates, overstuffed saucy po' boys. But especially in this post-Katrina era, New Orleans deserves a revisit. With renewed spirit and focus, this city has emerged with greater independence, concentrating on keeping alive what it holds dearest. New Orleans is intoxicating with its slow, easy charm; even the newer establishments feel as if they have deep roots already. Of course, the hedonism of Bourbon Street and incredible music scene along nocturnal Frenchman Street will always be mainstays to any visit here. Sink into the dreamy pace of The Big Easy and you'll find a nice mix of old and new. Click through to find out where to stay and play in New Orleans...
New Orleans almost needs no introduction. So few cities conjure up such vivid, visceral images: boisterous jazz musicians, sun-dappled plantation estates, overstuffed saucy po' boys. But especially in this post-Katrina era, New Orleans deserves a revisit. With renewed spirit and focus, this city has emerged with greater independence, concentrating on keeping alive what it holds dearest.
New Orleans is intoxicating with its slow, easy charm; even the newer establishments feel as if they have deep roots already. Of course, the hedonism of Bourbon Street and incredible music scene along nocturnal Frenchman Street will always be mainstays to any visit here. Sink into the dreamy pace of The Big Easy and you'll find a nice mix of old and new.
Click through to find out where to stay and play in New Orleans...
Where to stay
Named after its original owner, Joseph Soniat Duffossat, this Creole townhouse complex was originally built in 1829 as a pied-à-terre for the sugar plantation owner. Now beautifully restored and updated with modern amenities, Soniat House is a charming historical hotel providing guests with an authentically New Orleans experience. As soon as you step off the streets and through the tall narrow doors, you immediately enter a delightfully inviting courtyard that belies its heart-of-the-French Quarter location.
Some of the 31 guest rooms have private balconies, a perfect place to end the evening with a single malt in hand, listening to passing groups below walking through the French Quarter on their haunted tours. If your room is towards the back, sans balcony, there's still a large communal second-floor balcony.
This boutique luxury hotel is a comfortable escape from the hustle of touristy French Quarter. You really do feel as if you're in a private, expansive home—complete with resident cat, Claire. In the reception area, you'll find a collection of paintings and letters sent to her from former guests.
Where to eat
Winner of two James Beard Foundation Awards, this new seafood restaurant in the Warehouse District takes a modern approach to creating soul-satisfying comfort foods. Featuring live-fire cooking techniques with an open hearth in the back, Peche excels at delivering beautiful flavours that are familiar yet elevated.
The fish sticks, case in point, are encased in a carbonated beer batter that arrive shatteringly crisp and tender. The lump crab salad is bright with a lemon thyme aioli and accents of gently pickled carrots, capers and a subtle dusting of chili flakes. For dessert, do not skip the key lime pie. It's "come-in-on-my-day-off good," our server claimed and she was right. Honourable mentions go to the spectacular salted caramel cake: stacked, thin layers of sponge, Chantilly cream and caramel that when combined, magically create a lighter-than-air confectionary.
This contemporary bakery restaurant is helmed by two notable pastry chefs: Kelly Fields and Lisa White. Named after Fields' grandmother, Willa Jean perfectly embodies elegant nostalgia with a nicely balanced menu that features southern favourites and more urban flavours. Their breakfast menu includes shrimp and grits, and steak 'n' eggs, but also a quinoa salad with poached eggs and avocado toast.
Later in the day, their tartines and sandwiches will more than satisfy tummy and palate. And whatever fresh vegetables they have on offer, order it. They get their produce fresh across the lake from Covey Rise Farms. Their presentation of raw, organic radishes garnished with their fresh, house-made butter and sea salt remains a highlight.
And if you're looking to imbibe, rumour has it that Willa Jean first brought the frosé trend to New Orleans. (Frosé = frozen rosé. That's right, a wine slushee.) Take advantage of New Orleans' open container law and get your frosé in a to-go cup.
Take a trolley ride down iconic St. Charles Street to get to Superior Seafood (@ Napoleon Avenue), where the dish to have is the equally iconic char-grilled oysters. Every seafood restaurant in New Orleans will have their version of this dish. It's a bit different everywhere, but the ones here are universally loved. Their Gulf Coast oysters are grilled with garlic, butter, Parmesan and Romano cheeses.
Two other classic New Orleans dishes to have are the po' boy and barbecue shrimp. At Liuzza's by the Track, you can get them together. Their barbecue shrimp po' boy is arguably the best po' boy in town, though a hotly contested title in New Orleans. But it really is that good.
Note that barbecue shrimp in New Orleans doesn't mean "barbecue" shrimp. Rather, "barbecue shrimp" is essentially shrimp in a butter-based white sauce. This po' boy comes overflowing with shrimp and sauce, and while this is hardly a formal eatery, you're going to have to use a knife and fork to tackle all this saucy, slurpy goodness.
Where to drink
Back in the day, this was the place to come watch the Shaker Boys, lined up behind the bar, shaking a succession of Ramos gin fizzes for the proper 12 full minutes. Sadly, there are no more Shaker Boys, but The Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt Hotel is still steeped with history and it's the perfect place to relive a little history through its cocktails. Its namesake cocktail, obviously, is another house specialty and a delight to watch being made. Take a seat along the long African walnut wood bar and soak up the Art Deco ambience while the bartender finesses your Sazerac to perfection.
Yes, Pat O'Brien's has a few touristy elements: it's in the middle of the French Quarter, it has duelling pianos and you can get circa 1980s cruise ship-style commemorative photos taken. But, it's also the birthplace of the Hurricane cocktail. After Prohibition, there was a shortage of scotch, bourbon and whiskey so Pat O'Brien and other bar owners were forced to purchase vast quantities of rum in order to access the other goods. After a lot of experimenting, he created the passion fruit and rum-based cocktail that quickly became a hit. Supposedly, it became so popular so quickly he kept running out of glasses and had to start serving them out of hurricane jars.
Established in 1856, Tujague's is a New Orleans institution for its food and drink. The bar menu features all the classics including the French 75, a proper drip Absinthe and the Grasshopper, which was invented there. Also, off-menu, is the quintessentially New Orleans, Brandy Milk Punch.
What to do
Tourists go to Bourbon Street. Art lovers go to Frenchman Street. In the evenings, you'll hear Frenchmen Street long before you step foot onto it. The street is lined with legendary clubs like Snug Harbor, The Spotted Cat and Maison. But this neighbourhood is a haven for artists of all genres and you're just as likely to come across a poet-for-hire ($20, 10 minutes) as you are a sketch artist. There's also the Frenchmen Art Market, a small outdoor artists' collective selling clothing, jewellery, art, pottery and other wares made by local designers and artists.
An iconic American neighbourhood immortalised often in literature and film, this is a truly lovely, beautiful section of New Orleans. Populated originally by Americans after the Louisiana Purchase, the homes are modelled after grand Victorian and Greek Revival styles. Spend an hour or two meandering around the buckling (and occasionally crumbling) sidewalks, under the giant Oak trees and hanging Spanish moss.
This is also where you'll find the city's most famous (and most well-maintained) cemetery, Lafayette Cemetery #1. It's home to the Karstendiek Tomb, the only cast-iron tomb in the cemetery and inspiration for Interview with the Vampire. Without resorting to fiction, there's no shortage of heartbreaking history represented here: the babies and children that died during outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever; the Tomb for Incurables that gave a final resting place for those with mental or physical challenges that were abandoned by their families; the Destitute Orphan Boys Tomb that represents a society that still exists today in the form of the Waldo Burton Memorial Boys' Home.
To end your visit on a happier note, make your way to the end and look for The Secret Garden, a collection of four tombs for the four men who formed a secret society, "Quarto," that quietly performed philanthropic acts throughout New Orleans.
The famous Commander's Palace is just a block down the street from Lafayette #1 and worth a peek—you can't miss the turquoise blue-and-white striped awning. If it's not too busy they'll let you take a quick tour through the massive, multi-level, multi-room restaurant. Note all the balloons, which indicate a table celebrating a birthday. This is the place locals have come to celebrate for decades. But if you can stay for a meal, they're famous for their pecan-crusted Gulf fish, turtle soup, bread pudding soufflé and bananas Foster flambé.
Ride the Streetcars
For $1.25 (or $3 for an all-day pass), you can ride on the oldest streetcars in America. Adorable and historical, they're also very efficient ways of getting into popular areas such as the Central Business District, the French Quarter, Mid-City and the Garden District. The St. Charles Line is a fantastic general touring line that will give you glimpses to the entrances of two universities as well as grand, historical New Orleans homes. This line is the oldest operating streetcar in the world and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2014.