There is something magical about this place. New Orleans has always been on my list as one of those cities that was calling me. From the food, to the culture to the history, Nola is a place of wonder.
I will preface by saying that deciding to go in the middle of July is not for the faint of heart. It's HOT. I mean so hot that the rain steams off the street and you start to sweat the minute you step outside, but boy is this place cool.
On Bourbon Street, it was only 5pm and happy hour started 6 hours ago. People were walking and drinking, dancing and talking, with to-go cups in hand. This was intoxicating...literally. Our hotel ( Royal Sonesta New Orleans) was lovely boasting a jazz club, outdoor swimming pool, and two restaurants. It's best to opt for a room on the interior of the hotel overlooking the pool so you are protected from the noise, and debauchery of Bourbon Street late night. After dropping the bags in the room, we were eager to get down to the action for prime people watching and soak up all that Bourbon had to offer. The street is closed off to cars and it is a walking party with brass bands on the corners and live music pumping out of the bars. Coming from New York I quickly realized that this was Louisiana's Time Square. Nothing was genuine, but everything was authentic. Each place offered the same thing, booze, live music and probably a hangover--actually definitely a hangover. After speaking with one of our cab drivers I learned that all the craziness on Bourbon kept the city afloat after Hurricane Katrina. There are "no locks and no clocks" on Bourbon, and that makes it a destination cash cow.
I learned early on that Bourbon Street is just the beginning of places to eat and drink in NOLA. In the French Quarter there is the Hotel Monteleone which boast the famous Carousel Bar. I had my first ever Vieux Carre (what they are known for) a brandy based cocktail from the 1930's that packs a punch with rye whiskey, benedictine and bitters. This bar is a real life merry-go-round that gives the customers a slow rotating ride around the bartender. Three times around that thing (moving at about 30 minutes for one full rotation) and two cocktails later, it was time for dinner.
Peche was one of my most memorable meals in New Orleans and one of the best I have had in a long time. The service was impeccable, and the casual decor encouraged me to indulge in the refined seafood based menu. Standout dishes include the baked Drum (a local meaty whitefish), and the crab and jalapeno capellini.
Another great restaurant was Sylvain. We stumbled upon this gastro pub while walking to another reservation and decided that the menu and romantic atmosphere suited us more than the empty restaurant we were headed to. *Insider tip: NEVER eat somewhere that's empty. Sylvain, located in an old carriage house has delicious American fare but what made the place memorable was the experience. The staff was knowledgeable and charming which made us feel welcome.
Parts of the city also have a hipster vibe and with Tales of the Cocktail being a annual event the craft cocktail culture is alive and well. We visited Cane and Table which is a restaurant and craft cocktail bar known to have a focus on tiki drinks. The menu is extensive with a dairy free milk punch made with corn milk, and a rum punch served out of a whole pineapple. The bartenders look too cool for school, but are knowledgeable and care about a good cocktail.
Before I left I made of list of what I wanted to see, eat and drink and managed to tick all the boxes. Po Boys at Parkway Bakery (the turtle gumbo is a must), beignets at Cafe du Monde (go late to avoid the crowd, and get entertained by the crazies), and a little east of the Quarter is Frenchman's Street that has great bars with live music and a market with local artists that is open until 2am.
New Orleans is more than drinking on Bourbon Street. There is wealth of great food and culture and an energy that is incomparable to other American cities. Go for the booze, stay for the food, and fall in love with the culture.
<3 Love, Camille...