A man was walking toward us, proudly wearing a bright red 49ers football jersey. He and his friend, both double-fisting Bud Lights, were trying to catch up to their fast-walking companions.
“Dammit, ladies, CHILL!” he yelled. “Where’s the fire? I’m spilling my beer.”
It was 7:45 a.m.
This is the kind of city where even the most tacky, touristy things seem to make sense, and where the actual people, residents and tourists alike, are the real entertainment. The people who live there are authentic, fiercely loyal to their city, and incredibly friendly and tolerant toward the idiot tourists. The Uber drivers will give you the best overview of the stages of New Orleans, including how the city had lost its mojo pre-Katrina. The recovery was brutal, but now NOLA is back and better than ever. Every day is a celebration, a festival, a big football game, a convention, or just a sunny Tuesday afternoon. It’s not just during Mardi Gras—New Orleans is always a party.
New Orleans is really a series of neighborhoods all tied together, transitioning from one to the other. When we stay in the city (at least two times a year), we like to do a progressive canvassing the tiniest streets in these small neighborhoods.
Other than hard-ridden Bourbon Street, the French Quarter is small, walkable, and filled with fascinating building details, shotgun houses, galleries, and incredible overhanging flowers everywhere. There is a bar every 10 feet, and everyone walking has a drink. The best time to be here is about 8:30 a.m., after the party, after the street cleaners, and before the tourists.
If you want to be actually in the Quarter (with a little more seclusion), your two best bets are Audubon Cottages and Soniat House, which have the classic New Orleans hidden courtyards. If you want to be at a hotel in the heart of the beast, there are many—good luck to you.
For great eating, it’s your best bet to head out of the Quarter. But there are a few classic stops to get the evening started like the Carousel Bar, the Jewel of the South, or Arnaud’s French 75 Bar. If you have your heart set on eating in the Quarter, first choice is Sylvain (try to score a table in the back courtyard), followed by Brennan’s.
This is the new hot spot, a neighborhood bordering the Quarter that’s turned from being a little sketchy to raw, urban cool. It’s fun to see the contrast of where people actually live. The new cool hotel in town is here, too—Hotel Peter and Paul, housed in a converted church and convent.
For breakfast/boozy brunch (or boozy breakfast—again, it’s New Orleans), the mimosas and wide menu at Elizabeth’s give you a great local flavor. Spend an afternoon in the backyard of Bacchanal, sharing wine and snacks. For the evening, a good place to start is the Elysian Bar in the Hotel Peter and Paul (a more deconstructed bar/lounge) for a glass of wine. Or hit Claude Avenue for a margarita and taco snack at Galaxie, or wine at Saint-Germain wine bar. For dinner, choose either Bywater American Bistro or the lovely outdoor dining at French spot N7.
There are a lot of parts to the Garden District, from the incredible huge homes to the more commercial area of Magazine Street. It’s worth a walk down all of Magazine Street from the Quarter to Lafayette Cemetery and beyond to some of the best restaurants in the city. You’ll get a flavor of all generations of the city.
Magazine Street is the main spine, and many destinations are just a block or two in either direction. Start with a drink on the rooftop of the Pontchartrain Hotel for a glimpse of the city (but go early; it gets young and busy). From here, you can’t go wrong with any Coquette or La Petite Grocery, a historic market-gone-restaurant with fabulous food. Shaya has modern Israeli, and wonderful Saba has… Newer modern Israeli down the street. Cavan is in a cool revamped house, complete with the old chandelier. Thalia is the new kid from the Coquette team. For lunch, try the uber-popular, highly regarded Turkey and the Wolf. New Orleans loves its sandwiches.
Arts District and CBD
Technically two neighborhoods blended together, this area borders the French Quarter on Canal Street and is home to tons of hotels. It’s a great place to stay if you want to be very close to, but not in the Quarter. The classic old dog is the Roosevelt (a Waldorf Astoria). The Windsor Court Hotel is huge, new, and super-luxurious. Our happy place is the fairly new Maison de la Luz, described as an upscale guest house run by the Ace Hotel group (the Ace is right next door, and you have access to all the amenities of both). Maison de la Luz has quickly become our favorite hotel in the city. There is a hidden entrance and private guest only den area tied to the new hot spot in town, Bar Marilou.
The restaurants here, especially away from the convention area, are notable. And there are a lot of them:
For breakfast or lunch: Willa Jean can’t be missed (and they serve cookie dough for dessert).
For lunch: Cochon Butcher is a great fast-casual joint for lunch (don’t miss the muffaletta) or Maypop (of Mopho fame) for either lunch or dinner. For a taste of yet another interpretation of a food hall, try the Auction House Market, which has a great central bar.
For lunch or dinner: You can’t go wrong with any of the spots from Chef Donald Link and co: Cochon, Herbsaint, and Péche (seafood) are some of the best places in town for dinner, and Cochon Butcher is also part of the group. (Their newest sibling, Gianna, is the weakest of the bunch.)
For happy hour or late-night drinks: Bar Marilou, (above) is a place where you feel like you can hang out all evening.