Four years after the storm that left it reeling, New Orleans is finally recovering its stride. And then some...
Author Ethan Brown
Four years after the storm that left it reeling, New Orleans is finally recovering its stride. And then some…
EVER SINCE THIS STEAMY DELTA CITY ON THE GULF OF MEXICO WAS FOUNDED IN 1718, New Orleans has been home to swells, vagabonds, riverboat captains, spice merchants and Emeril Lagasse. The residents are famously easygoing (hence, the Big Easy), the pace slow enough to soothe those seeking refuge from “the real world.” As a figure in literature, New Orleans is as fertile as Paris (Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler honeymooned here; A Confederacy of Dunces hot dog lover Ignatius J. Reilly prowled the French Quarter). Every year, the parades on Fat Tuesday induce near-riots of libidinous bead-tossing along Bourbon Street. Few who enter New Orleans leave the same. It has, as the song goes, “been the ruin of many a poor boy.”
Since the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it’s taken some time for Nola to get back on its feet. Now, the rebirth is in full swing. The city is the fastest-growing in the United States, with a staggering level of inventiveness and creative hubbub. Nevermind Emeril; young chefs are injecting new life into a culinary scene that had become overly reliant on French staples and Cajun clichés, and armies of musicians in straw fedoras have reignited the nightclub scene. Newcomers are flocking here (including The Wire creator David Simon, whose forthcoming HBO series, Treme, is set in the city), and thousands who fled in the storm’s aftermath are returning, proving their undying love for this singular metropolis. To be sure, some parts of town are inhospitable to visitors, but for the most part, Nola has its groove back. In fact, in some ways the new New Orleans might just be even better than the old one.
riverboatDAY ONE Start your jaunt at the Soniat House 1, a boutique hotel made up of three splendid Victorian-era townhouses in the lower Quarter. For breakfast, venture no farther than the courtyard for a mug of dark and earthy chicory coff ee and biscuits warmed on hot stones. Then walk to the heart of the French Quarter. Start your visit at Arcadian Books & Art Prints 2, a hole in the wall with towering stacks of French and Louisiana-centric literature, where you’ll pick up a reissue of New Orleans City Guide 1938 and marvel at how little the city has changed over the years.
Walk a few blocks south to historic Jackson Square 3, the Quarter’s bustling geographical heart. Just beyond is St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, an imposing 18th century edifice that houses the Louisiana State Museum. Step inside to check out the fantastic exhibit “From Tramps to Kings: 100 Years of Zulu,” which chronicles the centurylong history of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, a mainstay of the annual Fat Tuesday parade.
The Royal CaféPass through touristy Pirates Alley to the outskirts of Jackson Square for lunch at Stanley 4. Since opening in the fall of 2008, Stanley (as in Kowalski, from A Streetcar Named Desire) has rewritten the sandwich rules in this po’ boy–centric town. The kitchen whips out masterful modern interpretations of deli standards like the Reuben. For dessert, challenge yourself with the “Stella Uptown Sundae,” a dangerous blend of carrot cake, three scoops of rum raisin ice cream, sweet cream cheese sauce, whipped cream and a cherry. Waddle slowly to the river side of Jackson Square to Café Du Monde 5, a round-the-clock institution that’s been serving beignets and the same chicory coffee blend since the Civil War.
Arcadian Books Ask for a café au lait (the beignets will have to wait a day, but your waistline will thank you), then stroll along the river to the Louisiana Music Factory 6. Here you’ll browse this sprawling record store specializing in the state’s great musical traditions, from zydeco to jazz, as cuts from one of the current local stars—John Boutté or Glen David Andrews—play from the speakers. As dusk approaches, take a long walk to the outermost edge of the French Quarter and the Tennessee Williams house 7. Though it’s not open to the public, this troubled playwright’s 19th century mansion is a classic example of New Orleans architecture, and steeped in history. Williams lived here from 1962 until his death in 1983, and a plaque out front quotes his autobiography: “I hope to die in my sleep…in this beautiful big brass bed in my New Orleans.” (’Twas not to be: Williams died in a New York hotel.)
Donna’s Bar & Grill At chow time, you go to the Green Goddess 8, a funky spot with psychedelic copper wallpaper on tiny Exchange Place. Since the May opening, chef Chris DeBarr has created perhaps the most unconventional menu in New Orleans; highlights include “Spooky” blue corn crepes filled with a rare Aztec corn fungus called huitlacoche and fresh Louisiana blue crabmeat served on pillows of crispy angel hair pasta and green tea broth. Afterward, you’re happily obliged to wind down the night at Donna’s Bar and Grill 9, a hole-in-the-wall club at the edge of the Quarter where you’ll find some of the best jazz in the city. If you’re lucky, the boisterous Treme Brass Band will be playing, with “Uncle Lionel” Batiste on the bass drum.
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