In New Orleans’ French Quarter, a street-legal luxury golf cart may be the only ride that can measure up to a parade float
By Jacqueline Detwiler
“ARE YOU READY FOR IT?” shouts the parking valet at the Ritz-Carlton when we emerge from the hotel lobby. “Are you ready for it?” My friend Jenna and I have come down from our rooms dressed for dinner when he sees us. He takes off running and seconds later returns behind the wheel of our street-legal nail polish–red Garia luxury golf cart.
The valet doesn’t bother to ask us for our ticket or room number. After all, how many street-legal golf carts see the inside of the French Quarter Ritz-Carlton’s valet lot?
Judging from all the people who begged for a ride or snapped photos this morning on our way to tour the majestic St. Louis Cathedral, not many. It’s easy to feel a little self-conscious riding around New Orleans’ raucous, congested streets in a vehicle with an engine that doesn’t so much growl as mewl, and that beeps like a long-haul truck when backing up. Despite the catcalls, it doesn’t take us long to learn to love the little monster.
Around lunchtime, we parallel-park in a tiny spot, barely big enough for a 10-speed, in front of a Southern restau-rant called Sylvain. As we eat braised beef cheeks and asparagus with a poached farmers egg, the owner—no doubt impressed by our cart—opens a vintage bottle of Jack Daniel’s (specifically designed for Frank Sinatra’s onetime mob supplier) and pours a tall tumbler of whiskey for Jenna.
By midafternoon, we’re meandering down Royal and Bourbon Streets beeping our adorable little horn. Emboldened by the whiskey, Jenna starts tossing beads, trying to start a parade.
“I like your suit!” she shouts to a businessman walking into a bank. “You want some beads?”
Another guy wearing a straw hobo hat yells, “Where do I get one of those things?”
By the time we take the Canal Street ferry to explore the peaceful, 18th century neighborhood of Algiers Point, we’re giddy with cart-induced nostalgia. Zipping along the quiet Algiers streets, we seek restitution for summers spent working menial jobs instead of joyriding in golf carts.
Finally, we double back along the roads of New Orleans’ second-oldest quarter, flanked by pastel Creole cottages and Victorians, the speed demon hitting a whopping 27 mph on one extended curve. We line up for the ferry on the opposite side, on a dock over the Mississippi where the river accelerates on its final escape into the Gulf of Mexico, and take a nap in the sun.
Our rambling route to dinner takes us under Spanish moss–draped live oaks to a jazz club called Snug Harbor on Frenchmen Street—a stretch of seasoned, ramshackle music venues, free of T-shirt shops and chain restaurants, that some call the locals’ Bourbon. After a bottle of champagne and an hour and half of sultry Thelonious Monk standards by the Ellis Marsalis quintet, we’re approached by a few locals who recognize us from our joyride.
“Hey, where is your cart?” one of the guys asks.
“It’s right outside.” I point. “Shhh, don’t tell them or it won’t be there in the morning,” Jenna warns jokingly, looking out the window.
“Oh come on! Who steals a golf cart?” By the time we rouse ourselves from the Ritz-Carlton the next morning and go to find it, the Garia has indeed disappeared, picked up by the company that loaned it to us, leaving nothing but a haze of joy and delirium on the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres.
We never did get a bill from that valet.
The bells and whistles
Starting Price: $17,499
Engine: 48 volt, 5.4 horsepower electric engine with a top speed of 27 mph.
Performance: The Garia can travel 40 miles on a single charge, largely because of its regenerative braking on hills. Automatic electromagnetic brakes engage when you take your foot off the accelerator—most likely to prevent accidentally bumping into wayward pedestrians and parade floats.
Perks: The cart is golf course–ready with rear-mounted golf bag holders, dashboard-mounted icebox, score card, pen, ball, tee and cup holders, roof vent, water-resistant handstitched seats, 12″ chrome alloy wheels.
Associate editor JACQUELINE DETWILER wishes the Garia also came with an automatic designated driver.