New Orleans Mardi GrasThe Other Sin City
You know you’re somewhere special, when, within one city block, you can indulge in most of the seven deadly sins. Welcome to Bourbon Street. Most of us had our first brush with New Orleans in college, when we headed to Mardi Gras right before midterms. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.) Even by our humble undergrad standards, New Orleans was a seedy place – and we loved it. Hurricanes were our beverage of choice at Pat O’Brien’s; all-night benders ensued. We acquired our first travel souvenirs with all those colorful beads. As for the other mischief we got into in this hotbed of hedonism… well, let’s just say we’re grateful that Facebook didn’t exist at the time.
Fast forward, and New Orleans is worth another look through a more mature filter. The city is finally hitting its post-Katrina stride, and as a U.S. destination, it’s on the upswing in terms of music, art, cuisine and down-right Louisiana fun.
Why now: Mardi Gras is here and you have a lot of partying to squeeze in before 40 days of Lent. Any other time, New Orleans is an optimal weekend getaway, relatively easy on the pocket and a mecca for foodies and travelers looking for a good time.
Good for: Couples and groups of friends. Mardi Gras is not exactly family-friendly, but during the rest of the year, you can find plenty of G-rated activities.
- Checking into the Ritz Carlton, which is about 150 times nicer than your accommodation on that college trip. A highlight of the hotel is the courtyard on its third floor. Meet for afternoon tea or cocktails and relish a bit of Southern hospitality in the midst of Bourbon Street festivities.
- Hanging poolside at the Royal Sonesta, which is basically the Miami of New Orleans, and ordering Louisiana crawfish at the bar.
- Grabbing fresh hot beignets with your morning coffee at the famed Café du Monde, and then going antique shopping on Louis Street for fine vintage jewelry. End the afternoon at the Carousel Bar of the Hotel Manteleone.
- Checking out the Magazine District, which is a far cry from Bourbon Street, and where the locals hang. Here you’ll get authentic po’ boy restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and cafes. Plan to spend some quality time exploring this six-mile stretch.
- Hitting Deanie’s at its waterfront locale. Start with one of their big Bloody Marys, which can pass for a meal with the large shrimp cocktail, olive and pickled bean. Move onto a large platter of boiled shrimp and crawfish, and see where the afternoon takes you.
- High-brow dinner at R’evolution or August, which take Southern cuisine to a whole new level. Here, down-home cooking is elevated – you’ve never imagined shrimp and grits like this.
- Catching an intimate show at Preservation Hall. Music is a major part of New Orleans culture, and this spot captures its essence. Make sure to buy your tickets in advance if you want a seat – a limited number of advance VIP tickets can be purchased online. Otherwise, line up early. No beverages are served but you can BYOB from the bar across the street.
Suggested stay: 2 days
What to know: New Orleans feels like it’s hitting its stride again after Hurricane Katrina. It’s still seedy, sure, but that’s part of its charm.
New Orleans is a gourmet destination, and not exactly diet-friendly. This is a three-meal-a-day-plus-drinks-and-snacks kind of place. Options range from the original muffaletta sandwich at Central Grocery to the upscale R’evolution, home of the caviar staircase. Southern breakfasts are a highlight in the city. Start your day off right with cheese grits, rich egg dishes and pancakes with vanilla ice cream at Ruby Slipper and Stanley.
For casual eats, Café Maspero serves sandwiches and daiquiris. The Royal Sonesta has the best restaurants of all the hotels in the city. Desire Bistro & Oyster Bar is an all-day dining option, and should you not have a reservation for dinner, also a solid option for the evening. For the best po’ boys in town, head to Parkway Bakery & Tavern, pull up a seat, order a beer and stay awhile.
Oysters are a given, and a good excuse to drink your way through the city. And you can do that for really, really cheap. Luke, for example, offers 50-cent oysters along with drink specials. There are also New Orleans institutions, like Commander’s Palace, which has 25-cent-martini lunches. Need we say more? It’s also known to serve the best chicken gumbo in the city – or try the turtle soup. Arnaud takes Commander’s Palace’s old-school feel and raises it with bow-tied waiters and white tablecloths. Expect equally first-rate food, including oysters prepared at least a half dozen ways and creole cuisine like speckled trout meuniere. Don’t leave without trying their legendary soufflé potatoes.
And if at the end of the day you happen to find yourself with a Hurricane in hand on the patio of Pat O’Brien’s? Well, hey. Nostalgia is sweet. Order another – to-go – just because you can. Then get back to business, as you have plenty of sins left to enjoy.