N’awlins. NOLA. The Big Easy. Whatever you want to call it, this gritty, grimy, fabulous wonder of America is one of my very favorite places in the world.
Having grown up in Dallas, only an 8 hour drive away, New Orleans was a fairly popular destination for a road trip pitstop, pimped out Halloween, or weekend getaway (my mom once told me that you had to be 21 to go there in attempt to lessen my disappointment when I wasn’t invited to her birthday party), and one that has always piqued my curiosity of the darker, perhaps more fascinating, things in life.
Much like New York, the streets often smell like urine, and much like Vegas, there’s always a handful of blackout drunk twenty-somethings making bad decisions at 4am. But unlike either of those places, it’s still got a small town vibe, and a sort of honesty in its dark charm.
Look past the trash-lined alleys, the bad cover bands in the 1pm slot, and the script reading, eye rolling tarot card readers, and you’ll find some of the best, loudest, and most entertaining musicians you’ve ever seen, not to mention the unforgettably delicious food.
My suggestion for having a glorious time in New Orleans is also my suggestion for having a glorious time just about anywhere. Wander, go with the flow, make good decisions, and don’t forget where you’re staying.
That being said, below are some items I’d absolutely recommend to anyone visiting for the first or hundredth time…
‘The Big Easy’ Breakdown: How to Kick Your Own Ass in NOLA
Where to Listen to Tunes
Frenchmen Street – A short cab ride from the Quarter lands you on Frenchmen, a three block area famed for its killer music selection every night of the week.
I highly recommend The Spotted Cat, a cozy establishment with everything you need – namely, booze and music. Bonus: On one of the nights we went, Doctor Sick & The Jumbo Shrimp Jazz Band were playing, and holy shit! What an amazing treat for your ears. Look ’em up. You also can’t go wrong with one of the many brass bands at Blue Nile, a sexy, unshockingly blue-lit venue just down the block, or Cafe Negril.
Two pluses – one, if you’re in search of a local market to browse interesting artwork, handmade jewelry pieces and artsy odds and ends, the charming, twinkly Frenchmen Art Market is just the place. Two, whilst walking around, we were approached by a nice dude on a bicycle towing a double-decker mobile living room, who let us chill while being pedaled around the neighborhood. He also sold champagne, vodka and beer, because New Orleans has the best ideas.
Maple Leaf Bar – Located in Uptown New Orleans on an unassuming neighborhood block, Maple Leaf is the spot to be on Tuesday nights, when the Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band kicks ass and takes eardrums. It’s definitely worth the cover charge, and make sure to let Nick at the bar take care of ya. Show starts around 11pm, but get there early.
Where to Eat Delicious Things
Dude! Forget about slappin’ your mama, the food in New Orleans will make you want to slap the whole damn world. While the occasional restaurant won’t let you in without long pants, a suit coat or super-ladylike skirt – dress codes? on Bourbon? – other establishments without said stick up their righteous bum will, and they’re equally as delicious.
Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar – With a much shorter line than the Acme Oyster Bar across the street, you’ll be happy to find that the food at this French Quarter go-to is to die for. Order up’a dozen of the char-grilled oysters and go to town.
Cochon Restaurant – Located on good ole Tchoupitoulas Street, this modern, small-plate style foodie restaurant gives a fresh take on Cajun cuisine. Try the tomato-braised pork cheeks, rabbit & dumplings and twice baked stuffed potato and die happy (and full).
Jacques Imo’s Cafe – Located conveniently next to the Maple Leaf Bar (go there after), this place is absolutely adorable, inside and out. With multiple stories, rooms and colorful decor, grab a seat and order a bottle of wine, the fried green tomatoes, crabmeat stuffed shrimp, and any one of the creole entrees. YUM.
Cafe du Monde – Yes, it’s crowded as hell, yes, it’s overhyped as hell, and damnit if it’s still not mmm mmm good as hell. Pro tip? Go at nighttime and chase that last tequila shot with a heaping load of powdered sugar and fried dough.
Where to Hurt Your Liver
When it comes to drinking in New Orleans, the town is your hungover oyster.
The good news? You can drink on the street anywhere within the French Quarter, ending the age old task of drink chugging. Hooray! Plastic cup it up, and off you go! Skip the hand grenades and hurricanes if you aren’t into pure sugar and bottom shelf booze, and start your day drinking the right way with a spicy bloody mary or three.
The bad news? Bars stay open till late. Like, really late. Like, the sun will probably come up at any moment and we shouldn’t be okay with that late. Sigh. My new favorite place to revel in a dark den of drinking heaven? Snake and Jakes, a Christmas club lounge that brings ‘dive bar’ to a whole new low of greatness.
Where to See a Parade of Half-Naked Dudes & Confetti
I was more than pleased when I discovered that my last visit coincided with the annual Southern Decadence celebration, dubbed ‘Gay Mardi Gras’.
The Sunday afternoon parade was the highlight, and highlight it surely was.
Big thanks to NOLA for hosting yet another wild week of craziness, inducing the most hungover road trip back to Austin ever in the history of road trips, and especially these ladies for making it a zillion times more fun.