Tell anyone you’re heading to New Orleans and they will almost certainly reply with a list of things you “have to” eat, drink, see, or do while you’re there. New Orleans certainly has its detractors, but even those who don’t consider themselves fans of the city, will likely have a suggestion or two. Indeed, by the time we parked Barney, I had about 30 things on our list of “must-do’s.” We wasted no time getting started….
Three Bars and a Po Boy
“Have a drink at the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone.” This directive was given to us at least ten times before we arrived in New Orleans. And it’s not surprising. Where else can you sit at a bar that looks like a carousel and whose bar stools slowly revolve around the bar? Figuring it would be tough to score a seat in such a small space, we made it our first stop on Wednesday when we arrived. And while the bar was busy, within just a few minutes, we’d claimed seats and were enjoying some mighty fine cocktails and an ever changing view.
From there, we journeyed down the street to Pat O’Brien’s. We were told NOT to go to Pat O’Brien’s almost as often as we were told to go to Pat O’Brien’s…. but we knew we had to make a stop. The bar, located in the heart of the French Quarter, is famous for its signature drink, the Hurricane. It’s also famous for being the place where people get black-out drunk and make asses of themselves. But going there and drinking a Hurricane is a bona fide New Orleans right of passage. It had to be done.
Now, you might look at this drink, dark red and obviously full of fake fruit juice and sugar, and think to yourself, “I bet that cocktail would be cloyingly sweet, almost medicinal, a drink tailor-made for 19 year old college kids who don’t yet have a taste for alcohol and just want to get plastered.”
And you would be right.
This drink is atrocious.
Kevin and I have been together for so long that we can basically communicate telepathically. He knows what I’m thinking, and I know what he’s thinking, and we can communicate with one another from across a room. The unspoken conversation going on between us while this photo was being taken by our waitress went like this:
Kevin: Oh god. Do we really have to drink this?
Laura: I dunno. I kinda think they might notice if we just got up and walked away.
Kevin: Could we just chuck them on the ground?
Laura: I guess. But if we’re trying to look cool, we probably shouldn’t.
Kevin: I don’t care about looking cool. I drink good liquor and beer. This is not good liquor or beer. This is a hangover in a glass.
Laura: But I have to blog about this nonsense. People expect us to drink this crap and talk about it.
Kevin: Shit. Ok.
So, dear readers, because we appreciate you, we drank this abomination-in-a-glass. That’s right. We did it for you. You’re welcome.
Once we’d made our escape, we headed for our third and final bar of the night. But first, FOOD. Seriously – you can’t just drink a Hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s and expect your body to be OK with it. When your blood sugar is so high your pancreas has grown tiny hands, knitted a white flag, and raised it, you need something to counteract the effects.
Enter that New Orleans staple: the po’ boy…..
We stopped at NOLA Po Boys for what we immediately declared were the best Po Boys we’d ever had. Since they were also the only po boys we’d ever had, this was not an exaggeration. Furthermore, we concluded that fried shrimp po’ boys, doused with gumbo, are an effective antidote to the mild hallucinations brought on by Pat O’Brien’s bathtub Robitussin. Write it down. You can thank us later.
Next up, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Built between 1722 and 1732, it is believed to be the oldest continuously operating bar in all of America.
What is noticeable at Lafitte’s is there are no electric lights used in the bar; You drink by candlelight. Which is cool, until you notice there’s a TV behind the bar and people are watching the basketball game.
I guess authenticity has its limitations.
Anyway, it was a fun spot, and we later learned it’s a good place to get an authentic, well made (ie: not Pat O’Brien’s) Hurricane. For comparison purposes, here’s a photo I took a couple days later when we stopped by for one of Lafitte’s Hurricanes…
Once we were finished at Lafitte’s, we joined the masses on Bourbon Street for a bit and then called it a night. We knew we had to get up the next morning for a walking tour I’d booked.
The French Quarter
We spent two hours touring the French Quarter with Two Chicks Walking Tours, and since we were lucky enough to be the only ones who booked that particular time, we got a private tour. Sweet!
We learned about the importance of the port, the history of the city’s development, and why it’s always been home to such a great music scene. We talked about Mardi Gras, alcohol consumption before and after prohibition, famous writers who’ve called the city home, Hurricane Katrina and its effects on residents and tourism, and the weaknesses and strengths of the City and its people. It was a pretty comprehensive look at a remarkable city. We did not take photos as we were too busy talking with our guide. We’ll have more photos and commentary about the French Quarter in a different post.
Two Ends of the Food Spectrum
After finishing up the tour, and while still regretting the damned Hurricanes, we decided to grab a snack, and, since our dinner reservations were not until much later, we headed for another frequently recommended spot: Central Grocery. This is the little store that invented the Muffuletta sandwich. For the uninitiated, a Muffuletta includes Genoa Salami, Mortadella, Ham, Mozzarella, Provolone, and a crushed olive salad on a Muffuletta loaf. You can order a whole sandwich which is enough food for an army, or a half sandwich, which is enough for a platoon (see photo below with iPhone used for scale).
Interestingly enough, another evening, we stopped at a restaurant called Napolean House and happened to order their version of a Muffuletta. It was served warm on toasted bread and, in our opinion, was way better than the original. Sacrilege, I know… but we call em like we see em…..
Thursday night, we had dinner at Commander’s Palace. This restaurant is a staple of the New Orleans fine dining scene that is at or near the top of everyone’s list. The place is huge and we were impressed by just how many people are involved in making the operation run smoothly.
While we enjoyed the experience, it still was not the best meal we had while visiting the city. (We know…we’re difficult…)
One of the striking things about New Orleans is its cemeteries. Because of the city’s very low elevation, the deceased are interred above ground, in mausoleums, usually with their family members. We decided to visit Metairie Cemetery and were truly impressed by the beautiful memorials. We wandered through different sections of the cemetery, noting the stylistic differences in structures and the artistry involved in creating many of the tombs.
One of the most famous mausoleums at Metairie is the one for Chapman Hyams, a 19th and 20th century philanthropist, and his family. It contains this oft photographed statue, known as the angel of grief or the weeping angel.
There are blue stained glass windows on each wall which bathe the statue in this gorgeous blue light.
(As an aside, this statue is also an accurate depiction of what Kevin is going to look like when he gets our credit card bill next month.)
As we surveyed the cemetery, we were struck by the uniqueness and individuality of the mausoleums. Unlike most cemeteries, where the grave markers look similar to one another, Metairie, and other cemeteries in this area, are full of structures that reflect the individual tastes of the families entombed there.
We also noticed the incredible stone work that decorated many of the graves. For example, the statue depicted below, of the woman leaning over the grave marker, stood about 15 feet tall. The monument was enormous (I actually noticed it out of the corner of my eye as we were driving by, and stopped to photograph it). The photo at the bottom shows that even the very old mausoleums, dating from the early 1800’s in some cases, featured these impressive statues.
Located in the middle of the cemetery, we found “Millionaires Row,” home to the grandest mausoleums for the wealthiest families. Of particular note was the tomb of Lucien Napolean Brunswig and his family. Because if your name is “Lucien Napolean Brunswig,” you’re obviously going to to be buried in a pyramid guarded by a sphinx in New Orleans. Duh.
Frenchmen Street and Late Night Beignets at Cafe du Monde
When Friday night rolled around, we headed for Frenchmen Street in New Orleans as we’d been told this was the place to go to hear great live music. I snagged an early dinner reservation at Three Muses, which entitled us to 90 minutes at one of the tiny restaurant’s tables. We caught the group Four Roses (which, I unfortunately, did not take any video of), before moving on to The Spotted Cat, which featured a 3 man ensemble, led by a guy with a washboard, two tin cans and a bell….
As we were walking up Frenchmen Street, we heard the music pouring out of Vaso and knew we had to head in there. That place featured a full jazz band who had lots of people up and dancing.
So, by happy accident, we managed to hear three totally different types of jazz/blues as we made our way along Frenchmen Street that night.
We were surprised that none of the bars had a cover charge. On the one hand, it seemed cool to not have to pay before deciding whether to stay for the band. On the other hand, we noticed two of the three bands we listened to frequently solicited tips from the crowd. We tipped each of the bands because they were all good, but we assumed they were actually paid by the club to perform. However, we noticed the lead guy at Spotted Cat was downright aggressive toward some of the patrons, physically walking the tip can around and asking people for money, and even calling out a couple patrons for not tipping or not tipping enough. We thought it was pretty obnoxious. We weren’t sure if he was just kind of a jerk or if the clubs don’t pay these guys and the only money they get is through tips. In either case, we concluded we’d rather just pay a cover at the door than have to deal with that.
Anyway, after we’d had our fill of great music, we headed up to Cafe du Monde, another place on the list of restaurants you “have to” go to when you’re in New Orleans. Their menu is limited to beignets, basically French donuts covered in powdered sugar, and coffee. While we had planned to visit during breakfast hours, the restaurant is open 24 hours a day and we decided such a snack would be perfect after a long night out. The place was busy as ever, and it totally hit the spot.
And that, friends, brings us to the end of Friday night. 48 hours down, 120 to go.
Without question, spending a week in New Orleans with a “must do” list is not for the faint of heart. But man, is it fun!!