MAY: New Orleans, LO
The French Quarter Beyond Bourbon Street
When I used to picture New Orleans, I imagined trails of hot, sweaty bachelor and bachelorette parties crowded together with to-go cups, little clothing, the roaring sound of their voices blurring together as they stumbled through unidentifiable puddles and drifted like a haze in the humidity. Basically, I pictured fun. And while Bourbon Street with it’s endless bars, walk-up windows, Hurricanes, and Big Ass Beers isn’t far off from this image, it’s not the only part of the French Quarter worth visiting.
You don’t have to go very far to get a broader picture of the city. Step one block over and discover Royal Street, abundant with art galleries, boutiques, antique stores, and restaurants. Move over yet another street and you’ll find Jackson Square surrounded by street artists with colorful canvases, psychics ready to read your fortune, and musicians tapping their toes as they etch melodies in the air. The square’s backdrop is the St. Louis Cathedral flanked on either side by The Presbytère and The Cabildo. Don Gilberto Guillemard designed all three of these elegant Spanish colonial buildings at the turn of the 19th century after the Great New Orleans Fire destroyed their original counterparts.
The Cabildo acted as the Louisiana State Supreme Court’s headquarters until 1853 and is where the Louisiana Purchase transfer took place. Today, along with the Presbytèrere, it’s part of the Louisiana State Museum, housing historical Louisiana, and American artifacts. The Presbytère stands on the site of a Capuchin monastery and was meant to serve as the St. Louis Cathedral’s rectory. Instead, it functioned as a commercial building and eventually a courthouse. Currently, two exhibits, Living With Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond and Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana, are being shown here. The magnificent architecture of these three buildings is worth seeing from the outside, and if you have time, wander inside to see the history they hold. The Louisiana Museum offers a 20% discount if you purchase tickets for two or more museums.
Looking for the full Big Easy experience we decided to kick back, slow down, and enjoy the luxury of The Roosevelt New Orleans hotel. We did laps in the rooftop pool, drank Sazeracs in the bar that is its namesake, and reveled in the glamorous details. We rode the St. Charles streetcar through the Garden District, enjoying the southern charm and antebellum grandeur of the area’s architecture. Oysters, beignets, champagne, and gumbo fueled us. We visited celebrated restaurants like The Commander’s Palace and Antoine’s. But, as absurd as it sounds, the best thing I ate the entire trip were fried Brussel sprouts with bacon jam and sauce maltese from The Bombay Club. Set back from the Prince Conti Hotel, this restaurant and bar is a little hidden, but once inside sink yourself into one of the leather button-back sofas and order a cocktail as you relax and retreat from the heat and in-and-out feel of Bourbon Street.
Before we left, I knew I wanted to bring the amazing cajun and creole flavors of NOLA home, so we went to the New Orleans School of Cooking for a demonstration. Our expert chef was funny and engaging, in-between stories about her family, and the history of Louisiana cuisine, she taught us how to make gumbo, jambalaya, pralines, and bread pudding. The school also offers hands-on classes, where you make your own 3-course meal.
It’s impossible to see all of New Orleans in a weekend, but wandering around the French Quarter and Garden District, we found quiet streets, balconies touting wrought- and cast-iron lace railings with hanging green plants, their long vines lazily cascading from pots, and their leaves beckoning us up. I’m not saying to forget Bourbon Street. Experiencing it’s electric atmosphere is a key part of visiting New Orleans. It’s important to see the life and buzz that takes place at any time of day on this 13-block stretch, to join the masses at Pat O’Briens and Lafitte’s, to order a peach daiquiri or two, just don’t get stuck there.