New York might be the City That Never Sleeps, but New Orleans doesn’t have much use for a pillow or alarm clock either. From debauchery on Bourbon Street to the famed beignets served at all hours of the day at Café Du Monde, you’re hard-pressed to find time for rest in the Big Easy, a city that goes beyond beads and balconies, with as much interesting food as rich history in every nook and cranny.
Start your trip by taking a spin on the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. This infamous French Quarter spot has been offering rides for 65 years, along with classic cocktails like the Sazerac—declared the official cocktail of New Orleans in 2008 by the Louisiana Legislature—and the fleur des lis, a refreshing combination of gin, St-Germain, lemon juice, cucumber and ginger ale. And be sure to stop into a few boîtes where some of the world’s most famous cocktails originated, like the upscale Arnaud’s for a classic French 75 or Tujague’s for a creamy grasshopper, made using a mixture of white and dark crème de cacao, crème de menthe, brandy and heavy cream.
Customers are encouraged to take their drinks to go, so grab a cocktail for the road and make your way to Bourbon Street. After you take it all in, duck down Frenchmen Street for some live jazz at places like the Maison and the Spotted Cat Music Club.
If you want to beat the crowds, wake up early to roam the French Quarter while most of the city is still recovering from late-night shenanigans. The brightly colored houses and elaborately decorated balconies are a beacon for amateur and professional photographers, particularly in the early morning light. Stroll down the far end of Bourbon Street to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, one of the country’s oldest bars that’s served drinks since the 1700s. Rumor has it that the ghost of its namesake—a privateer, sailor, spy and hero of the Battle of New Orleans—still haunts the dimly lit quarters.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to brunch at Brennan’s on Royal Street—you can’t miss the bright pink stucco façade and green awning above the entrance. Spearheaded by chef Slade Rushing, the Creole cuisine is as colorful as the recently renovated dining rooms, which include the lavish and eclectic Queen’s, King’s and Havana Rooms. Kick your meal off with the Caribbean milk punch, made using Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Bacardi 8-year rum, cream and vanilla bean, before choosing from a selection of sweet and savory dishes, such as Brennan’s original eggs Hussarde, the huckleberry blintz or vanilla-scented French toast. No trip to the restaurant is complete without ordering the bananas Foster—created at Brennan’s in 1951 by chef Paul Blangé—that’s flambéed tableside and served sizzling on top of vanilla ice cream.
For more casual fare, grab breakfast at Willa Jean, a laid-back retro cafe and bakery in the nearby Garden District. Heat things up with the fried chicken served on fresh-baked biscuits with a douse of Tabasco-honey, and cool off with a bourbon apple cider slushie. Take a post-meal stroll around Jackson Square, sitting at the base of the commanding St. Louis Cathedral, to admire the local artists and street performers posted up daily around the park’s perimeter.
Photo Credit: Chris Granger
For those with an appetite for antiquities, head to Napoleon House, where executive chef and history buff Chris Montero whips up a warm Italian muffuletta served alongside housemade Italian olive salad. Sip on a Pimm’s cup as you take in the restaurant’s 200-year-old interior and courtyard. If you’re lucky, Montero might be on hand to give you a history lesson about the restaurant, which was first occupied by Nicholas Girod, the mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815, who allegedly offered his residence to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1821 as a sanctuary during the emperor’s exile.
Get a taste of the city’s contemporary side on the ground floor of the historic Pontchartrain Hotel. In the elegant Caribbean Room, perch on velvet couches and examine the art-filled walls, including a larger-than-life portrait of New Orleans native Lil Wayne enjoying the restaurant’s signature dessert: the Mile High Pie with towering layers of ice cream topped with chocolate sauce.
A trip to Café Du Monde is essential during any New Orleans visit, so stop in for a plate of warm beignets and a café au lait. Before you leave town, be sure to grab a can of chicory coffee and a box of beignet mix to keep the party going at home. As they say in N’Awlins, laissez les bons temps rouler—let the good times roll. ◆
Arnaud’s Restaurant, arnaudsrestaurant.com; Brennan’s Restaurant, brennansneworleans.com; Café Du Monde, cafedumonde.com; The Caribbean Room, thecaribbeanroom.com; Hotel Monteleone, hotelmonteleone.com; Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, lafittesblacksmithshop.com; Napoleon House, napoleonhouse.com; Tujague’s Restaurant, tujaguesrestaurant.com; Willa Jean, willajean.com
- – Take a tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which contains 18th- and 19th-century vaults where some of New Orleans’ most notable residents reside, including Voodoo queen Marie Laveau.
- – For more Voodoo, head to the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, which explores the city’s centuries-long ties to the ancient religion.