So, here’s the thing: I didn’t know I was going to New Orleans until my husband told me, as we stepped out of our friend’s car at the airport. I know, it sounds crazy, especially for someone who loves research and planning! I also REALLY love surprises. And this was a doozy!
Ben and I had spoken of New Orleans in the past in vague terms. He had been while on tour, a year or so after Katrina. Sadly, most of what I knew was based on what the tourism industry has laid out in years past, as well as what the media laid out during Katrina. In a nutshell: boobs and destruction.
The first thing that Ben and I did, once he spilled the news, was troll for New Orleans information online while we flew over the US, on our way to our final destination. So much fun! I’m happy to bring you my favorites; a list of recommendations should you happen to find yourself in this amazing city. If you go, or if you have been, please feel free to leave comments with your own favorites! I hope to get out there again and look for more to check out!
Ben chose this particular weekend because both the Louisiana Cajun Zydeco Festival and The French Market Creole Tomato Festival were happening at the same time. We LOVE dancing and veggies, so this seemed like the perfect marriage. Whomever organizes these events must work together because they are happening literally right next to one another.
One thing I had to adjust to was the weather. In California, the heat is dry and sustained. In New Orleans, it’s hot, humid, and can thunder, lightning, and rain on a dime! I often found myself carting around a jacket, sunhat, glasses, and an umbrella all at once. This was nothing to the people of New Orleans! At the Zydeco Festival, bands played on through the rain, the audience merely took off their shoes and danced in the mud, waltzing with one another and smiling. I eventually ditched the jacket and sunhat, and embraced my fate as a sweaty Betty. I have to admit, though, that heat truly zapped me at the end of our days! Drink water. Drink LOTS of water.
Just about every place we went to had air conditioning, or at least icy drinks. Which brings me to New Orleans big number: bars!
I’m not much of a drinker in real life, so I actually was out of my comfort zone. I had about one drink a night (no, really…I’m THAT girl). Pours are generous in New Orleans. We spent a lot of time on Frenchmen Street, which is on the edge of the French Quarter, and less wild than the ever popular Bourbon Street.
My picks to relax in an air conditioned bar:
Molly at the Market: a dive bar in the best possible way. Yes, tourists find the place, yes, the barkeeps are cute punk gals who who roll their eyes at the idea of dating in this town. Basically, they’re your new best girlfriend. You’ll find a decent jukebox and a photobooth in the back (I’m still bummed that I didn’t get to take a strip!). Sit at the bar and be friendly. This place is great for girls who don’t wanna get hit on, dudes totally respect your space. Such a relief!
Three Muses: great place for a date! Three Muses is a little bit classy, but not in a way that would make you uncomfortable. You can get vegan food, but what you’ll really want to try is their Mama’s Moonshine. It’s a delectable drink, one I hope to duplicate here at home. This place usually has a band playing, but then again, most of the bars do.
B.M.C.: The best selection of random music that we found. Really. The great thing about Frenchmen Street is that you’ll hear a new band every 20 seconds, there’s one in every bar, there’s a few street musicians. THEY ARE ALL GOOD. When I arrived on Friday night, I was moved to tears about a minute into listening to a high school brass band, just jamming on the street. B.M.C. had a solid rotation of musicians and was our touchstone for good music.
Feed Your Face!
I had been warned, as we zoomed across the US on the plane, that New Orleans was not very vegan friendly. I have to wonder though, if this was the observance of people who weren’t necessarily looking out for veggie options? I found that so long as I was specific and asked questions, most places would happily make something vegan happen for me. While yes, Louisiana is a place where seafood dominates, people didn’t flinch a bit when I mentioned vegetables. The vegans and vegetarians we spoke to said that since Katrina, NOLA is notably more friendly about having veggie options. Here’s what we liked:
The Gumbo Shop: With that name, I wouldn’t have thought I’d have a chance! But guess what? This place, an institution in the French Quarter, had not one, but TWO hearty vegan options. When I couldn’t decide, our waiter brought out samples of them both and then let me choose. Talk about service! The Gumbo Z’Herbs is totally vegan, and while it has white rice, it doesn’t use fake meats at all! It’s their own amazing version of a vegetable gumbo and it’s DELICIOUS! I couldn’t stop raving about it, and the waiter then handed me the recipe. GO THERE. A great value, a great gumbo, and a true joy. We went twice during our stay– it’s that awesome!
13: This one is for when you are out at three in the morning, on Frenchmen Street. It will happen, I’m telling you now. Don’t mind the jaded bartender who thinks Weezer is for 14 year old boys (I’m here to contend that Weezer is also for 32 year old women), instead just order their tofu sandwich. I know it sounds sorta like a cop out, but whatever they do to that sandwich, it’s good. REAL GOOD.
Satsuma Cafe: Oh, I love you Satsuma! This place would fit right in Los Angeles, you can take that for better or for worse. All I know is that by the end of our trip I was needing some green juice, and Satsuma had a delicious, fresh one waiting for me. Their tofu scramble was seasoned very well and had beans in it! I love beans. This was a great breakfast.
Meltdown: Someone was smart when they created Meltdown, a popsicle shop in the French Quarter. Three bucks gets you a handmade popsicle, and most of their flavors don’t use dairy at all. So cooling, and totally creative, fun flavors like pineapple cilantro and coconut basil. OH. BABY.
I will tell you this, straight up: Don’t bother with the famed beignet. If you’ve had a funnel cake, then you’ve had a poor man’s beignet. Make your own vegan version in your own kitchen if you really want it.
Be a Tourist (Ok, Only a Little Bit!)
Part of the fun of getting to know a new city is being a little nerdy about it. I ain’t too cool to get down with this. I needed to know more about New Orleans, so we learned more about New Orleans!
La Vie Orleans Tours: Ashton, the guy who owns the company, also leads the tours. This was a hefty walking tour of the French Quarter, and I was totally impressed with how much I learned. Ashton didn’t give over to info that was cheesy– this was an impressive, historical tour that really gave me a sense of what life was like as New Orleans established itself, and fell prey to wreckage, over and over again. I especially loved his accounts of the architecture. Highly recommended, and the only thing I would change would be that we took this tour three days in, and not right away. Be prepared: this tour is two hours, and you will likely be walking in humid weather. Bring water.
“Living With Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond”: Another thing I wish I had done within my first 24 hours of being in NOLA. I was definitely aware of what was happening when Katrina hit, but this exhibit really did an amazing job of documenting the before, during and after. It is heart wrenching and makes you feel helpless, mostly, because in that moment, you really ARE helpless. Take your time with this exhibit. Savor it. I’ve seen a lot of exhibits and this one is in my top ten. Brilliantly put together and so thorough.
Music is no joke in New Orleans. Step into just about any club or bar and you’ll find some sort of jazz or brass going on.
Street Musicians: they are everywhere, and they are good. Ben found a guy playing clawhammer banjo. I was mesmerized by the teenage boys playing in brass bands. Bring your bills. These guys expect tips, and they are worth it. You are lucky to hear this stuff.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band: This band is super popular, even on a boring ol’ weekday, so get in line early. They play short sets, about 45 minutes, but if you are both tired, friendly, and accommodating you can get a good seat. At their venue you can’t buy a drink (bring your own in off the street) and you won’t be able to find a restroom. Totally worth it for the old time history and energy. They will call you out if you take pictures– just don’t even try!– instead take the opportunity and start sketching the musicians in front of you. I know I needed the practice.
Bottom line, this was a vacation for us, so it was important to stay in a place that was comfy and safe. Ben found a place that was right off from Frenchmen Street, so it was close enough to walk everywhere we needed to, yet still quiet and isolated.
Lamothe House: It’s old. It’s stairs are creaky. IT’S PINK! It’s also got a super nice, helpful staff. The rooms are clean and remodeled, so everything is a go. We didn’t get to use the pool and the hot tub outside, but the people in it looked to love it. There’s a lovely coartyard and plenty of greenery. Best of all, their rates are very affordable and there are coffee and apples upstairs in the reception area. If you are into new, by the book hotels, this won’t be your deal, but if you are down with character, this is your place. I wanna stay here again!