Saturday in the Neighborhood: New Orleans
The best nicknames are earned, not freely given. This remains true when it comes to “The Big Easy.” Only in New Orleans is it so easy to find music that makes you want to dance down the street, drinks that are mixed for the sole purpose of toasting in celebration, and hospitality that makes you feel like home could be anywhere in the presence of a friendly smile.
They know how to throw a good party, and Mardi Gras is just one, albeit infamous, example of this citywide talent. There are more than 130 festivals hosted by New Orleans, proving that just about anything can be cause for celebration. Beneath the festive glimmer of New Orleans, or NOLA for short, lies a rich and often peculiar social history. With an unparalleled blend of Spanish, French, and Caribbean influences, few cities rival NOLA’s complexity.
The summer months can be muggy and hot, so the best time to explore all that New Orleans has to offer is between February and May. The ideal weather happens to align with Mardi Gras season;however, if you are craving a quieter and less crowded getaway, plan for December or January.
Begin your day with beignets and coffee at the original Cafe du Monde. You have to eat here at least once for the experience, though it’s likely you will crave more. When you’ve had your fill, wander the extravagant and slightly crowded streets of the French Quarter. Duck into the Hermann-Grima and Gallier Houses for a peek at authentic interiors of 18th century living.
Skip the voodoo museums that seek to commercialize its traditions. Instead, pay a visit to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, which stands in honor of America’s first licensed pharmacist, Louis J. Dulfiho, Jr., and his apothecary. It also houses a collection of oddities that showcases questionable medical practices of the 18th century- think jars of leeches and brewed potions. By learning about the broader history of the area, you are learning about the factors that led to the practice of voodoo.
For a no fuss lunch at a local joint, head to Leo Caboose. Their seafood po’ boys are the star of the rotating weekly menu. Continue to explore the gothic realm that colors NOLA’s reputation a few shades darker. Walk among the dead at Lafayette Cemetery #1- or their graves that is. Due to the influence of Spanish burial customs and a high water table, the graves in the city were constructed above ground. There are other examples of this throughout the city, but this cemetery is away from the main tourist tract, offering a more secluded and spooky atmosphere.
Hop on the St. Charles Streetcar for an easy ride back across town. Take in the sights and sounds, feeling free to explore any side streets that catch your eye. Most importantly, make room for a soul-soothing meal at Dooky Chase. The head chef, Leah Chase, not only served as inspiration for Disney’s Princess Tiana, but she also made an appearance in Beyonce’s visual album, Lemonade. The food alone is enough to draw a crowd, but the place has added cool factor due to Chase’s celebrity status.
Round out your day of exploring and eating at Spotted Cat Music Club, a cozy jazz venue with standing room only and killer cocktails. They offer a balance of tradition and contemporary influences to suit all listeners. Retreat to the comforts of Hotel Monteleone, which boasts a rooftop pool and rotating carousel bar. The hotel was designated an official literary landmark by the Friends of the Library Association as several iconic writers stayed there, including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and William Faulkner.
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