By Becca Hensley
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Elite Traveler.
Some call it the Big Easy; others dub it the City Care Forgot, Nola or the Crescent City. Whatever moniker you choose, New Orleans stands out as one of America’s most unique metropolises. A past that encompasses French explorers, European royalty, Spanish conquistadors, runaway slaves, Cajun string players, white-suited Confederate duelers and Native Americans is the foundation of the city’s nuanced culture. Add in pirates, voodoo priests, Mississippi riverboat captains, gamblers, ghosts, sophisticated Grande Dames and Mardi Gras, one of the biggest seasonal parties in the world, and the Crescent City’s palpable sense of mystery and fantasy further takes shape. Jazz has its roots here, as does the iconic Sazerac cocktail and the muffuletta, a layered sandwich topped with olive salad invented by Sicilian grocers. A city of contrasts, New Orleans is edgy and elegant, lavish and spare, bawdy and well-mannered. It has streetcars (one really does bear the name Desire), majestic parks and museums, and gardens that waft the scent of magnolia blossoms. In its long-celebrated French Quarter, you will find rowdy Bourbon Street, rife with bars, and polished Royal Street, a haven for some of the best antiques stores on earth. Renowned for its French-influenced Creole cuisine and seafood-heavy Cajun menus, the Big Easy has a long list of irresistible local edibles, including oysters, po’boy sandwiches and sugared beignets. Some people visit just to eat. Whatever your reason to stroll its streets, be prepared for New Orleans to engage all your senses.
WILLIAM FAULKNER SUITE
Founded by a Sicilian count in 1886, the eponymously named Hotel Monteleone remains an aristocratic stay. Still owned and operated by the count’s descendants, the Monteleone has been a hideout for a coterie of top literary figures and a century’s worth of esteemed travelers. Recently redone to the tune of $70m, the French Quarter institution stands between some of Royal Street’s most exclusive shops. Beloved by locals for its Carousel Bar, Monteleone’s most stellar rooms remain its opulent literary suites. Choose the 1,104-sq-ft,William Faulkner Suite for its marble-and-granite bathroom and peerless views of the French Quarter.
JAMES J COLEMAN PRESIDENTIAL SUITE
Amid the Crescent City’s wealth of cultural influences,Windsor Court, a Preferred Hotel member, showcases a hint of Britain. With paintings that depict British royals at play and Cotswold-inspired decor, this plush hotel serves the best afternoon tea in New Orleans, with a harpist, 26 types of tea and scones with clotted cream and lemon curd. A glamorous spot to unwind, Windsor Court takes things up a notch with its VIP-worthy James J Coleman Presidential Suite, a 2,780-sq-ft hideaway that boasts secluded terraces overlooking the city. Anchored by a baby grand piano, the suite includes a library and oversize butler’s pantry, perfect for entertaining.
From $6,500 per night. Contact Megan Uram, director of sales & marketing, +1 504 596 4798, windsorcourthotel.com
THE RITZ-CARLTON SUITE
Ensconced in two refurbished historic buildings, the gracious Ritz-Carlton lords over Canal Street, just outside the French Quarter. Enjoy the decadence of the Maison Orleans Club Level, a hotel within the hotel whose advantages include a separate entrance and a private lounge with a Bloody Mary bar and a wine fountain (to-go cups are no problem). Other offerings include New Orleans–themed spa ministrations (we love the Voodoo Ritual) and a seafood concierge who ensures guests taste the best local fare. Take over the lavish Ritz-Carlton Suite, a grand 2,800-sq-ft space replete with stellar vistas, an outdoor terrace and an 1880s billiard table.
Now a member of the Waldorf Astoria collection, The Roosevelt evokes bygone glamour. Opened in 1893 in the Central Business District, this Art Deco gem continues to reflect timeless chic in its classically imagined guest rooms, chandelier-enlivened lobby, and famous Sazerac Bar with velvet banquettes, murals and a shiny walnut bar. Recently redone, the 1,900-sq-ft Presidential Suite has a cozy feel, with just one bedroom and a large sitting area (connecting rooms can increase the space as needed). Ideal for romantic weekends away, this suite can also hold up to 75 people for parties and events. Stunning city views go without saying.
From $3,000 per night. Contact Wayne Cody, concierge supervisor, +1 504 335 3117, therooseveltneworleans.com
Where to Dine
Beneath the illumination of glittering chandeliers and the gaze of ancestral portraits, amid a wealth of Creole silk and damask, mannerly Brennan’s (pictured) serves the best boozy brunch in the Big Easy. Start with its renowned milk punch or Bloody Mary, then progress to the menu’s paragon-level dishes, among them turtle soup, black-truffled scrambled eggs and vanilla-scented French toast.
Touted as the best restaurant to open this decade, this superlative hot spot delivers the tastes of Tel Aviv right on Magazine Street. James Beard award–winning chef Alon Shaya puts out small plates in a busy, trendy place that oozes with soul. Though
not what you expect to be eating here, the Israeli food you gobble up will be unforgettable. The hummus might in fact be the best you’ll ever taste. Look forward to mounds of rich slow-cooked lamb with whipped feta, tomato-abundant shakshuka and light-as-air Persian rice.
Occupying a circa-1880 turquoise mansion in the Garden District, the Brennan family’s flagship restaurant is a breeding ground for wunderkind chefs from Paul Prudhomme to Emeril Lagasse, and it’s now helmed by Tory McPhail. Commander’s serves seriously celebratory meals and has a dress code to match. Worth donning your jacket for, meals here embrace the Louisiana terroir: oysters in absinthe, gumbo and bread-pudding soufflé—each is emblematic of superior haute-Creole fare. For a truly special experience, reserve the chef’s table to dine in the heart of the kitchen.
A labyrinthine haven with 14 splendorous dining rooms, each depicting elements of old-school Mardi Gras krewes, Antoine’s reigns as the United States’ oldest continually running restaurant. Opened by French immigrant Antoine Alciatore in 1840 as a boardinghouse, this standard-bearer of Creole culinary traditions is redolent of old New Orleans eccentricity and class. Try oysters Rockefeller (purportedly invented here), as well as eggs Sardou (poached eggs with spinach, artichokes and Hollandaise sauce)—ideal sustenance for foot-tapping at Sunday’s jazz brunch. Don’t leave without at least one bite of baked Alaska.
Locals lunch here on Friday and tend to stay all day. Appearing in myriad literary works (Stella, for example, invites Blanche to lunch here in A Streetcar Named Desire), Galatoire’s is legendary. Like a pearl plucked from an oyster shell, its swank interiors offer a glamorous surprise in contrast with its gritty Bourbon Street surroundings. Men must wear jackets, and nobody dines without waiting in line. But dishes such as crab maison, shrimp remoulade and trout amandine make Galatoire’s infinitely worth your while.
Sculpture Garden and Museum of Fine Art
Discover the city’s gifts beyond the French Quarter. Take the streetcar to City Park, one of the nation’s oldest urban parks. Once the host of Victorian picnics beneath the moss-draped oak trees, today its five-acre green lawn is home to the world-class Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, an outdoor collection of 80 incredible works of art.
Pop into the area’s most storied antiques gallery, MS Rau Antiques, and you won’t leave emptyhanded. Harboring the city’s most high-end collection of 18th- and 19th-century collectibles, art and furniture, Rau has ruled elegant Royal Street for more than a century. With galleries that sprawl over 25,000 sq ft, Rau is a treasure trove for even the most discriminating shopper.
Tuneful cornets and bleating trombones form New Orleans’s ubiquitous, life-affirming soundtrack. Jazzy music seems to play everywhere. To see the best, book a front-row ticket at the Royal Sonesta’s Jazz Playhouse, a club that attracts an array of top
musicians. Celebrities have been known to leap onstage from the audience to jam with the headliners.
Like nobility of yore, travel through town by horsedrawn carriage. On a one-hour private ride, you’ll learn history, hear anecdotes and connect with the complex fusion of cultures that makes the Big Easy so unique.
Customized plantation tour
Bespoke Private Tours speaks to your inner Scarlett O’Hara with its upscale plantation tour. While individual itineraries are skewed to each client, Bespoke suggests a ride by Cadillac Escalade to a heliport. There, thirst quenched with chilled champagne, guests fly out to Houmas House Plantation and Gardens for a private tour and lunch on the grounds. Afterward, take a flyover tour of the swamplands (expect to see alligators, eagles and more) with a personal guide aboard (ask for Jennifer) providing riveting narratives.
Mardi Gras costume wig
Playing dress up, especially during Mardi Gras, is par for the course here. New Orleanians spend all year—and oodles of money—planning their next costume. Wig quality sets the best outfits apart. Get yours at Fifi Mahony’s, and you’ll be the life of the party.
Where to Drink
Six famous cocktails invented in New Orleans
Nobody in town agrees about who invented New Orleans’s most famous cocktail, the Sazerac (pictured). Most bartenders take pride in their version. Try one by alchemist Alan Walter at Bar Loa, who’ll mix the potion from behind his weathered copper bar. A swish niche within the artsy International House hotel, Bar Loa creates its Sazerac with a blend of house-made herbal infusions, Peychaud and rye whiskey. It arrives in a vintage cut-crystal glass.
Call it the Cirque de Nola. Possibly New Orleans’s most de rigueur stop, the Carousel Bar spins amid the historic interiors of the Hotel Monteleone. Slow-moving, it holds just 25 coveted seats. This colorful merry-go-round takes credit for inventing the Vieux Carré, an intricate fusion of rye whiskey and cognac.
The Pimm’s Cup
Two centuries ago, Napoleon House was named in honor of the French emperor, who, according to hearsay, once nipped at the bar. A slightly worn and decidedly colorful watering hole, Napoleon House emits a timeless Big Easy vibe. Some say the walls have stories to tell; listen for them after your first gulp of their speciality, the Pimm’s Cup. A blend of gin and lemonade, it features a bounty of fruit.
“Welcome to the party” has been the motto at Pat O’Brien’s since 1933. While the revelers have changed over the decades, their drink of choice at this multiroom pub has not. The Hurricane, a potent concoction of rums and fruit juices served in a huge glass in the shape of a hurricane lamp, remains the perfect refreshment to the background sounds of the bar’s dueling pianos, or in its courtyard. Take one to go on the way out—that’s part of the fun.
Ramos Gin Fizz
Controversial former Governor of Louisiana Huey Long called the Roosevelt Hotel’s tony Sazerac Bar his official living room. Naturally that was the place the quirky figurehead preferred to gulp his favorite adult beverage: the Ramos Gin Fizz. A complicated blend of cream, egg whites, orange flower water and gin, this libation takes longer to make than most. Sit down in one of Sazerac’s Art Deco sofas and enjoy the wait.
A French 75 comprises refreshing lemon juice, champagne and cognac, offered in a slim flute. Taste it (appropriately) at The French 75, a vintage-intoned hideaway that dates from the late 19th century. Adjacent to the famed Arnaud’s, this onetime ‘gentlemen only’ club boasts vintage tile floors and a formidable wooden back bar. Expert barman Chris Hannah’s tenure here rocketed this diminutive spot to a top bar-buff’s destination.