There’s no city on Earth that stirs the soul and enlivens the spirit quite like New Orleans, a mishmash of creative energy infused with a rich musical heritage, a revered food and cocktail culture, and historical architecture at every turn. The Cajun-French expression “laissez les bons temps rouler” – or, “let the good times roll” – is as much a pastime as it is a pathway for how to embrace life in this intoxicating city.
Founded by the French in 1718 and ruled for 40 years by the Spanish before being acquired by the US in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, La Nouvelle-Orléans, as it was once known, continues to preserve its European influence and Southern sophistication better than any other US city.
Today, the French Quarter and nearby Fauborg Marigny, with their old colonials and shotgun-style bungalows dripping in iron lace, continue to serve as living examples of the city’s rich multicultural heritage.
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Meanwhile, the Uptown and leafy Garden District neighborhoods have slowly been drawing the next generation of travelers out of the Quarter in recent years with some of the city’s buzziest new restaurants and charming Victorian-style boutique hotels.
By night, all corners of the Crescent City come alive, from the illustrious jazz clubs found along Frenchmen Street and the perennially popular burlesque bars and built-in street parties on Bourbon, to the bohemian bistros and brasseries in the Marigny and beyond.
Whatever you do, and wherever you go, just let the good times roll, preferable with a stiff drink in one hand and a keen sense of adventure and curiosity in the other.
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Where to Stay in New Orleans
Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences New Orleans
With sweeping views over the Mississippi River, Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences New Orleans opened in the renovated former World Trade Center tower in 2021 and, among the property’s 341 modern guest rooms, the two Presidential Suites offer some of the most luxurious accommodations in town.
Two signature restaurants pay homage to the bounty of Louisiana’s reach seafood culture; don’t miss fine dining at Chemin à la Mer from James Beard award winning chef Donald Link. The hotel is home to the city’s largest pool, which directly overlooks the Mississippi River, but the pièce de resistance just might be the glittering Chandelier Bar off the main lobby, which is arguably the most elegant spot in town right now to post with a French 75.
Presidential suites from $10,000. Contact email@example.com, +1 504 434 7095, fourseasons.com
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The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans
Just on the fringe of the French Quarter, The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans offers one of the best live music experiences around at the handsome Davenport Lounge. And with an award-winning spa and 527 tasteful rooms and suites in its elegant club level, the property’s newly unveiled penthouse, The Residence, offers what is arguably the most resplendent place to stay in the city.
The centerpiece of the suite can be found on the 3,500-sq-ft terrace complete with a full sitting area arranged around the alfresco fireplace, and the dining room can accommodate up to 10 guests.
The Residence from $7,500 per night. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 504 524 1331, ritzcarlton.com
Hotel Peter & Paul
In this residential Marigny neighborhood, Hotel Peter & Paul has made its home inside a beautifully restored church, rectory, schoolhouse and convent.
Today, this elegant 71-key boutique is also home to The Elysian Bar, which is not only one of the city’s most atmospheric restaurants, but is as close to a religious dining experience as they come in this food-centric city.
Lofts from $669 per night. Contact McKensie Kirchner, director of sales, email@example.com, +1 504 356 5200, ash.world
On venerable St Charles Avenue in Uptown, The Chloe opened in 2020 and is set in an old Victorian mansion replete with art-filled parlors – this 14-room jewel box is one of the city’s most charming places to stay.
Sit and sip an Audubon Spritz as you laze by the pool, or grab some Creole-inspired fare at the popular on-site restaurant open for brunch, lunch and dinner; it has become a neighborhood hangout for trendsetters and in-the-know locals.
Suites from $900 per night. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 504 541 5500, thechloenola.com
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Where to Eat in New Orleans
The New Orleans dining scene is as rich and dynamic as the very gumbo with which the city has become synonymous. With influences that span from Creole and Cajun to Israeli, Italian, Caribbean and Soul, a requisite stop on any visit must include the legendary Café du Monde for a plate of powdery beignets and piping hot café au lait in the French Quarter.
Jazz brunch has long been a popular pastime here, and The Court of Two Sisters serves up a buffet of Creole and Cajun classics seven days a week’ it’s an ideal place to soak up some of those Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes from the night before. Just don’t forget to cast your wish in the Devil’s Wishing Well before you go.
On the fringe of the Quarter, Compère Lapin’s creative take on Caribbean-Creole fare is perpetually ranked among the city’s best restaurants, and with good reason. The hot Latin-inspired new-kid-on-the-block is Bésame, whose grilled Caribbean fish, fried cauliflower and Yucatán-style pork paired with a margarita picante make for a fun spot that packs a big crowd come dinnertime.
Just off Louis Armstrong Park in the French Quarter, MaMou (.com) offers modern French classics like cote de boeuf and the best escargot tartlet you’ve ever tasted in a convivial brasserie-style setting.
Uptown, a variety of bistros abound, including a modern tropical roadhouse called Mister Mao that offers an inventive menu blending Southeast Asian, Mexican and Indian ingredients. Alon Shaya’s Saba brings Israeli and Middle Eastern specialties from harissa roasted chicken and bright green falafel, to Louisiana shrimp served with labneh in a convivial dining room and spacious outdoor patio.
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For some tried and true Southern-comfort food but with an elevated twist, Apolline’s jambalaya dumplings and chicken poutine have long made this a popular outpost. For a dinner experience you’ll never forget, chef Melissa Martin’s beloved Mosquito Supper Club delivers a seasonal family-style set dinner menu, celebrating local fishers and farmers, Thursday-Saturday in a private dining room in an Uptown house (just note that reservations must be made far in advance.)
Serving up some of the most authentic Italian fare in town, Paladar 511 offers homemade pappardelle and wood-fired pizzas that are not to be missed. Visit Le Chat Noir’s dimly lit dining room for standout dishes including the risotto stuffed quail and crabfat agnolotti; the bread service royal is also a culinary treat.
Nearby at Maypop, the Southern meets Southeast Asian fusion menu has quickly garnered attention for its homemade noodles and brilliant selection of house-cured meats, as well as a killer Dum Sum brunch every Saturday and Sunday.
After dinner, make sure you head over to Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits, which is not only one of the most beloved local spots for wine and live music, but perfectly encapsulates the city’s famous joie de vivre.
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What to Do in New Orleans
From antiquing and gallery hopping your way along Royal Street in the French Quarter by day, to invoking the spirits on a voodoo tour with the self-anointed Voodoo Bone Lady and stopping at the Voodoo Museum, to enjoying some live jazz along Frenchmen Street by night, there’s no shortage of activities from ghoulish to groovy to choose from in New Orleans.
Get a lay of the land and a behind-the-scenes look at what pre-war life was like in the French House at the 1850 House and museum just off Jackson Square, and don’t skip the gift shop for an excellent selection of books on offer for history lovers.
Getting out on the water is one of the best ways to experience the local bayous Louisiana is known for, and from alligator spotting in an airboat adventure to a bayou booze barge and kayak tour through the Manchac Swamp for the more intrepid of travelers out there, there’s no shortage of activities to choose from.
For a unique glimpse of the city, a dinner jazz cruise via steamboat along the Mississippi offers a unique experience and vantage point. And there’s plenty of opportunities to soak up some culture at local museums like the Museum of Southern Jewish Experience, The National WWII Museum, New Orleans Jazz Museum, New Orleans Museum of Art and Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
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When to Visit
There’s always something cooking in New Orleans, starting with Carnival season, which officially kicks off on King’s Day (January 6) and continues all the way through Mardi Gras (on February 21 in 2023).
Every April, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is held. It’s one of the best times of year for music lovers to visit; the energy is at an all-time high and live music can be found in bars and restaurants all across the city. Also happening in April, French Quarter Festival is a communitywide event that draws local artists and musicians across a variety of venues.
Other noteworthy festivals include the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience in June, Satchmo SummerFest in August and Beignet Fest in September.
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This article appears in the 06 Mar 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Spring 2023