Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, the city’s biggest events, take place in winter and spring—that is, after hurricane season and before it gets too hot and steamy.
Still, it’s worth considering a non-peak trip to avoid the tourist throngs and exorbitant hotel rates. August’s Satchmo Festival is a celebration of native son Louis Armstrong, while the holiday season brings bonfires, Reveillon dinners, and caroling in Jackson Square.
New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport is about 25 minutes from the French Quarter by taxi. The fare is a flat rate of $36 for the first two passengers, plus a $15 surcharge for each additional person. Airport shuttles are slightly more—$24 for a one-way ticket, $44 round-trip—and run every half-hour or so to hotels and other locations.
The French Quarter is easily navigated on foot, and the city’s streetcars can be useful if you’re planning to explore well-trodden parts of the city like the Garden District, City Park, and the Superdome; a day pass costs $3. For everywhere else, taxis are readily available.
If you're within earshot of a marching band, chances are good it's a second line; drop anything you're doing and follow that sound, you won't be sorry.
A crawfish boil—ideally in someone’s backyard—is an iconic New Orleans pastime. If you don’t have a backyard to borrow, pick up crawfish, potatoes, corn, and sausage from KJean’s, and head to City Park.
New Orleans’ already renowned restaurant scene has only gotten better in the post-Katrina world. Not only are there more restaurants—more than 1,200 compared to 800 pre-storm—but they’re helmed by innovative young chefs who are shaking up the old guard, jazzing up Cajun classics, and bringing new flavors to the forefront. Lunching at Commander’s Palace (when martinis are a quarter apiece) or queuing for fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House are essential—but so are whole grilled fish at Donald Link’s Peche, globally-inspired street food at Booty’s, and cocktails at Cure.
In Cajun cooking, the holy trinity is a riff on mirepoix that refers to onion, celery, and bell peppers and is the base for iconic dishes from gumbo to jambalaya. If the city of New Orleans had a holy trinity, it would be food, music, and the Saints. To understand the city's culture, go for Friday lunch at Galatoire’s, grab a bench at Preservation Hall, and catch a game at the Superdome. There’s also a burgeoning gallery scene along Julia Street and a handful of worthwhile museums, including the Contemporary Arts Center and the National WWII Museum.
New Orleans is a city that likes to get its party on, and its festivals are nothing short of epic. The most famous are Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, but also of note are alternative music festivals like Satchmo Summerfest and Crescent City Blues and BBQ, plus the (free) French Quarter Festival. Even if you don’t plan your trip around a special event, there’s almost always a parade or a party going on somewhere in the Big Easy.
The French Quarter—Bourbon Street in particular—is where the tourists go. If you’re a native, chances are you’re hanging out elsewhere.
Get the low-down on the meaning behind Fat Tuesday festivities in the city of New Orleans.
Each year during Mardi Gras, approximately 1.4 million visitors take to the streets of New Orleans to participate in the city’s iconic Fat Tuesday parades and festivities. The annual celebration of excess and indulgence is observed everywhere from Rio de Janeiro to Venice, but New Orleans’s unique Mardi Gras customs (more on those below) make the city’s celebration particularly renowned.
Typically, the city celebrates with a variety of parades and festivities. However, with COVID-19 cases on the rise, the city of New Orleans has officially canceled all Mardi Gras parades for 2021. Mardi Gras will still be celebrated by New Orleans residents and the city is looking for socially distanced alternatives, but 2021 celebrations will certainly look a lot different than they have in the past.
Whether you’re daydreaming of joining the Mardi Gras festivities, either in 2021 or later, or simply want to better understand this iconic holiday, read on for an extensive explainer that includes everything you need to know about Mardi Gras, including how best to enjoy it in New Orleans.
Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday or Carnival, is a debaucherous prelude to Lent, a six-week-long religious fast observed before Easter. The legacy of Mardi Gras can be traced to European Carnival celebrations during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The holiday’s connection to New Orleans dates back to 1699, when explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville arrived in Louisiana and declared a plot of land “Pointe du Mardi Gras” upon realizing it was the eve of the holiday.
In 1718, the city of New Orleans was established near the area known as “Pointe du Mardi Gras,” and by the 1730s, Mardi Gras parades and masquerade balls became an annual tradition in the southern city. While Mardi Gras officially takes place on Fat Tuesday—the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent—in New Orleans, annual Mardi Gras festivities begin up to a month in advance.
Even if you don't plan to visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras in 2021, it's a popular time to visit and never too early to start thinking about (or booking) a 2022 trip—in normal years, hotels sell out fast.
Location is everything if you’re visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras because parking is difficult, and you’ll want to walk if you’re planning to consume alcohol. To remain close to the parades Uptown, stay in the charming Garden District bordered by Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue. This tree-lined neighborhood is filled with boutique shops, top-notch restaurants, and grand dame mansions, and the French Quarter’s festivities are just a streetcar ride away.
For a quieter—but still exciting—Mardi Gras experience, consider the Faubourg Marigny (commonly called “the Marigny”) and Bywater neighborhoods. These laid-back districts east of the French Quarter will offer a more off-the-beaten-path Mardi Gras experience, but the action of Bourbon Street is still close enough to access without having to drive.
Regardless of where you choose to rest your head during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the chances that a colorful parade will pass through the neighborhood during your visit are strong. Some of our favorite New Orleans hotels include:
Krewes are the organizations responsible for planning and executing Mardi Gras parades and masquerade balls. In keeping with the allure of original Carnival traditions, several krewes do not reveal the theme of their parades until the night of the events. Equally mysterious, many krewes make sure their participants’ identities are never publicized (which is why krewe members wear elaborate masks during parades).
The Rex Organization, one of the oldest Mardi Gras krewes in New Orleans, established purple, gold, and green as the official Mardi Gras colors as far back as 1892. The three shades are said to symbolize justice, faith, and power, respectively.
In New Orleans, it’s legal to walk the streets with alcoholic drinks in plastic cups—and not just during Mardi Gras. Go cups are exactly what they sound like: “to-go” cups that allow you to take your drink with you from bar to bar (or parade to parade).
Median strips that separate streets are referred to as “neutral ground” in New Orleans. The phrase dates back to the 1800s and referenced the dividing lines between municipalities, but today, Mardi Gras goers use the term to distinguish where they’ll stand along parade routes between the “neutral ground” side and the “sidewalk” side.
Each Mardi Gras krewe creates its own unique set of trinkets to toss at parade goers, who then try to catch the “throws” to take home as souvenirs. Mardi Gras throws have been a New Orleans tradition for more than 130 years and include everything from purses to cups, toiletries, beads, and doubloons, the colorful metal medallions designed with krewe emblems that adorn the signature bead necklaces customized by each Mardi Gras krewe.
The Crescent City checklist is full of things to see and do, but New Orleans rewards those who dive a little deeper.
New Orleans newbies touch down at Louis Armstrong International with a mind-boggling to-do list from those that have already visited the city. You must grab a beignet from Café du Monde. And don’t miss the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Ooh, and a cocktail tour. Definitely do that. What do you mean, you won’t have time for the Voodoo Museum? It’s a must.
It’s fair enough, really. Few cities cram as much history, culture, noise, and excitement into their centers. But that density of attractions inevitably brings with it a ton of visitors, and it doesn’t take long for you to yearn for a few hours away from the neon hand grenades and the sad clip-clop of another horse-drawn tourist wagon. (Visiting during the city during its annual Mardi Gras celebrations adds extra intensity to this sentiment.)
I started my first night in the Crescent City like many others before me: spinning slowly round the Hotel Monteleone’s rotating carousel bar and wondering just how long a first-time visitor should spend ticking off the obvious boxes. Incessant rain and no raincoat answered that question pretty fast and I never made it much further than Bourbon Street.
The French Quarter’s legendary booze boulevard is unavoidable, and equally irresistible, even on a sweltering, wet Wednesday in July.
The freedom to roam from bar to bar with a go-cup full of something strong and sticky is intoxicating, and by the time I’d experienced Led Zep covers at the Famous Door, Dixieland under the watchful eye of an Allen Toussaint statue at Café Beignet, and noodly jazz at the Bourbon Street Drinkery, I was fully signed up to NOLA nightlife.
That dissipated a little after midnight, however, when sirens and bodily stenches filled the streets, and I resolved to explore a bit further the following day.
Even along its tourist-clogged arteries, the heart of New Orleans offers an abundance of quiet spots to step back from the chaos. For every (deservedly popular) Stanley, serving platefuls of eggs benedict guarded by soft-shell crabs to long lines of diners, there’s a much less busy Croissant D’Or slinging French pastries to locals who bag the window seats with a good book.
A little further northwest from the center, meanwhile, Marjie’s Grill is another local’s favorite tucked among nail salons on an unassuming street, full of lone diners returning for the famous fusion of Mississippi and Mekong delta cuisine. Rock from the ’80s blasted from the stereo as I shamelessly worked through too many dishes: catfish encrusted in cornmeal with watermelon hot sauce; coal-roasted sweet potatoes with cane syrup; peas with pork and chilies; papaya salad. All reliably phenomenal.
While Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter is consistently alive with bands and portrait artists and hundreds of wandering tourists, the Louis Armstrong Park just northwest of the district was literally populated with more statues than people during my visit. And at the Moon Walk river promenade two blocks from Jackson, the thunder of drums on buckets faded out, replaced by the lap of the Mississippi under a paddleboat and the metronomic dings of a long freight train trundling by.
Frenchmen Street is often touted as the alternative Bourbon, but to me it felt pretty similar. Sure, the floors are more tiled than sticky, the atmosphere is slightly more refined, and of course I caught several excellent jazz bands, but many venues had the same Miller Lite signs and Pat Benatar tracks blasting from the stereo.
More interesting, perhaps are the streets further downriver, in the Bywater district and straddling St. Claude Avenue northeast of Marigny.
The city can’t seem to decide whether or not to extend the streetcar line any further out this way, but there’s an abundance of delights tucked away for anyone who wanders or Ubers here. An area that’s been slowly gentrifying, for better or worse but particularly since Katrina, it’s an evolving mix of foodie pop-ups and art markets, timeworn and shuttered businesses and homes, and long-serving bars and clubs.
As I wandered St. Claude, dance classes were taking place behind twinkling fairy lights in an old shop next to a bouldering studio. The St. Roch Market was a brightly lit hall of delights (think L.A.’s Grand Central or London’s Brixton Village Market) where a rich crawfish poutine with crispy new potatoes was the best thing I ate all week.
The residential backstreets, meanwhile, were dark and quiet. The patter of heavy raindrops and the incessant buzz of unseen cicadas were the only sounds, punctuated occasionally by the convivial chatter of a family feasting on a porch under a flickering lantern or a cat meowing into a stretch.
That changed when I got within subwoofer distance of Vaughan’s Lounge, where the promised appearance of Corey Henry and the Treme Funktet was my main reason for schlepping out this way. Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” was tearing the place up when I stumbled in, and it just got livelier from there.
An acclaimed food historian explores the roots of New Orleans’s cultural character through its cuisine.
In New Orleans, it’s not out of the ordinary to taste a delicious combination of flavors that leaves you wondering, “Who could've thought to create this?” Esteemed food historian, educator, and author Jessica B. Harris has devoted her life and studies to exploring this thought, tracking foods of the African diaspora from across the Atlantic rim to the crux of American culture, history, and identity. So, when considering the classic combinations that characterize Creole and Cajun cuisine, it’s safe to say that Harris has a clue as to their creation.
We caught up with the acclaimed culinary expert about the unique intersection of cultures, traditions, and history that can be found in New Orleans’s classic cuisine. Here’s a taste of what she told us.
You live part time in New Orleans and have researched the city’s classic cuisine extensively. What draws you to the place?
“Well, my standard answer is that my soul stays there. There’s something about New Orleans that I connect with. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Caribbean and places like Senegal and Brazil. In New Orleans, there’s a commonality that I see, understand, and love. People tend to think of New Orleans as being the northernmost point in the Caribbean. What you see in the architecture, hear in the music, find in the street life, and eat on the plate—it’s different in New Orleans. Really, it’s anomalous in the United States.”
Can you elaborate on that anomaly?
“Ultimately, in New Orleans, you see a braid of the three cultures that formed the bedrock of the United States. You see Europe with the French, Spanish, Sicilian, and Italian influence. There’s the African influence, which is the beating heart, soul, and underpinning of the place—its cuisine in particular—because those are the folks who were doing the cooking in houses of status. And then, of course, native people had a hand in the pot as well.”
What classic New Orleanian dish exemplifies the blend of these three influences?
“Gumbo! The dish itself can be traced back directly to what was eaten in Africa before any Europeans showed up. When it became a part of New Orleans’s cuisine, it was altered, and influences were added. For example, the filé powder used in many gumbos comes from sassafras, a Native American ingredient which is used as a parallel to the traditional African thickener, okra. So you’ll see these different influences in different ways. But the bottom line is, everybody’s grandma makes a different gumbo.”
So one can one can look to New Orleans’s cuisine to better understand the city’s history?
“My specialty is concerned with the food of the African diaspora, and specifically, exploring what happened to it after it left the continent. But much of human history can be read through the looking for, the impulse for, and creation of food. Really, this is a city that has been eating out of a cultural matrix for centuries.”
In your opinion, is the food you’ll find in New Orleans restaurants today reflective of the city’s history?
“Food is constantly in a state of change, and New Orleans’s cuisine really reflects that. Several of New Orleans’s contemporary restaurants came out of a growth post-Katrina, so the plates are shifting. I’m talking about tectonic plates, but it’s also a metaphor for the dining room. The food you find in New Orleans today is still within the tradition of what the city was; now we’re just seeing different kinds of influences.”
Anyone interested in the city’s complex and vivid past—and if you’re still breathing, that should include you—would do well to make a stop at the Historic New Orleans Collection. This is a private entity with a public purpose: It was founded to both preserve French Quarter buildings and to amass and display some of the key documents and artifacts covering the city’s three centuries of history. The collection is housed in the impressive Merieult House, which dates back to 1792 and which underwent a Greek Revival makeover in the 1830s. Self-guided tours of the Williams Gallery downstairs and the Louisiana History Galleries upstairs are free; be sure to check out their exhibits on Louisiana's culture and legacy.
You don't need to work hard to explore New Orleans' diverse architecture. Take a walk around the French Quarter and you'll see Creole cottages and pre-Civil War townhouses with wrought-iron balconies. Hop on a street car and take in the antebellum mansions that line St. Charles Avenue, then wander along the side streets to catch examples of shotgun homes that can be found throughout the city. In the Garden District, you can find urban versions of French Colonial plantations (known as Centerhall houses) and double gallery homes (similar to townhouses, but with deeper porches and more space between the house and the sidewalk). Lace up your most comfortable shoes and get walking...
Contemporary art sometimes seems to take a back seat in a city enamored of its ornate and storied past. Scratch the surface, though, and you’ll find a strong and growing creative scene in New Orleans, teeming with makers as well as collectors. Over the past couple decades, a vibrant arts district has emerged out of an historic neighborhood of storehouses and warehouses, with the core running along Julia Street, not far from the World War II Museum. It’s worth your time to spend a few hours checking out what some of the best sculptors, painters, and photographers in the South (and beyond) are producing these days.
The architecture of New Orleans attracts visitors who marvel at the pleasing cacophony of the local streetscape. The 18th- and 19th-century homes, storehouses, and shops—which, thankfully, still exist in considerable abundance—are as distinctive and homegrown as the city’s brass-band sound. The quirky appearance of the city's structures raises questions: Like, what’s with all the iron balconies? Why are the houses so narrow? Why do so many French Quarter homes have four front doors? The Preservation Resource Center is here to help sort these out. Founded in 1974, the center’s mission is to maintain and interpret the city’s buildings and neighborhoods. The group’s Warehouse District headquarters (located in an 1853 showroom for an iron foundry) provide a good first stop for anyone curious about New Orleans architecture and how it got that way.
Rock ’n’ Bowl is where to go to find sharps, flats, spares, and strikes all hanging out together. It’s a bit unclear whether this is a nightclub hiding out in a full-size bowling alley, or a bowling alley out enjoying a secret nightlife. Either way, it’s a very New Orleans destination, located near the upriver edge of the city. (It’s about a $15 cab ride from downtown.) After Katrina and a parting of the ways with his earlier landlord, the owner moved a few blocks down to this former paint store, installed new lanes, added a bigger stage, and hauled much of his original funky decor to the new spot. Check the website for forthcoming shows—there’s always plenty of space for dancing, which is especially fun during Thursday zydeco nights.
New Orleans doesn’t have the national renown of Minneapolis or Portland when it comes to bike culture. But its reputation is growing. Structurally, it's already a great city to explore on two wheels: It’s dead flat (highway overpasses are really the only hills to speak of); multiple side streets offer lightly traveled alternates to the main arteries; and there’s always something to look at as you pedal along. Bicycle Michael's is a Frenchmen Street anchor, a packed-to-the-rafters yet laid-back spot that offers easy rentals by the day or longer. The shop is well situated between the upriver French Quarter and the downriver neighborhoods of Marigny and Bywater.
As the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States, St. Louis Cathedral is something you won't want to miss on your trip through the Big Easy. Enjoy the spiritual splendor of the interior, then meander the laid-back streets surrounding it. Vendors, street performers, and fortune tellers await you in Jackson Square.
New Orleans' green spaces run the gamut from City Park, which spans 1,300 acres and is the 6th largest urban park in the United States, to the city block-sized Jackson Square, a French Quarter gathering point for artists, musicians, and street performers. The former has walking trails, botanical gardens, and an open-air sculpture garden, plus tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course, and a mini-golf course, but most come to see the world's oldest grove of mature live oaks. Uptown's Audubon Park is frequented by walkers, joggers, and cyclists who make their way around the park's 1.8 mile loop—and it's also home to the Audubon Zoo.
Mardi Gras World, located in the Port area of New Orleans near the convention center, is a fun stop any time of year. Your tour starts with a brief history of Mardi Gras, a chance to try on some of the elaborate costumes and a taste of New Orleans' famous king cake.Your are then taken behind the scenes to witness a team of artists constructing floats for the next Mardi Gras season as well as a look at the warehouse that houses past years' floats.
Plan on spending the better part of a day at the National World War II Museum, even if you profess limited interest in history. This fine, sprawling museum—formerly the D-Day Museum—is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, and was established here because of the role the locally made Higgins landing craft played on D-day. Don’t expect the usual repository of static artifacts, like machine guns and airplanes—although you will find those on display. It’s more about gathering stories, from film and oral histories, and from all sides of the conflict. The museum was the idea of Stephen Ambrose, noted author of books about WWII, who wanted to share with the public the interviews that didn’t make it into his books. It’s grown massively since its humble beginnings, and does a remarkable job of capturing the era through both a microscope and wide-angle lens.
The Beauregard-Keyes House stands out in a neighborhood—the French Quarter—already filled with standout buildings. Built in 1826, it’s a superb example of the then-newly-popular Greek Revival style, with its bossy pediment and sweeping granite stairs, which displaced the more austere Creole style. It’s been home to an illustrious roster of residents, including legendary 19th-century chess player Paul Morphy (born here in 1837 and world champion before he turned 20) and Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard after the Civil War. Next door and visible even if you don’t take the guided tour is a small, walled parterre garden, restored to the formal style of the middle 19th century.
The Garden District was developed in the middle 19th century, and is where the mercantile elite built their in-town estates. Unlike the narrow parcels of the French Quarter or surrounding neighborhoods, house lots here were divided up with just four houses per city block, allowing plenty of room for landscaping and greenery. (Hence the name.) While many of the original lots have been further subdivided and built upon, the Garden District—basically bounded by St. Charles Avenue, Magazine Street, Louisiana Avenue, and Jackson Avenue—is still possessed of an eerie, shady charm, ripe with examples of 19th-century architectural styles like Gothic and Greek Revival. It’s an easy excursion from downtown by hopping the St. Charles Streetcar, then disembarking around Washington Street and walking toward the river.
Food trucks have become part of the culinary establishment in New Orleans, as in so many other cities. Here the fun part remains chasing them around, an activity that can introduce you to unfamiliar neighborhoods and bars. Among the more reliable and delicious mobile vendors for cheap eats is Taceaux Loceaux (pronounced in local fashion as “Taco Loco”). Its tacos feature innovative and tasty fillings, like a flavorful Texas brisket, or a “Seoul chicken” with kimchi. Most nights the truck is parked outside uptown-area spots, including Kingpin and Dos Jefes. The owners work social media like pros, tweeting (@tlnola) their location every time they start serving, followed some hours later by an online last call.
Chef Tory McPhail was recently named James Beard's Best Chef South and his forward-looking take on Creole classics keeps this New Orleans institution, which has launched the careers of the likes of Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse, current. Still, you can't go wrong with classics like the turtle soup, gumbo, and bread pudding souffle. On Saturday and Sundays, there's more pomp than usual, including a jazz trio that makes its way from table to table, but weekday lunches are nearly as iconic and, thanks to 25-cent martinis, a good reason to have a midday cocktail.
Revel is easy to overlook—it’s on a busy stretch of Carrolton Avenue (just off the Canal Streetcar Line) amid a slew of other neighborhood restaurants. But it's the only one here helmed by Chris McMillian, among the nation’s most prominent bartender-historians. He knows the history and lore of New Orleans drinks better than anyone, and is pretty conversant with cocktails from, well, just about anywhere. The drinks list here is solid, but ask McMillian what he’s been enjoying whipping up lately, and order one of those. And come hungry—the kitchen, manned by his son-in-law, serves up great bistro fare.
Charlie’s is old-school New Orleans writ large. It’s one of a handful of surviving notable neighborhood steak houses (it’s not far from where the original Ruth’s Chris was also once a neighborhood spot), a no-frills joint with faux-wood paneling on the walls and no menus to hand out. The waiters ask you what size you want, and also if you'd like to start with an order of fried onions. (The correct answer is yes.) Pro tip: Kick off your evening an hour earlier and a couple blocks away at Pascal’s Manale with a dozen or two bivalves at the marble oyster bar of a revered Italian-Creole “red gravy” spot.
Owen Brennan founded a fine-dining restaurant empire in 1946, when the proprietor of Arnaud’s taunted him by saying that no Irishman could succeed with anything other than a hamburger joint. Brennan got his revenge at this French-and-Creole restaurant located in a sprawling pink 1795 Spanish-era structure that’s become iconic. After some slouching in recent years, Brennan’s is back on culinary maps following a change in ownership (from one branch of Brennan descendants to another). Pro tip: It’s more famous for breakfast than dinner. Among the more noted dishes is eggs Hussarde, involving poached eggs and Canadian bacon served with both Marchand de Vin and hollandaise sauces.
Every streetcar ride should take you to a neighborhood beer joint. So this makes an excellent spot to hop off the St. Charles Streetcar. Owner Polly Watts has carved out a name for this place with her terrific selection of craft beers, many of them extremely limited releases. As a bonus, there’s an equally impressive whiskey-by-the-glass collection. The downstairs, where locals hang and shoot pool, offers an ideal environment for starting a conversation. (Sample question: “Hey, you know of any good bars for music tonight?”) If you’d like somewhere quieter to chat while marveling over an obscure kolsch, clomp up the narrow wooden stairs to the second floor, and see if you can wangle a seat on the balcony.
Hansen’s was started in 1939 by Ernest Hansen, who engineered a loud, homemade machine that shaves the ice to a fineness that many argue is unmatched across the city. (Oh, and they will argue.) The shop is still run with considerable care and attention by Ernest's granddaughter, Ashley. Snowballs—cups of thinly shaved ice topped with brightly colored sweet flavorings—are a minor obsession in New Orleans. While widely available, snowballs, as well as the culture that surrounds them, seem more advanced at Hansen’s. The selection of flavors is vast, and true connoisseurs mix and match flavors, adding two or three to an order to get just the right balance. (Almond-lime? Orange-coconut?)
Verti Marte is at heart a cramped, bare-bones deli. But any effort the owners have failed to expend on stocking the shelves or sprucing up the decor they’ve put into making excellent food. Head to the small counter in the back and make your request; while your sandwich is being assembled, forage for chips or soda. Verti Marte is known for its oversize po’boy sandwiches (shrimp, dressed, is among the more popular), along with muffulettas and tasty side dishes, like smothered cabbage and Brussels-sprout salad. Still hungry? Nobody has gone wrong by ordering the bread pudding and pecan pie.
Nina Compton, a native of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, came to New Orleans a few years ago to compete in the Top Chef television series. She didn’t win the culinary slugfest, but New Orleans came out ahead—a short time later she returned to set down roots by opening Compère Lapin, a charming, brick-accented restaurant in a hotel that's a reasonable stroll from the French Quarter. It’s good to get there early to grab a drink at the bar, which treats its libations with the same seriousness as the kitchen does its food. (A frozen drink… with chartreuse.) The dishes are alive with creative Caribbean flavors—among the more memorable plates are the seafood pepper pot, black drum, and curried goat.
This late-19th-century city-owned seafood market, which was by and large abandoned after Hurricane Katrina, was reborn as an upscale food hall several years ago. The dilapidated structure was spruced up and the navelike interior painted an austere, modern white. Then a dozen or so food vendors moved in, serving as a sort of incubator for those with an idea but no desire to go the food-truck route. It’s a great place to swing by for lunch or a casual dinner—you can get craft cocktails and spend some time at the oyster bar, then browse the other offerings, which include crab mac and cheese at Fritai and alligator-sausage hash at Elysian Seafood.
Sucré opened a couple of years after Katrina swept through a bustling stretch of Magazine Street not far from the Garden District. It quickly established itself as the city’s premier destination for chocolates, macarons, gelato, and, well… basically anything with sugar. The original shop is bright and modern rather than cluttered and fussy, and the intricately decorated confections are neatly housed in chilled cases, like jewels in a vitrine. But there’s nothing precious about the tastes here—it’s all big, bold flavors. If you're here around Mardi Gras season, ask about the seasonal king cake, all lustrous and gilded. Sucré also recently opened a French Quarter outpost with an upstairs tearoom.
The fragrant, pleasingly cluttered Central Grocery is a holdover from an era when Italian-run groceries occupied storefronts throughout the city. This timeworn shop across from the French Market still boasts an old-world charm, filled with tall shelves crowded with imported goods and various whatnots, mostly Italian. But that’s not why you’ll see lines out the doors. The crowds are clamoring for muffulettas, classic New Orleans sandwiches that originated here about a century ago. (Slogan: “Imitated by many, but never duplicated.”) A muffuletta comes on a type of round, flattish loaf (not unlike a focaccia) that originated in Sicily. The details may vary, but it typically includes cured meats (capicola, salami) and cheese (provolone). What distinguishes it from a hubcap-shaped hoagie is the topping—a tangy marinated-olive salad. Know this: You don’t need to order a whole one; a quarter-sandwich is still plenty filling for one person.
As the elevator doors open onto the rooftop of the recently-refurbished Pontchartrain Hotel, two things hit you almost immediately: the buzz of conversation and the eclectic décor, with weird and wonderful artefacts and posters lining the way to the bar. The main room itself feels like a cool, post-war loft, festooned with sepia photographs, vintage typewriters, and even old letters and postcards. The cocktail menu deviates from the classics (though you can order those, too) but not in too pretentious a way. Rums and gins blend with recognizable ingredients and are accessibly renamed: The Skyliner, The Seersucker.
The local Lower Garden District doyens have taken to this whiskey bar in droves. There aren’t many dedicated whiskey bars in New Orleans, so if you’re into brown liquor, this low-ceilinged, windowless room—with more than 300 whiskies, bourbons, ryes, and scotches—is the place to be. You could keep coming for a whole year and never get bored: Selections range from the usual barroom suspects to rare Japanese imports. And if you’re not sure where you stand on whiskey, there are affordable flights to guide your palate.
The swank bar at The Little Nell’s flagship restaurant also draws from a 20,000-bottle wine cellar and is ground zero for New Year’s Eve partying. 675 E. Durant Ave., thelittlenell.com
Try: Xavier’s White Cosmo
Bar Marilou, tucked secretively along the side of the new Maison de la Luz hotel, is the most striking library you’ve ever seen, with scarlet bookshelves, orange ceilings, and tiger-striped carpets. It’s currently the only bar in the United States designed by the acclaimed Paris-based dreamweavers Quixotic Projects. If you’re lucky enough to be a hotel guest, you can push through one of the bookcases into a smaller, but equally plush, private parlor. It’s as decadent a bar as you’ll find in New Orleans, which is saying something.
Set amid a row of dive bars on a vaguely insalubrious block of Lower Decatur is the anonymous bar and restaurant that started the city’s mini-Tiki trend. There’s a sense of Old Havana as you enter, though you have to imagine the cigar smoke. Up front is a colonial-looking bar with high ceilings and chandeliers, then out back there’s the kind of tropical courtyard that NOLA does best, all leafy greenery and convivial seclusion. The Tiki-skewed drink menu ranges from familiar Piña Coladas to less-known creations such as Bombos and Bellowstops.
Housed in a building that dates back to the early 19th century, the dimly lit Black Penny has an old-fashioned spit-and-sawdust feel—in the best kind of way. The layout is simple: a lounge with cream booths, and a small barroom that displays the Penny’s crown jewels: around 100 regional, national, and imported craft beers. Fortunately, the bar staff treats everyone like a local and will patiently mentor you as you take on the extensive drinks menu. They know their beer, and that enthusiasm is infectious.
The thoughtfully curated beer selection at this locals’ favorite includes drafts from 12 taps. 319 E. Hopkins Ave., meatcheese.avalancheaspen.com
Try: Split a 750-milliliter bottle of barrel-aged beer from Glenwood Springs’s exquisite Casey Brewing and Blending (made almost entirely from local ingredients, including Western Slope fruit), or try a nano-batched hoppy ale from Carbondale’s Idylwilde Brewing.
The tastefully colorful Creole cottage in a relatively quiet corner of the French Quarter is a suitably historic home for Jewel of the South, a new venture from two of the city’s most renowned bartenders. Named for a 19th-century local bar that was among the first in the city to serve cocktails, Nick Detrich and Chris Hannah have opened up this small, perfectly formed rustic tavern—think bare brickwork and dark woods—in miniature, which pays homage to those early days with an interesting and esoteric list of sours, cobblers and more.
Wine is the main focus at Saint-Germain, and it’s a robust but not overly extended list that concentrates mainly on European labels. The sparkling selection is all French and German, with Spanish and Italian (and even Lebanese) nosing into the whites, reds, and roses. There are at least a dozen wines by the glass, some as cheap as $6 a pour. This spot is perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon with a group of friends, hanging out in the courtyard dipping into bottles of wine and bar snacks.
In 2016, Ace added another link to its chain of ultracool hotels when it opened an outpost in a renovated 1928 building in the Central Business District of New Orleans. While the Ace employees here are just as edgy as their counterparts elsewhere, they temper that cool with the warm ease of New Orleans’s locals. Guests enter the hotel through a lobby of mismatched low-slung sofas and vintage coffee tables set in conversation-friendly groupings beside a lovely and ornate wooden bar. Most of the furnishings and artwork complement the hotel’s dominant forest green hue, which itself seems to have been inspired by the color of the streetcars that trundle past on Carondelet Street. Afternoon and evening and late at night, the lobby bar is kept busy by hotel guests as well as a stream of others drawn here by the stylish vibe. Some, of course, come for Ace’s dining options: Josephine Estelle is a well-regarded Italian restaurant (in a town full of stellar dining); Seaworthy offers cocktails and a wide array of oysters in a narrow tiled bar; a branch of Portland’s Stumptown Coffee serves the morning people strong coffee and pastries; and Alto, a covered bar beside the small rooftop pool, has a selection of snacks to offset a sizable menu of cocktails. Back on the ground floor, another attraction, Three Keys, is a small music venue that programs a busy schedule of live performances and deejays. Upstairs, past the old-school photo booth in the elevator bank, you’ll find eight floors of guest rooms in several configurations, all with black-out curtains and cork floors, amenities which nicely muffle any noise from the lobby and rooftop party scenes. All rooms come with a curated tray of local snacks (and some condoms), and a full-size refrigerator supplied with beer, wine, soda, and water, as well as a freestanding and dangerously well-stocked bar. Toiletries in the black-tiled bathrooms are from Rudy’s Barbershop. The guest rooms, painted in the same dark tones as the lobby, can feel a bit dimly lit, but are kept airy by the large windows and high ceilings. Your fellow hotel guests will certainly include bachelor/bachelorette parties, couples, people traveling with dogs, and some business people, but few families with children. Finding distractions in New Orleans is never a problem: The Ace's CBD neighborhood has some notable restaurants (Willa Jean, especially, for great breakfasts) and is walking distance to the French Quarter and the National World War II Museum, among other attractions.
This family-run hotel, originally opened in 1886, is steeped in history from its classic furnishings to its esteemed guests. Literary legends William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway have stayed here; Tennessee Williams wrote about the hotel in his play The Rose Tattoo, and Truman Capote was known to prop up the Carousel Bar & Lounge on many a night. The merry-go-round–like bar (which makes a complete revolution every 15 minutes) is probably the hotel’s most famous feature, and a Vieux Carre cocktail there is de rigueur. Guests will also want to visit on-site restaurant Criollo, which offers an updated take on traditional N’awlins fare.
- High design mixed with historic details
- A restaurant from a James Beard–nominated team
- Character-filled common spaces like the parlors and sun room
Located in New Orleans’s culturally rich Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, the 71-room Hotel Peter and Paul comprises a historic church, rectory, schoolhouse, and convent, all built in the 19th century. When converting the site, local resident Nathalie Jordi and New York–based interior design firm ASH NYC took pains to preserve original features like cypress wood moldings, stained glass windows, and marble fireplaces, while adding signature details like antique chandeliers and custom rugs handmade in India. As a result, each guestroom has a personality all its own, evident in touches like canopy beds, Italian linens, and trays of locally sourced snacks.
That love for local eats extends to The Elysian Bar, where the team behind James Beard–nominated wine bar Bacchanal serves regionally focused fare like roasted Gulf shrimp and braised beef short ribs, and Sundae Best, which offers small-batch ice cream made with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Also on site is a cheery cafe for coffee and pastries; two grand parlors for reading the paper in a vintage rattan chair; a sun room modeled after Claude Monet’s Giverny home; an amber-hued bar serving low-proof spritzes for aperitivo hour; and a tranquil brick courtyard lined with palms, ferns, and vines. More impressive still is the decommissioned Catholic church, designed by famous New Orleans architect Henry Howard. Here, the hotel hosts a mix of private and public events, from weekly concerts to yoga and floral design classes.
First opened in 2004 in a former office building in the Central Business District, the Loews New Orleans Hotel completed a $4 million renovation in November 2014. The new look is modern, but with a nod to the Big Easy: rooms and suites (which, by the way, are among the most spacious in town) are done up in soothing blues and grays, and feature local photography on the walls, and the carpets have a wrought-iron fence motif. Large picture windows afford vistas of the city or the Mississippi River.
Run by the legendary Brennan family and named after the vivacious Adelaide Brennan, the hotel restaurant also got a makeover—think canary-yellow seats, teal tufted banquettes, and Andy Warhol–esque pop art of its namesake.
Opened in April 2001, this Central Business District property, a converted dry-goods warehouse, is a departure from the typical New Orleans hotel. Instead of fleur-de-lis wallpaper and Louis XIV chairs, you’ll find Fortuny lamps, Herman Miller desk chairs, and Agape “Spoon” tubs in the palatial bathrooms. The 18 lofts (two are penthouses), with their white walls, concrete floors, and modern furnishings, feel straight out of the pages of Dwell.
The hotel doesn’t have the amenities of a larger hotel; the lobby is meant for checking in, not hanging out, and there’s no restaurant or bar to prop up, but guests have privileges at the sister hotel, International House. And, most significantly, the fact that there are just 18 rooms means that from the minute you check in, the front desk team knows you.
Why we love it: Atelier Ace's first luxury property in New Orleans, with antiques and other unique design details to lust after
- The guests-only library bar, hidden behind a bookcase at Bar Marilou
- Colorful marble floors in the bathrooms
- High-end service, but plenty of privacy when you want it
Atelier Ace partnered with Pamela Shamshiri of L.A.-based Studio Shamshiri to design this 67-room property, which opened in April 2019 in an old City Hall annex in the Central Business District. Shamshiri decorated the distinctive guest house with a mix of antiques she collected from around the world, plus custom art and design elements like colorful marble floors, French wallpaper, and vintage-inspired glass light fixtures. Keep an eye out for a reoccurring snake motif throughout the hotel, from sculptural snake shower-door handles in the bathrooms to cobra lamps in the hallways and slithering ceramic elements in the fireplace of the lobby lounge. It’s a little bit Garden of Eden with a hint of the occult, making you feel as if you've checked into the private home of an elderly socialite—maybe Iris Apfel—that’s filled to the brim with fabulous souvenirs from her worldly travels over the years.
Maison de Luz is located just across the street from the Ace Hotel New Orleans and guests are encouraged to pop over to the sister property to enjoy the rooftop pool or grab a crawfish roll at Seaworthy. Back at Maison, however, the common areas—including a hidden library bar—are just for overnight guests, creating the feeling of a calm refuge within the city.
Occupying what were the Maison Blanche department store and the S.H. Kress & Co. five-and-dime, this stately hotel first opened its doors in 2000 after a $250 million overhaul of the then-shuttered Beaux-Arts buildings. After Katrina, the property underwent a second renovation, which included the expansion of its spa (now a sprawling 25,000 square feet) and the addition of a private entrance for Club level guests.
This is a Ritz-Carlton, so you can expect the same (high) level of service and luxury—think ornate furnishings, sumptuous linens, and a $3.5 million art collection—as at other properties within the brand. But the property isn’t just another Ritz. Bellmen wear seersucker, the bistro serves po’ boys, and there’s live jazz in the lounge (which also serves a mean Vesper).
A trio of 1830s townhouses, Soniat House exudes an Old World elegance, from its wrought iron balconies to its white-jacketed porters. Rooms and suites have just the right amount of character so that they feel of an era without being precious or overly frilly. The hotel renovated all of its bathrooms and some guest rooms, and there are flat-screen televisions, Wi-Fi, and other modern conveniences—but the point here is really to take a step back, put your gadgets away, and enjoy the leafy courtyard. It’s the kind of place where you feel you ought to be wearing a frock and a fascinator (for ladies) or seersucker (for the gents), where time slows and an afternoon cocktail feels very appropriate. Luckily, there’s an honor bar on the first floor next to reception. Pour yourself a stiff drink and take it up to the veranda, where you might catch a ghost tour in progress or just take in the street scene.
Opened in April 2015, this is one of the newest additions to New Orleans’ hotel scene. It’s also one of the most unique. Set in an 1854 warehouse near the Port of New Orleans, the property pays homage to its past as well as to its Arts District location. The look is contemporary industrial, with plenty of original architectural details (hardwood floors, exposed piping and brick, wall-to-wall windows) paired with Tivoli radios, flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi, and other modern conveniences. The hotel lobby is part art gallery, with a rotating collection curated by the New Orleans Center of Creative Arts, part commissary, with locally crafted products displayed in chandlery cases, and part coffee shop, with pastries from the neighboring restaurant—which is one of the hottest openings this year.
Compere Lapin (French for “brother rabbit” and also a fictional character in Caribbean and Creole folk tales) serves food that draws on chef Nina Compton’s island roots, classic French training, and traditional Creole fare. The result is wonderfully colorful dishes like conch croquettes with pickled pineapple tartare sauce, roasted jerk corn with aioli and lime, and curried goat with plantain gnocchi and cashews.