Make the most of a New Orleans getaway
NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans is the perfect weekend getaway, a city that can rise to whatever your occasion, be it a romantic tryst, partying with pals or a chance to delve into a culture unlike any other in America.
As famous for its food as its music, New Orleans (say noo-OR-lenz to blend in with the locals) is heaven for foodies, a hotbed of traditional Creole French fare and creative chefs using Gulf seafood and local ingredients in innovative ways. If you're serious about food, plan to nosh multiple times a day while you're in this town, which has come so far since Hurricane Katrina, eight years ago this month.
3 p.m. Settle in: The newly renovated W in the French Quarter (316 Chartres St., 504-581-1200, www.wfrenchquarter.com) marries urban chic with traditional Vieux Carré architecture in a stellar location, the best of all worlds. Spacious jazz- or tarot-themed rooms are decked out with bold art and niceties like Bliss spa products and comfy bedding. The central pool is a chill lounge scene. Rooms from $279.
4 p.m. Stroll Royal: Parallel to Bourbon Street and a block closer to the river, Royal Street is a beehive of shops, galleries, street artists and musicians performing around Jackson Square and in front of Rouse's grocery store. The Rodrigue Studio (730 Royal St.) with its iconic Blue Dog paintings and the Painted Alive gallery (827 Royal) with artist Craig Tracy's adoration of the illustrated human form are a few galleries that enliven the streetscape. There's a culinary antiques store, a shop proffering military hardware and jaw-dropping antiques to peruse.
7 p.m. Start cocktailing: In a city with no open-container law, it's just fine to order your cocktail to go and start walking. But you'll want to sit a spell at the bar at SoBou (310 Chartres St., 504-552-4095, www.sobounola.com), where bartender/alchemist Abigail Gullo concocts brilliant craft cocktails using fresh herbs, tinctures and homemade bitters. Try her Faubourg Tall Boy ($10), a sprightly combo of Tom Collins and Kir Royale. Don't be surprised if she breaks into song -- Gullo is a former off-Broadway chanteuse. Move into the dramatically lit dining room for chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez's playful menu of modern Creole bites such as airy cracklings with pimento cheese fondue ($5) and smoky baby back ribs ($12) served with a side of sweet-and-spicy ghost-pepper cotton candy. SoBou is the latest venture from the Commander's Palace branch of the Brennan family.
10 p.m. A dose of music: Catch some live jazz at the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St., 504-523-3341, http://hotelmonteleone.com), the newly spiffy venue that includes a revolving carousel as its centerpiece. Sip a Sazerac ($9), a drink invented here in the 19th century, and watch the action out front, or stay focused on the stage, where Lena Prima (daughter of Louis) and others belt out standards.
9 a.m. Beignets by the river: Line up at Café du Monde (800 Decatur St., 504-525-4544, http://cafedumonde.com), for café au lait ($2.42) and beignets ($2.42), deep-fried fritters dusted with copious powdered sugar, three to an order. Open 24/7. There is often a wait. Or take out, and enjoy your chicory-laced coffee and sugary doughnuts by the mighty Mississippi.
10:30 a.m. A rolling feast: Meet up with the Confederacy of Cruisers (Royal Street and Elysian Fields Avenue, 504-400-5468, confederacyofcruisers.com) for an easy three-hour bike and food tour ($89) that takes you out of the French Quarter into neighborhoods like Treme, Mid-City and the Bywater for off-the-beaten-path bites at places more local than touristy. You may devour fried chicken and gumbo at Li'l Dizzy's (1500 Esplanade Ave., 504-569-8997), praline bacon at Elizabeth's (601 Gallier St., 504-944-9272) and a buttery Worcestershire-fueled barbecue shrimp po-boy at Liuzza's by the Track (1518 N. Lopez St., 504-218-7888, www.nola.com/sites/liuzzas). The lively tours include spirited lore and culinary history, along with a one-speed cruiser, chow and gratuities.
1:30 p.m. Satchmo and souvenirs: Pop into the Louisiana State Museum Jazz Collection at the Old U.S. Mint (400 Esplanade Ave., 504-568-6993, http://crt.state.la.us/museum/properties/usmint/) to see incredible jazz memorabilia, including Louis Armstrong's cornet, Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet with its famous "bent" bell and some 10,000 photographs dating back to the 1950s. Then take a pass through the French Market (1008 N. Peters St., 504-522-2621, www.frenchmarket.org), with its clean public restrooms and endless souvenir options, a great stop before heading back to the French Quarter on Decatur.
4 p.m. Table with a view: Snag one of the balcony tables overlooking Jackson Square at Tableau (616 St. Peter St., 504-934-3463, www.tableaufrenchquarter.com), Dickie Brennan's newest, a modern Creole kitchen adjacent to the newly restored Le Petit Theatre. Share a half-carafe ($15) of Sicilian pinot grigio and watch the carnival of tourists and street artists in the Square below.
7 p.m. Beefy Bourbon: After a little lie down -- you'll need one to go the distance tonight -- walk to Bourbon, famous for its strip joints and bars. It's fun to pop in and out of music venues, but don't define New Orleans by this hopped-up endless party. Your destination for dinner is here, the new Galatoire's 33 Bar & Steak (215 Bourbon St., 504-335-3932, http://galatoires33barandsteak.com), a steakhouse sibling to the storied seafood sophisticate next door. Executive chef Michael Sichel offers classics like turtle soup ($8.50) and shrimp remoulade ($11) along with perfect steaks, including a juicy bone-in tenderloin ($42) drizzled with silky Bordelaise. And, unlike next door, this Galatoire's takes reservations.
10 p.m. Late night: Take a taxi or pedicab to Frenchmen Street (http://frenchmenstreetlive.com) in the Faubourg Marigny, an original Creole neighborhood that's now a hive of nightclubs, bars and restaurants. Shop the night Art Market (619 Frenchmen St., 504-941-1149, http://frenchmenartmarket.com), then catch a reggae groove at Cafe Negril, swing dance at the Spotted Cat, or get down with rootsy rock and brass at d.b.a. Cover charges are generally in the $5 to $10 range, but if your wallet is thin, just hang with the crowds in the street, where music pours out of doorways shaking with that New Orleans beat. Just don't go cheap on the bands. When the tip jar comes your way, be generous. In a town so rich with great music, musicians are still playing hard to make ends meet.
10 a.m. Breakfast biscuits: Enter the day gently with coffee and fresh biscuits slathered with honey butter ($3.50) at Somethin' Else Cafe (620 Conti St., 504-373-6439, http://somethinelsecafe.com) a no-frills joint that dishes up some mighty fine shrimp and grits too ($12).
11 a.m. Head uptown: Hop on the St. Charles streetcar for the leafy Garden District, once home to new-money Yankee entrepreneurs shunned by the French Creoles in the Quarter. The 13.2-mile crescent starts at Canal Street (at Carondelet) and heads uptown, around the riverbend, to Carrollton Avenue, past antebellum mansions, restaurants, hotels, Loyola and Tulane universities and the Audubon Zoo. Even if you don't get off, it's a scenic ride for $1.25.
2 p.m. A real fish story: Finish your Big Easy adventure at Peche (800 Magazine St., 504-522-1744, www.pecherestaurant.com), James Beard Award-winning chef Donald Link's homage to all things from the deep. Set in an industrial chic Warehouse District space, Peche delivers local and line-caught seafood fired on a smoky wood-burning grill, including the best whole redfish ($35, or market price) doused with salsa verde you've ever had in your life.
After this weekend, don't be surprised if you come back to New Orleans sooner than you'd think. With its celebration of big flavors, homegrown jazz and general excess, this is a town with a siren song that's hard to resist.