As part of this blog, I will occasionally provide reviews of hotels, restaurants, etc. that I visit while traveling. I won’t list them all – just the ones for which I have something to say. I find this type of first-hand information useful; so I hope that some of you will also find it helpful should your travels bring you to a place I have visited. Just remember that these are my personal impressions, often based on just a single visit. Your experiences could easily differ. As I’ve just returned from New Orleans, it is with NOLA that I begin.
I like to stay in small, boutique hotels when I travel in order to feel connected to wherever it is that I’m at, which definitely does little to explain how I ended up staying at the Sheraton. In fact, I didn’t choose it. It chose me. Normally I spend a lot of time deciding where I want to stay, but for this trip to New Orleans I simply didn’t have the time to do a lot of research. So I took the easy way out and used Priceline. At first I tried to find a four-star hotel in the French District for $80 a night, but there were no takers (using “name your own price”). So I added the Central Business District (as the hotels there flank the French District) and raised my offer to $90. Bingo, the Sheraton New Orleans was charged to my credit card. I’d have preferred a place with a bit of character, a bit of grit, a bit of soul. Instead I got a place that while completely devoid of personality offered a comfortable bed, a nice shower, $4 bottled water and easy access to the French District. Three out of four ain’t bad. I wouldn’t choose to stay there, but it was fine. If I were to end up there again, it’d be OK.
This place has low-key decor and barely any queue (unlike at Acme across the street). It’s a good place for oysters, and the slightly spicy boiled crawfish were tasty and went down easily with Abita Amber beer. I can’t necessarily rave about the place. However, I like the mom & pop feel, and if I were with somebody who wanted to go I wouldn’t try to talk them out of it. That person could be my wife as she quite liked the blackened alligator.
I figured that if I walked down Bourbon Street that I’d come across a nice bar for a cold beer on a hot afternoon. Then I kept walking and walking – passed all the bars with blaring music, guys outside with 3-for-1 signs, less-than-inticing invitations to sex shows and crowds of wildly extroverted patrons wielding their radioactive green plastic Hand Greenade goblets with straws. I had about given up when I came to Lafitte’s. A rarity along Bourbon Street, there were actually four chairs on the sidewalk, and two of them were empty. Good enough for me. As my wife Silvia and I sat there, engaged in a bit of people watching as we enjoyed our drinks, horse carriage after horse carriage of tourists pulled up and stopped as part of their tours and were informed that this was the oldest bar in the US. A couple even ran in to grab beers to enjoy during the rest of their tours! After a bit of investigation, I learned that the truth is that it is not the “oldest bar” in the US but is instead the oldest structure used as a bar. Lafitte’s has cold beer (and presumably other bar stuff) and doesn’t appear to be the frat-boy-in-search-of-a-funnel magnet like so many of the bars at the other end of Bourbon Street. Besides, if it’s good enough for Scarlett Johansson (and there’s a photo of her in the bar), then it’s definitely good enough for me. (Scarlett, the first, last and all between rounds are on me; just say when!)
This bar is just outside of the French District (in Marigny). It feels very much like a neighborhood bar – pool table and all. It’s dog friendly and has Guinness on tap. Their slogan is “Bed & Beverage” (they apparently have rooms but no kitchen), and that’s enough to make me reconsider the usefulness of Priceline when visiting New Orleans.
Far off the beaten path, this is a great little restaurant for honest cooking. Their slogan “Real Food, Done Real Good” is real true. This restaurant is also in Marigny, but on the opposite side (actually quite a long walk in the dark of the night!) from the French District. Two words will see me back there: Praline Bacon! Seriously. And the sweet potato fries are among the best I’ve eaten (“devoured” is probably a more appropriate verb). It’s a place that makes you feel like a regular – even when you’re not. You might bump into me here someday as I’ll be going back. It’s the kind of place that I shouldn’t tell people about (as we’re all meant to be selfish, right?), but this restaurant actually deserves the queues found elsewhere. Trust me; go.
Probably no review of New Orleans would be complete without a mention of this legendary “coffee stand”. I wasn’t certain that I wanted to go there. It has all the trappings of a place for tourists. Every shop in New Orleans even sells their coffee and packets of their beignet mix. However, I was told by many that I absolutely must go; so eventually I did. I waited in line for 25 minutes, which wasn’t entirely unpleasant as there was plenty of activity in the area to entertain me. I like their chicory coffee; it’s stronger than typical American bathwater coffee. And I like the beignet with the mountain of powdered sugar. However, I must say that this place doesn’t beat an average espresso with an average croissant in an average bar in Italy. It just doesn’t. A good cappuccino with a quality krapfen in a nice bar in Milan would easily run culinary circles around this place. But we’re not in Italy; we’re in the US. And it certainly does, quite easily, beat the average American coffee and donut. However, for me, it’s just not that great. It’s simply not worthy of being renowned as a must visit. To their credit, I don’t know that they’ve ever pushed to be anything other than what they are. I wouldn’t wait again to get a seat here, but I might go if there were no line. It’s open 24 hours a day; so I can see it as an incredibly useful lighthouse in the fog of a night at 2am for something to restart the mind and fill the stomach.
I really didn’t want to wait in the queue to get into this place. Really, I didn’t. In fact, at first I didn’t. My wife Silvia and I explored other options, other menus and other queues. But there was something about the look of this place that I couldn’t shake. So we went back and waited our turn. We shared a Surf-n-Turf, dressed (that’s mayo, lettuce and tomato), po-boy (“sandwich” doesn’t adequately describe it, but that’ll give you an idea of what a po-boy is) with splashes of hot sauce. It really hit the spot, and sharing one was definitely the right move. (They’re not small!) It was worth the wait, and next time I’ll just head straight to the back of the queue (lots of queues at restaurants in the French District) and begin to salivate as I decide between a catfish, shrimp or some other po-boy.
This is an artsy, trendy espresso bar a bit off the beaten path but still in the French District. It’s full of locals with laptops (Macs outnumbering PCs), but don’t be surprised if you look over from your stool at the espresso bar to see a man wearing a dress shirt, tie and suit jacket working on his laptop only to notice upon second glance that his attire is completed with dangling earrings, a skirt, pantyhose and high heels! And yet it all feels right! It’s open, airy and had Joy Division playing. I think that this might just be my unofficial NOLA coffee spot. (But, no, I won’t be wearing high heels!) It has the best coffee I had in New Orleans, and while I didn’t try any of the sweets on offer they looked absolutely delicious.
This small bar is very close to the riverside action of the French District, but it is not at all touristy. It feels much more like a local bar. It’s a place where the bartenders come female, tattooed and smiling. You can buy underwear here, but there is no underwear hanging from the rafters! Lots of police patches and hats suggest that this might not be the best place for anybody attempting to dodge a warrant! There’s a jukebox, and the music I heard ranged from Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin to Meatloaf and Def Leppard. A sticker over the bar reads “Make Levees Not War”, and that’s the vibe of the bar. I was in no hurry to leave.
This Royal Sonesta Hotel eatery on Bourbon Street has a bit too much light but has an otherwise attractive old-world feel to it. I have kind of mixed feelings about this place. I found the food to be a bit over-flavored (yes, even for New Orleans). However, the waitress JoAnn is like an adopted grandmother to every client. Expect a hug! She’s great. She’s a star. She’s reason alone to be there. A lot of the places at which I wanted to dine were closed on Sundays, which is how I ended up here. Of the options at hand, I liked the look. So maybe it’s a place for Sundays if you see that JoAnn is working. Otherwise, any of the other places I’ve mentioned is better (IMO) – at least in terms of food. But it is conveniently located to the center of Bourbon Street mayhem.
Next week I will be in Baltimore. I will be staying in Fells Point and won’t have time for any sightseeing, but I will have time for a few restaurants and perhaps a bar or two. So if you have any suggestions, please let me know. Unfortunately, it seems that I started this blog just as I was beginning a series of trips (New Orleans for pleasure; Baltimore for work). I’m not sure if I’ll manage to post from Baltimore, but I’ll try if I can. My promise to myself is that I’ll blog at least once a week, but my promise to you is that I won’t blog just for the sake of blogging. I’d rather break a promise to myself than just blog to blog.
The photo at the top of this post was taken in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. I had read that it was too dangerous to go to this cemetery without going on a group tour. So I went without a tour! I felt completely safe. I can only imagine that it’s deemed to be unsafe in the same way that tourists were afraid of NYC when I peacefully lived there. I can’t vouch for your safety there, but I felt absolutely unconcerned with my own while there.
I didn’t take many photos in NOLA – maybe a hundred, but most that I did take were taken in the cemetery (all rather quickly actually as it wasn’t long before it was closing). I just played with my G11, shooting wide, shooting long, shooting open, shooting closed, shooting on my tiptoes, shooting with one hand behind my back (OK, a couple of those might be exaggerations) – just to test the bounds of the camera a bit. Or at least my bounds with it. (Twice I pressed off instead of the shutter; those buttons are too close. Yes, I know, one is raised, but in the heat of the moment they’re still rather close.)
I had intended to make a black and white cemetery image with a heavy vignette and added grain – to give a more creepy cemetery feel, but that’s not the story of New Orleans today. It’s a story of hope and rebirth. It’s not a place of forlorn despair. It’s a place of vibrant hope. As a sign I saw read, “hell froze over and New Orleans won”. So for this one I decided on color without a horror, b-movie action.
Thanks for reading.