As one of my friends observed on our last trip, New Orleans is where “young people go to retire”. It’s a laid back, young city that offers both an ongoing party and a slow pace to its visitors. While being able to drink legally on the streets is something to be celebrating, exploring beyond the daiquiris reveals the city’s unique ability to offer something to every one of its visitors: a diverse tradition of live music, a burgeoning independent restaurant and bar scene and (especially important to us winter-weary St Andreans) beautiful weather all year round.
Bacchanal offers an unpretentious approach to wine and cheese. First, according to your taste and budget, you pick a bottle of wine and some cheeses to go with it. Then you enjoy it all in an outdoor courtyard scattered with broken lawn chairs and strings of fairy lights while listening to live, local jazz. I’d avoid going in the peak of summer (prime mosquito season), but the whole experience is a refreshingly relaxed way to enjoy music and the two most important food groups.
Though pricey, a swamp tour is a necessary indulgence. Many hotels and hostels offer discounts on affiliated companies’ tours, and if you figure out your own transport to the site the price is further reduced. Most guarantee an alligator sighting, and the one I went on included at least five very close-up photo ops, a chance to hold a baby alligator and a hilarious encounter with a group of racoons, lured to the shore with the captain’s secret marshmallow stash. Bring bug spray, money for tipping and go early in the morning to avoid crowds.
After your mandatory Hand Grenade or two or three (a powerfully green tropical beverage in an equally neon souvenir cup) and visits to several gloriously touristy Bourbon Street bars, head over to Clover Grill for an omelette. It’s open 24/7, has maybe fifteen seats and smells unapologetically of grease. It shocked me and produced the fluffiest, most flavoursome omelette I have ever come across. The hash browns are treated with equal respect, each shred perfectly soft on the inside and golden and crunchy on the outside.
The Frenchmen Art Market lives next to the famed Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street. It’s best to visit in the early evening, when people are strolling with beers in their hands slowly gearing up for their dinners or bar crawls. The market is an outdoor space decorated again by fairy lights and features pieces from a wide range of local artists who design things from zipper necklaces to artisanal soaps. There’s vintage furniture scattered around for sitting (and buying) and the chalk drawings on the ground bring back memories of playing hopscotch in my driveway.
When you think New Orleans bar you think jazz, right? So before you get turned off by the idea of hanging out at a bar that exclusively features heavy metal bands, let me talk to you about cabbage rolls. Siberia’s vegetarian, Russian-inspired menu was the best kind of surprising: the cabbage rolls are served with a succulent mushroom filling and sweet-tangy vegetable sauce. The $6 beet burgers are enormous and juicy and the Pierogi, perfectly rich. Come before the music starts and treat yourself to a budget-friendly, unique feast. Stay for the decent beer selection and unexpected music.
A note: The only slight setback is that you will need a car to enjoy most of these things. While there is limited public transport (and a trip down one of the old street car lines is a must), all the city’s best activities aren’t really accessible this way. Best to rent a car or turn your visit into a Southern road trip, because why spend money on taxis when it could go towards zipper necklaces and borscht?
Images courtesy of the author and sourced from Pinterest.