Open for Business - Business as Usual - Comeback of the Year - Choose any adage you like and it all amounts to one conclusion: the Big Easy is back in a big way. The historic city felled by the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005 continues to make great strides to return to the level of popularity that once attracted more than ten million people annually.
The Greater New Orleans population was approximately 1.4 million prior to Hurricane Katrina, while New Orleans itself accounted for nearly 500,000. In early 2007, most estimates place the city at approximately half that figure, with more and more residents expected to return as repairs and restoration continues. A key contributor is the success in bringing business and tourism back to the city, as well as the return of local sports teams and the major events the city's been famous for, headed of course by the ever popular Mardi Gras Festival in February.
Located in the southeast, Louisiana lies within the Gulf Coastal Plain. Its "L" shape is bordered by Mississippi on the east, the Gulf of Mexico on the south, Texas on the west, and Arkansas on the north. It achieved statehood following the War of 1812, becoming the 18th State of the Union, with the port city of New Orleans becoming the state capital. One of America's oldest cities, New Orleans features a rich, diverse heritage, which embodies European traditions and Caribbean influences that are evident in everything from its local architecture and music to its legendary cuisine and its collective Laissez les bons temps rouler attitude: "Let the good times roll."
New Orleans has a subtropical climate with pleasant year-round temperatures that range from the mid-40s during the winter to more than 90 F in the summer, with the months of January and July at the two extremes. It's not uncommon to see the temps rise upwards of 80 throughout the relatively dry month of October. Rainfall is common in New Orleans, with a monthly average of about five inches, with the highest usually occurring in the summer months.
New Orleans boasts many major attractions, from the festive French Quarter, which houses numerous hotels, restaurants and bars, highlighted by the famously popular Bourbon Street, to the streetcars along St. Charles and the stately manors along the way. Its fairly flat contour is conducive to exploring by foot to take in the many sights and sounds.
The French Quarter's freestanding 18th-century charm remains a picture of perseverance and an unexpected throwback to times gone by. The unique neighborhood is the city's cultural and community hub where residents and visitors intersperse to enjoy the surroundings, which includes picturesque architecture that mixes Spanish, French, Creole, and American styles. Educational walking tours can be experienced simply by setting foot onto the "Quarter" and gazing at the nearby sites along the way. Nearby Jackson Square is a pleasant open area in the heart of the French Quarter. Facing the Mississippi River, the Square is just along Chartres Street and bordered by the numerous cathedrals and historic buildings, while inside, its namesake, a statue of former president and military hero Andrew Jackson, is immortalized as a symbol of the city.
Surrounding Jackson Square is a pedestrian mall and an iron fence that is traditionally used for display purposes by local artists who ply their trade for tourists on the Square, creating everything from cityscapes to local treasures and personal portraits for passersby.
New Orleans, with its mainly flat topography, concise layout and quaint roadways, is conducive to walking. However, there are many economical transportation options for those who choose to do so. One way to treat yourself to a pleasant ride while seeing many sites and worthwhile tourist destinations is by hopping on one of the city's classic streetcars. Introduced in the 19th century as a means of public transportation, they still exist today, only with a more modern slant. In fact, save for the St. Charles, they've led a fairly tumultuous existence over the years, only to be reestablished as a primary form of transport and pleasant diversion. With three lines in operation today, most of which are now fully functional, they're a quick and convenient way for residents to get from point A to point B and for visitors to catch a glimpse of the essential parts of the city and neighboring communities.
Recognized as a national historic landmark, the mainstay St. Charles Avenue Streetcars travel a route along St. Charles Avenue toward Downtown and Lee Circle, then back. Along St. Charles Avenue, visitors will pass through one of the city's oldest residential neighborhoods and by Audubon Park and the Universities of Tulane and Loyola. Arriving at Lee Circle, riders are only a few minutes from such cultural attractions as the D-Day and Confederate Museums, and near to the Arts District. The Riverfront Streetcar Line runs along the Mississippi River from the Convention Center through the French Quarter to Esplanade Avenue, making it convenient for those attending conventions or heading out for an afternoon cruise. TheCanal Streetcars travels from the Mississippi along Canal Street to the Cemeteries. Check for the latest updates, fares and schedules at www.norta.com.
While in New Orleans, an effective getaway from the Bourbon Street bustle is to experience the beauty of the swamps and bayous in Cajun Country. Cajun Pride Swamp Tours (800-467-0758;www.cajunpridetours.com) takes you deep into the swamp where among the moss-draped cypress trees you'll see alligators, snakes, turtles, and birds. You can choose from among a variety of tour offerings that also include plantation tours, cities, seasonal, and specialty tours. Or you may opt for a combo tour that also takes you through fishing villages where you'll view historic homes and plantations. Tours are available year-round and prices vary. Printable discount coupons are available online.
The Audubon Nature Institute (6500 Magazine St.; 504-581-4629; www.auduboninstitute.org) houses more than 1,300 fascinating animals throughout its pathways and boardwalks in a landscaped garden setting. Popular areas include the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit, the Tropical Bird House and the Asia Domain. Bring the kids for a visit to The Dragons Lair or gaze at the playful pair known as Rex and Zulu, white tiger siblings; take a scenic ride aboard the Swamp Train or any number of available family-friendly rides and attractions.
While the city of New Orleans is itself comparable to a living history museum, a fun alternative to the daily museum and monument treks could be an evening spent with the city's wandering spirits. The New Orleans Ghost and Vampire Tour combines a traditional tour with theatrical highlights within select locations in the French Quarter (www.neworleansghosttour.com). Reservations are required. The same conditions apply for the New Orleans Cemetery History Tour, which is filled with two hours of traipsing through the city's storied history including enriching visits to St. Louis, Storyville and the oldest surviving church in New Orleans.
If you're not able to participate in the annual festivities of Mardi Gras, a suitable alternative is to pay a visit to Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World (1380 Port of New Orleans Place; 504-361-7821;www.mardigrasworld.com) anytime of the year, to get an up-close view of the many traditional elements that add to the splendor of the big parades. Blaine Kern's float-making industry has been in operation since 1947 and visitors can tour through warehouses and active studios to see massive collections of floats of all shapes and sizes, as well as traditional Mardi Gras costumes. A knowledgeable guide paints the word picture about their history and customs, while guests can opt to play dress-up from among the variety of colorful carnival wear, while the kids can make like its Halloween.
While New Orleans is renowned for its world famous Mardi Gras, perhaps its biggest attraction is something that's on display every day of the year and found all throughout the city. New Orleans' cultural heritage is second to none and is outwardly presented within its parks and gardens, galleries and museums, as well as the quaint neighborhoods and historic homes that reside there.
The Cabildo (701 Chartres St.; 504-568-6968; http://lsm.crt.state.la.us/cabex.htm), the flagship building of the Louisiana State Museum historical complex, which is also comprised of The Presbytere, the Old U.S. Mint, The 1850 House, and Madame John's Legacy. Located in the French Quarter, The Cabildo is recognized as a National Historic Landmark and was originally constructed in the late 18th century. It is revered as the site where the Louisiana Purchase transfer took place in 1803, effectively doubling the size of a young American nation with the stroke of a pen. A multi-room exhibition retraces the history of Louisiana from exploration through Reconstruction from a multicultural perspective. Visitors can explore the elegant building's borders to discover more than 1,000 artifacts, including Napoleon's death mask, plus original works of art that include portraits of famous local figures to Audubon's priceless engravings.
The National WWII Museum (945 Magazine St.; 504-528-1944; www.ddaymuseum.org) opened in New Orleans on Tuesday, June 6, 2000, the 56th anniversary of the Allied invasion into occupied Europe during World War II. The Warehouse District of New Orleans was chosen as the site for the $23.5-million museum because it was here that Andrew Higgins and his company, Higgins Industries, built the amphibious landing craft that played such a vital role in the invasion. The museum contains photographs, artifacts, miniature and life-size dioramas, and a reproduced landing craft, plus many artifacts that actually came from veterans. Many special events are featured monthly.
While Americans rightfully acknowledge July 4 as an acclaimed National Holiday and symbol of independence, for many years, the date of January 8 stood out as a National Holiday in its own right. Visitors to New Orleans that are interested to traverse only a few miles downriver from the French Quarter will discover the remarkable Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery (8606 West St., Bernard Hwy., Chalmette; 504-281-0510; www.nps.gov/jela/chalmette-battlefield.htm). Each year in January, the historic site is home to a reenactment of the battle performed by volunteers in authentic period uniforms, and visitors can also enjoy exhibits of authentic armaments, tents, cooking demonstrations, and historical discussions about the battle. General Andrew Jackson, who would later become seventh President of the U.S., and local volunteers, including renowned pirate Jean Lafitte, successfully defended the city and drove out the invading British. The Cemetery, established during the Civil War, lies adjacent to the battlefield.
New Orleans' level geography and nearby water outlets provide plentiful opportunities for outdoor pursuits. With origins dating back more than 100 years, Audubon Park (6500 Magazine St.; 504-581-4629;www.auduboninstitute.org) offers visitors pleasant subtropical scenery as they pursue a variety of outdoor recreation. Located across from Loyola and Tulane Universities, the park features an oval bike and walking path that meanders through nearby exercise stations situated alongside. To take advantage of river views, visitors can run or bike along the Levee Bike Path that begins Uptown at Audubon and Magazine Streets or take advantage of the nearly two miles of paved traffic-free road that loops around the lagoon. Located elsewhere in the park are tennis courts and horseback riding facilities along with expansive green. TheAudubon Zoo and Audubon Golf Course are both located within the perimeter of the park.
New Orleans offers something for every taste and budget, ranging from elegantly appointed, modern corporate high-rises to an eclectic mix of beautiful boutique properties and quaint, historic bed-and-breakfasts.
The McKendrick-Breaux House (1474 Magazine St.; 504-586-1700; www.mckendrick-breaux.com) is a pleasant retreat located in New Orleans' historic Lower Garden District, renowned for its antiques shops, galleries and boutiques. Originally built in 1865, it has since been restored to its original Greek Revival style. The elegant home features spacious guest rooms along with necessary modern conveniences expected for tourists or business travelers. Artistic galleries overlook a tropical-themed courtyard and lend an airy feel, and guests can indulge in a generous Continental breakfast daily.
One of the city's finest is a Five-Diamond property that offers guests plenty of luxury and ultra spacious accommodations. Windsor Court Hotel (300 Gravier St; 504-523-6000; www.windsorcourthotel.com). The hotel is located within easy access of local entertainment and features 324 units, 266 of which are suites, combining traditional English decor with modern amenities. All accommodations boast pristine views via a private balcony or bay window overlooking the Mississippi River or city skyline. Guests can choose from among a five-star dining facility, cigar-friendly lounge or break for afternoon tea in Le Salon.
Shopping in New Orleans is a unique experience with its many Old-World style traditions embodied in busy marketplaces or quaint boutiques that line its historic districts.
The French Market (504-522-2621; www.frenchmarket.org) is America's oldest operating public market. Located at the foot of the French Quarter, its' shops begin on Decatur Street across from Jackson Square and evoke comparisons with the many charming open-air markets in Europe. With origins dating back to 1791, the five-block marketplace remains true to its original make-up, providing specialty retail shops, community flea market, local produce, and of course authentic Cajun and Creole style offerings. You may sift through plenty of long lost treasures or readily available junk, but purchased goods are all available tax- free. Plenty of dining options are also available here.
Located along the riverbank sits the monumental half-mile long, three-level Riverwalk Marketplace(www.riverwalkmarketplace.com). The marketplace provides a mall-like setting that mixes in more than 140 nationally known stores and local culture, accentuated by pushcarts along the way. Riverwalk has the added attraction of a scenic view of the river, extending from the aquarium to the Morial Convention Center - which provides for the best views. Visitors can also expect to find special events taking place throughout the year, particularly around Mardi Gras time.
It's impossible to imagine New Orleans without a soundtrack of jazz, blues or brass. Music and celebration have long been trademarks of the city - and there is always something to celebrate in New Orleans.
Housed within a building with origins dating back to 1750, Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter St; 504-522-2841; www.preservationhall.com) is the old guard on the local club scene. Its plain structure has less to do with architectural charm and more about an iconoclastic showing that within its walls produces evening upon evening of fun in the finest New Orleans-style jazz tradition. Expect to see lines outside the door in the early evening hours and crowded standing room only conditions on the inside. The Hall is located in the French Quarter, three blocks from the Mississippi River and offers a casual atmosphere and one of the few locations that provides a family-friendly environment.
Snug Harbor (626 Frenchmen St.; 504-949-0696; www.snugjazz.com) is considered the city's premier jazz club with live music seven nights a week, featuring mainly contemporary jazz and the occasional blues band. The concert-type setting combines intimacy with a continuous line up of many world-renowned musicians, often highlighted by such names as Marsalis and Neville. The performance hall lends itself to rich acoustics ascending toward 25-foot ceilings from an elevated stage, which is typically in clear view thanks to the availability of two-level seating. The venue also offers a nightly dining menu with many local staples, as well as an often packed bar where patrons gather before the show.
While the famous riverboat gambling may be a thing of the past, at least for the foreseeable future, there are still some land-based gaming options for New Orleans visitors. Harrah's Casino (8 Canal St.; 504-533-6000; www.harrahs.com) features a vast gaming floor that contains more than 2,000 slots and nearly a hundred table games, along with what is considered the largest poker room in the South. There are plenty of dining options available, both casual and elegant, while international cuisine is a fixed option for patrons of The Buffet at Harrah's. Party Gras offers a new and uniquely New Orleans gaming experience, and furthering the nightlife experience is hip Masquerade lounge. Another nearby gaming option sits just to the west of downtown in Kenner at the Treasure Chest Casino (5050 Williams Blvd.; Kenner;www.treasurechestcasino.com) which offers a wide selection of gaming options, including the latest table games and fine Louisiana dining specialties, plus live weekend entertainment in the Caribbean Showroom
Acme Oyster House
Discover real-life New Orleans cuisine and atmosphere at the French Quarter location of the Acme Oyster House, one of the most popular of several locations in town. From seafood gumbo to chicken andouille with red beans and rice as a tasty side dish, the eating is really good here. Relax with a Po-boy sandwich or the famous "Acme 10 Napkin Roast Beef" debris-style and enjoy a casual bite. Try the "Boo Fries" served with roast beef gravy and cheese or fried crawfish tails in a quintessential historic New Orleans setting. Did we mention the delectable oysters on a half shell? Of course, cocktails and wine are served along with full dinners too
Acme Oyster House
724 Iberville St.
Bacco is Ralph Brennan's attempt at upscale Italian cuisine, and it's a good one. Homemade pasta, wood-fired pizzas and fresh seafood go along with more unusual dishes such as crawfish ravioli and pasta with black truffle sauce. All are prepared under the watchful eye of Chef Chris Montero, whose housemade pastas and fresh regional seafood spotlight a menu that's alive with homegrown ingredients and artfully prepared dishes presented with an Italian accent. The room itself is romantic with Renaissance screens behind the bar and stone hues on the walls. Bacco often has prix-fixe specials at lunch.
310 Chartres St.
It isn't hard to guess who the owners of Brennan's are. Still another sector of the family owns this landmark breakfast and brunch hot spot in the heart of the French Quarter. An enormous morning menu includes poached egg specialties, creamed spinach, baked apples, strawberries in cream, and even dessert (Bananas Foster was invented here). Dinner is equally popular although not as famous with its versions of Oysters Rockefeller and seafood gumbo. Since the place is enormous, you'll be happy if you can sit in the main dining room with views of the tropical courtyard and fountain.
417 Royal St.
A French Quarter staple for almost 20 years, this Italian bistro is lively, family-friendly and fun. Dishes from chef Duke LoCicero’s menu can be shared, starting with the generous appetizers, which include a nod to New Orleans with a fried green tomato dish. Mains provide a tour of Italy with Pasta Gambino, featuring rock shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes all tossed in a three-cheese cream sauce. The dish called Absolute Pasta is a seafood medley of gulf shrimp and scallops in a vodka sauce that leaves no one at the table hungry. When Italian food is on the wish list, this is the reliable place to go. For those who do not crave pasta, the chef also provides duck, fish and chicken entrees.
117 Decatur St.
Any dining foray into New Orleans should include a visit to Commander's Palace. It is from here that all other Louisiana-style cuisine is measured, especially in light of the fact that the place has been a breeding ground for many famous chefs. Chef Tory McPhail is a relatively new anchor at this bastion of fine dining and so far all is very well. Owned and operated by one sector of the formidable Brennan family, Commander's is huge, gorgeous and deliciously decadent. There's turtle soup, braised rabbit, crispy stuffed quail, and a bread pudding souffle that should be on the must-order list of every diner to cross the threshold.
1403 Washington Ave.
While Delmonico Restaurant has actually been a New Orleans staple since 1895, it has only been under Emeril's umbrella since 1997. Today, the cuisine is strictly Creole with classic items from the former menu and some new inventive ones thrown in for measure. Barbecued shrimp, souffled spinach and brie crepes, pan-roasted quail, and hickory-roasted duck are surprising and delicious. The two-story building, built in 1890, was originally a one-story dairy creamery. Obviously Emeril put it through a serious historic renovation before reopening with an understated elegance that includes high ceilings, wood floors and large paned windows overlooking St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District. Altogether a fine addition to Emeril's empire.
1300 St. Charles Ave.
Emeril's New Orleans
Possibly the most famous chef in the country these days is Emeril Lagasse who appears on television and in magazines and cookbooks wherever you turn. Emeril got his start right here in New Orleans where he owns three very different restaurants, all with his unmistakable stamp. Emeril's New Orleans was his first and remains the most upscale of three. Open since 1990 it has received awards for dishes such as deviled oysters with a sour mango slaw, andouille braised veal osso buco or rabbit with wild mushroom terrine. Delicious and different, dig into one of his dishes and you'll know immediately why Emeril has become a household name.
Emeril's New Orleans
800 Tchoupitoulas St.
At more than 100 years of age Galatoire's defines old-line New Orleans. Possibly the most popular lunch spot in the city, Galatoire's is loud, noisy and active—and New Orleanians like it exactly that way. Many of the French-Creole dishes here are recipes that date back to 1905. Expect heavy sauces on fried oysters, steaks and lamb chops. Most of the waiters have been here for life, so don't be surprised if you get some attitude as a tourist. Still, this is a premium, one-of-a-kind New Orleans experience. Jackets are required.
209 Bourbon St.
The lines out the door may signify one of two things—tourist trap or very good local food. Such is the case of the New Orleans' working mans dining hole called Mothers. Depending on who you ask, it's one, the other or both, but one thing you can always expect is a wide array of local delicacies composed of fried foods, hot plates and those infamous po' boy sandwiches. Eat elbow to elbow among the locals and tourists as you try the New Orleans tradition, an oyster po' boy, made of heaps of fried oysters, lettuce, and tomato embedded in fresh French crispy bread. It can be chaotic here as the line winds out among the tables. A loud and boisterous kitchen crew accompanies the noise by hooting and hollering names for orders while constructing some of New Orleans finest cheap eats.
401 Poydras St.
Live Cajun music, dancing seven nights a week, and authentic Cajun cuisine—all set in a casual atmosphere in the vicinity of the convention center—that’s what you will find at Mulate's New Orleans. The menu includes grilled or fried alligator, crawfish tails, gumbo, crawfish etouffe, a Cajun seafood platter, blackened redfish, and to top it off, pecan pie, bananas foster and key lime pie.
201 Julia Street
Red Fish Grill
Ralph Brennan is the proprietor at Red Fish Grill, a casual seafood haunt with creations ranging from barbecued oysters to shrimp po' boys to alligator sausage. Whimsically decorated with papier-mache wall hangings, sea creatures etched into a sea-colored concrete floor and hand-painted tables, Red Fish is comfortable for everyone from jeans-wearers to those in business suits. If you're alone, sit at the lengthy bar, which extends the entire length of the Iberville side of the restaurant, and feast on raw oysters.
Red Fish Grill
115 Bourbon St.
As much an art gallery as a restaurant, Upperline in Uptown New Orleans features the work of local painters on the wall and local cuisine in the kitchen. Shrimp remoulade, fried green tomatoes and crawfish enchiladas are dishes that keep this place high on the locals' lists of favorite restaurants. Situated in a charming cottage, the place is owned by the eccentric and vibrant Joanne Clevenger who will happily describe her abundant art collection to those who ask. She also knows more about food and restaurants in New Orleans than anyone. Open for dinner only, closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
1413 Upperline St.