Visitors arrive in New Orleans with notions of what to expect--a
year-round carnival atmosphere, robust food, soulful music, decorative
cast iron balconies in the French Quarter, paddle-wheelers on the
Mississippi, remnants of plantation life and the practice of voodoo.
But even the tourist whose head is filled with a roll of snapshots
of the Big Easy will soon discover unexpected vignettes in this
most magical of places.
For example, the cemeteries known by the locals as Cities of the Dead. Because
belowground burial is impossible due to the region's high water table, tombs
resembling windowless houses were erected for aboveground interment. As much a
source of fascination as any anomalies, tour buses are frequently seen
decamping to allow the curious to examine the vaults close hand.
Or the statuary, which is almost an integral part of the cityscape. More of the
famous seem to be honored in stone, marble or bronze--Jeanne D'Arc, Winston
Churchill, Andrew Jackson, Martin Luther King, Louis Armstrong--than in other
towns of comparable size. Then there are sculptures of the lesser known that
also engage the attention--an old man, a leading citizen Marcus Woldenberg, and
a young lad, his grandson, seated on a park bench at the riverfront. The
sculptor created two figures who are very much alive and whose pleasure in
their relationship is so evident that it is like a metaphor for the city. A
quote on the work states that Woldenberg left a legacy of caring and of
confidence in New Orleans. Would that he could speak he would no doubt address
the onlooker about the history, people, arch-itecture, neigh-borhoods and
Isn't it fortunate that N'awlins has no closing law? Since everything is open
day and night, tourists can cram a great deal of activity into a short stay.
For an overview begin with an organized city tour. Although there are several
companies, Gray Line offered hotel pickups, which is why we chose it. As the
bus traveled a loop through several districts, the guide wove amusing anecdotes
into his talk on the Floating City's colorful history.
|Musicians, New Orleans; credit: Riverview Photography
Some two and one-half centuries ago, the French Quarter was all that there was
of the Crescent City. Founded by the explorer Pierre le Moyne, sieur de
Bienville, it was a lonely outpost in an expanse of marsh and swamp. The
descendants of the French and Spanish early settlers were cosmopolitan,
city-dwelling Creoles; Cajuns who immigrated from Nova Scotia lived in the
country. African and Caribbean peoples settled here, too, adding their own
cultural traditions, particularly the rituals of voodoo, to the spicy
hodgepodge heritage. Late-arriving "Americans" who came after the Louisiana
Purchase built their fine antebellum mansions in the Garden District. "There is
the real Tara," said our guide as he pointed out Anne Rice's home.
After you complete your bus trip you will want to explore the city more
thoroughly on foot, by street car and using the hop-on and hop-off trolley
tour. Go for a long and leisurely stroll through the Vieux Carré
crisscrossing streets with names like Iberville, Dauphine and Chartres. Board
the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, the world's oldest operating line covering
13.13 miles through the Garden District and Uptown and taking about an hour and
a half. Buy a ticket for the narrated trolley tour making ten stops at historic
homes and districts, museums and restaurants.
Musicians named the city "The Big Easy" because they came into town for short
stays, earned money quickly and returned when their wallets were empty. The
sounds of those musicians fill the restaurants, bars and clubs. Excitement,
color and entertainment fill the streets. And N'awlins is an easy city to have
a romance with.
At the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum see the portrait of famed voodoo
queen Marie Laveau as well as altars, folk remedies, charms, sacred objects,
artifacts, figurines and all the paraphernalia of this ancient, secretive
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, 724 Dumaine Street. Tel. 504-523-7685.
Open daily, 10 a.m. to 8. p.m.
One of the best aquariums in the U.S. is the Aquarium of the Americas with
more than 10,000 specimens of marine life living in five distinctive habitats.
Walk on a pathway through the treetops in the Amazon rain forest, a stunning
re-creation of a tropical woodland. Spend time in the Changing Exhibits Gallery
where the interactive displays are replaced yearly.
Aquarium of the Americas, Riverwalk and Canal Place. Tel. 800-774-7394,
504-581-4629. Open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
More than 1,800 animals live in natural habitats at the Audubon Park and
Zoological Garden. Elevated walkways and paved paths allow visitors to roam
through these environments.
Audubon Zoological Garden, 6500 Magazine Street. Tel. 504-861-2537. Open
daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Located in the uptown area, the zoo can be reached by
the St. Charles Streetcar or on a riverboat cruise, which leaves from outside
Housed in a neoclassic building, the New Orleans Museum of Art has a permanent
collection of works from the pre-Christian era to the present and includes the
largest group of Colonial Latin American paintings and sculptures in the
New Orleans Museum of Art, 1 Collins Diboll Circle, City Park. Tel.
504-488-2631. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. One of the stops on the
Oak Alley Plantation, built in 1839, was one of the few plantation homes spared
in the Civil War. A striking Greek Revival mansion surrounded by 28 Doric
columns, it stands at the end of a quarter-mile alley lined with live oaks
planted in the 1700s.
Oak Alley Plantation, 3645 Highway 18, Vacherie, LA 70090. Tel. 800-44ALLEY,
504-265-2151. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Accessible by car or tour bus.
Longue Vue House and Gardens is a historic city estate and a
horticulturist's delight. Patterned after an English country house, it dates
only to 1939, but captures the grandeur of an earlier era.
Longue Vue House and Gardens, 7 Bamboo Road. Tel. 504-488-5488. Open Monday
to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4:15 p.m. One of the stops on the
The surroundings are spartan and no drinks are sold here, but if you are
a jazz aficionado or want to hear just one band, Preservation Hall is the place
to tune in. Music begins at 8:30 p.m. with the last of the half-hour sets
starting at 11:30. Admission is only $4.00 and once you gain entrance you can
stay the evening. If you're lucky, you'll find a seat on a wooden bench. If
not, you'll have to sit on the floor or stand. But, oh that music! An elderly
vocalist could barely rise from his chair and had to be assisted by two
musicians, but when he began to sing, both he and the other music makers
produced the sweetest sounds in town.
Preservation Hall, 726 St. Peter Street. Tel. 504-522-2238 (day),
The Dukes of Dixieland, a talented five-piece combo, played non-stop during a
two-hour Steamboat Natchez dinner cruise. Accepting requests from the lively
crowd who kept the dance floor full, there was only one song "Moscow Nights"
that was unfamiliar to them. The scenery wasn't much, industrial equipment and
the like, but there was no need to be on deck. Surprisingly the food, which is
usually not palatable on river cruises, was more than adequate. In fact, some
of the dishes like the chicken and spinach souffle were quite good.
Steamboat Natchez Dinner/Jazz Cruise, Toulouse Street Wharf at JAX Brewery.
Tel. 800-233-BOAT, 504-586-8777. Every night except December 1 to February 10
when the schedule is limited. Reservations suggested.
If the French Quarter is where you go when you want to eat, drink and be merry,
Windsor Court Hotel is where
you go when you want to sleep. Located in the Central Business District,
one block west of the old section, it is quiet and super luxurious.
Under the direction of James Sherwood, a dedicated Anglophile, chairman
of Orient-Express Hotels and owner of the property since 1991, it
has also become oh so very British. The rose-granite exterior--the
building dates from 1974--is modern and the hotel's ties to England
are established at the entrance. An imposing statue of St. George,
the patron saint of Great Britain, stands in the courtyard near the
An $8 million Anglo-centric art collection--paintings by English artists and by
royal family favorites depicting Windsor Castle and the monarchy's life
there--decks the halls and includes works by Gainsborough, Reynolds and Van
Dyck. In the second floor atrium, styled like an English club, a large model of
the castle rests on a table in the center of the room. Most impressive among
the oils is one on view in the lobby of King Charles II and his court.
|Bourbon Street, French Quarter, New Orleans; credit:
A member of the British royalty, Princess Anne, was guest of honor at the gala
opening. Tea in the salon is a proper English one with waitresses dressed in
Victorian outfits. Amid the elegance, service is thoughtful, without being
stuffy. Concierges remember your name and inquire whether the directions that
they gave you to a restaurant were satisfactory. Bellhops smile and ask if you
are enjoying your stay.
Most of the rooms are suites, filled with light from bay windows and balcony
doors. Some look out on the Mississippi. Bathrooms are marble and have separate
dressing rooms. The well-equipped gym, 65-foot rose-tinted pool and large
Jacuzzi are as impressive as the rest of hotel.
Those who share Sherwood's admiration of Great Britain and are planning their
millennium celebration, but can't make it to the Prime Meridian in Greenwich on
the Thames might consider the "Windsor Court Hotel 2000" package. The partying
begins on Friday night with a time capsule burial ceremony. Contact the hotel
for more details.
Windsor Court Hotel, 300 Gravier Street, New Orleans, LA 70130. Tel. 800-262-2662,
504-523-6000. Regular rates start at $190. www.windsorcourthotel.com
In a city known for great food, being rated #1 by the Zagat Survey for American
and Continental food, hotel dining, service and decor is quite a coup. In 1997
the Grill Room at the Windsor Court Hotel received that honor. Jazz at
brunch being the rage in New Orleans, the hotel serves up a fine trio to provide
background music in sumptuous surroundings. Patrons ponder the choices for a long
time before deciding what to order. The menu is extensive, varied and everything
sounded mouth-watering. To name a few of the offerings--spicy turtle soup, apple
and pecan crepes, pork tenderloin, duck proscuitto, crab cakes and eggs Windsor.
Grill Room, Windsor Court Hotel, 300 Gravier Street. Tel. 800-262-2662,
504-523-6000. Brunch is moderately priced. www.windsorcourthotel.com/web/onor/onor_c4a1_grill_room.jsp
The smell of fresh bread and pastries emanating from la Madeleine will
entice you into this simple and very Parisian French bakery and cafe. A
delightful place for breakfast or an afternoon repast, service is partly
cafeteria-style. Cooked-to-order items like omelets and French toast are
brought to the table. Patrons pick up the delicious Danish, brioche, scones,
muffins and coffee cake at the counter.
la Madeline, 547 St. Ann Street. Tel. 504-568-0073. Open all day. Lunch and
dinner menus. Inexpensive.
Arnaud's has been a New Orleans tradition since the day it was opened
some 80 years ago by a French bon vivant and self-anointed aristocrat Leon
Cazenave, alias "Count Arnaud". At his death, it was in disrepair until a
knight in shining armor, Archie Casbarian, bought and restored it to the
splendor that a high-ceilinged 1918 restaurant should possess--chandeliers, a
floor of patterned tile and leaded glass windows. The renowned food is Creole
and the specialties include shrimp Arnaud, smoked pompano, veal tournedos
Chantal, pommes soufflé and oysters Bienville, created by the count. A
more casual restaurant, Remoulade, with a Bourbon Street address is next door
and under the same ownership. Arnaud's even has a museum where the costumes
worn by the Cazenave family during Mardi Gras are on display.
Arnaud's 813 Bienville Street. Tel. 504-523-0611. Open daily for dinner;
lunch, Monday to Friday; Sunday brunch. Moderately expensive. www.arnauds.com
Bravo to the food critic and reviewer of the cookbook "Breakfast at
Brennan's" who called some of the recipes in the book mastodon food and said
the practice of serving butter, whole eggs, cream and alcohol for breakfast
belonged in the brontosaur `50s. Do people still eat like that? Apparently many
do for Brennan's is packed every day from 8 a.m. on and it is not only because
the ambiance is engaging or the service is polite. Those early morning diners
scarf down a lot of dishes that should have passed into oblivion along with
beef Wellington and jello molds. Two that were invented here are big
sellers--bananas Foster made with butter, sugar, rum, liqueur and ice cream;
and eggs Hussard composed of poached eggs, Holland rusks, Canadian bacon and
Hollandaise and Marchand de Vin sauces.
Brennan's, 417 Rue Royale. Tel. 504-525-9713. Open daily for breakfast,
lunch and dinner. Very expensive. www.brennansneworleans.com
The Bistro at Maison de Ville is a restaurant that justifies New
Orleans's repu-tation as a dining capital of the world. Housed in a small and
posh hotel dating from the 1700s, the dining room, seating only 40, has a chic
look that is quintessential Parisian bistro and the atmosphere of a local
eatery where the owner knows every patron. Pinch hitting for the proprietor is
the maitre d', a warm, gregarious Belgian native, and behind him is a talented
chef who wants your dining experience to be special.
The evening meal began with an irresistible tapenade and every dish that followed
stood up to the strong start--fried oysters with polenta croutons, goat cheese
and spinach salad; quail ravioli in sage broth with fried sage leaves; smoked
duck breast; salmon on large grain couscous; veal osso buco; and glorious desserts.
Not a faulty flavor among any of those dishes. The Bistro at Maison de Ville,
727 Rue Toulouse. Tel. 504-528-9206. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Sunday
brunch. Expensive. www.maisondeville.com/dining/index.html
Tujague's is a restaurant to skip. It gets lots of publicity and is
crowded with customers searching out a Creole meal in the French Quarter. There
was almost nothing we ate that deserved a passing mark. Shrimp were soggy and
the remoulade sauce that accompanied them was spicy, but tasteless. Roux, the
basis of gumbo, is supposed to trap and release the flavors, but the one served
here tasted only of flour. The banana bread pudding was too sweet and had the
consistency of mush. Only one dish got our approval, the juicy, tender and very
garlicky chicken bonnne femme. The unpretentious surroundings do not compensate
for the poor kitchen.
Tujague's, 823 Decatur Street. Tel. 504-525-8676. Open daily for lunch
and dinner. Inexpensive. www.tujaguesrestaurant.com
The chef/owner of Andrew Jaeger's House of Seafood, the epon-ymous
restaurant, says fusion cooking is nothing new and that it's been a New Orleans
specialty for 200 years, incorporating Spanish, French, African and Caribbean
cooking styles. His Cajun and Creole renditions of seafood show those
influences. Some of the entrees are sampler plates. You can order an assortment
of several different kinds of very fresh fish and seafood. They come poached,
baked, blackened, deep-fried and pan-seared. The crab cakes and the pastas
topped with seafood, of course, are recommended. A group playing jazz and blues
is featured nightly in this casual dining spot.
Andrew Jaeger's House of Seafood, 622 Conti Street. Tel. 504-522-4964.
Open daily, dinner. Moderate. www.andrewjaegers.com