New Orleans is a magical place.
You might find that hard to believe, with the filthy streets near Bourbon and the constant drone of drunk people wandering around. But magical, it still somehow is.
Before I went to NOLA last week for a conference, I always thought I wouldn’t really like the city. I’m not a fan of loud noises or people so drunk they end up walking around with their dress up above their waist. I like food, but a place that eats alligator of all things? Not to mention the voodoo stuff. Needless to say, I was curious but skeptical.
What I quickly discovered my first night, when I braved Bourbon Street for the first time late at night to grab a quick bite before hiding back in the hotel, is that New Orleans is a city with two faces. One side is the party culture that rages down Bourbon every night and shows itself in the lime green bottles you can buy at just about any bar. But the other side starts to show itself the farther you cross over from Bourbon to Royal Street.
I fell in love with the classy, historic side of Nawlins’ my second night there, when I led two buddies down Royal to a cafe I’d heard was a must-try, Cafe Amelie. The restaurant is hidden by a hedge, with only a black gate to cross through that you would miss if not for their small wooden sign. The hostess invited us to grab a cocktail and sit out in the beautifully lit courtyard while we waited for a table. The food was divine, of course, but the true appeal of the place was how enchanting the fairy light-lit atmosphere was.
Another night, I strayed to the Frenchmen Street Night Market and walked around to view the whimsical makings of artists from the Quarter. Across the street, a jazz bar opened their doors to let the music flow out to the crowds. I ended up walking over to secure a spot near the door, right behind the stage where the most soulful jazz singer I’ve ever heard was singing her actual heart out. It was almost like a contest to see who passed out first: the singer, or the sax man behind her with his endless solo.
I did the usual tourist things as well, of course, just to say I’ve done them. I had a Hurricane on Bourbon that tasted like spiked Kool-aid; I almost had my cards read at a tarot reading and chickened out at the last minute; I had my beignets at Cafe du Monde, and I even tried gator bites prepared in 3 different ways and found out I have an affinity for turtle soup.
But the most magical thing about New Orleans is that the people and places sweep you in and make you feel welcome from the get-go. Everybody I ran into was happy to point out a great place to eat just around the corner or to help me get to my destination. Everyone wants you to have a grand old time.
I simply cannot wait to go back, although next time I’m taking a group of friends so that I can show them how magical the Big Easy can be.
Besides the awesome places mentioned above, here are a few things I absolutely recommend checking out next time you’re in Nawlins’:
- It seems extra touristy, but the aquarium on Canal is so worth it. Their exhibits and animals are amazing and well taken care of, plus tickets are less than $30 each!
- Try the gator, it tastes just like chicken. Try the turtle, it tastes just like veal.
- If you can fanangle your way into getting a balcony table somewhere, do that. Be stubborn about it.
- There’s a place on Frenchmen called ‘Dat Dog.’ I can’t speak to the food but it’s a great place to see Star Wars memorabilia and use a free toilet.
- Solid Gumbo can be found at the Olde Nawlin’s Cookery on Bourbon.
- The line at Acme Oyster House is a mile long every damn day so go at a weird time.
- If you want your cards read, many tarot stands can be found on Jackson Square late at night for cheap.