Last summer, after 9 months of working long hours with mostly no observed weekends, we took a vacation. Now, you might think that New Orleans in July is a terrible idea. On the one hand, it’s as hot and humid as it gets. On the other hand, NOLA doesn’t care about things like dress codes, and you’ve got the place mostly to yourself as far as tourism goes. We stayed in the French quarter through a package deal, and did not rent a car, instead opting for a cab to and from the airport, and public transit for the rest.
We arrived after some minor airport inconvenience. Nap in the room, and then plotting about dinner and evening entertainment. Decided we had to see this Bourbon Street thing for ourselves, and took a walk down it. It has exactly the same appeal as Times Square. For us, that meant: we saw it, now how fast can we leave? Seeking escape, we veered off Bourbon on our first good plan of the night, and pulled up a bar stool at Arnaud’s French 75. Technically it’s the accompanying bar to a restaurant, but it’s full of jazz, carved mahogany, and craftsmanship, so let it go. Disgusted by all of the neon grain alcohol in all-singing all-dancing containers we had just witnessed, we ordered a Sazerac and a (proper) Daquiri. They were delightful. We perked up and took a second look at the bartender. After a few more drinks and some begging, our gracious bartender made us a list on a cocktail napkin of the other bars we should hit in NOLA before we left. This napkin has been framed in our apartment’s entryway. Recounting this story later, a Boston bartender cut in with “The bartender was Chris Hannah, wasn’t it?” Indeed it was.
The rest of the evening: went to dinner at Acme Oyster house. BBQ oysters, if you’ve never had them, consist of placing freshly shucked oysters covered in cheese on a red hot grill for just long enough to make the cheese dark brown and bubbled. Add Tabasco to taste. They’re awesome and you should try them even if you think you don’t like oysters. We followed this with a Po’boy and seafood etouffee, plus a couple of Abita beers (they’re local).
Daisy Dukes (excellent breakfast and Bloody Marys), Bar Tonique (amazing venue, great cocktails), Sylvain. At Sylvain, we sat out in the lush back garden — muggy and hot, but worth it for the beauty. After speaking to our server about further recommendations, she slipped us the flyer for a benefit food event for a local chef who had been shot while closing up his restaurant late one night. The NoLa food community was coming together with food and entertainment “Beasts and Brass” to pay his medical bills. We were incredibly lucky to stumble across this, as there’s no sane reason tourists would have known about it.
Brunch: Court of the Three sisters, since we had a coupon with the hotel and flight deal. It was a lovely, outdoor garden venue, with live jazz, but I can’t say much for the food. It was adequate brunch, but nothing mind-blowing. Later in the day we took the streetcar to the Zoo. As long as weren’t going to hoof it out to a bayou boat tour, we needed to see some gators. It was great fun. The food event of the day was certainly dinner at Cochon. We ordered a bunch of small plates, making our own tasting menus. Very high quality casual fine dining. High level cocktail program. We finished the evening at a cocktail lounge called Loa. Plush brocade and glam venue, and the cocktail program is decent, but clearly catering to your average post-work corporate clientele.
Breakfast from (but not at) Cafe du Monde, because when there’s a tourist excuse for eating donuts, take it. We wandered down the riverbank, grabbed the free ferry across the river and back, and eventually ended up at the Museum of Southern Food and Drink, which was empty but hidden in a mall. Salt Boy watched an entire documentary about cajun food; Sugar Girl graciously indulged him. Extremely good lunch at a Caribbean cafe called (something), at the museum’s recommendation, after we escaped an unfortunately lame demonstration of crepe-making — better to have stuck to the Southernness. After that, cocktails at the Swizzle Stick, a classic hotel bar with a collection of reasonably inspired tipples, but who gave a second pointer to the fantastic Bar UnCommon. Bar UnCommon is so identically a corporate hotel bar with modern-but-continent-wide styling, little space, and a check-in desk across the room that you’ll definitely wonder if you’re in the right place. If a tall older gentleman named Chris is behind the bar, the answer is indubitably yes. Chris McMillan is incredible — look him up on YouTube — and you should be happy to take advantage. His drink for Katrina, “New Orleans is Drowning in Bourbon and Water,” a sort of modified Sazerac, is still a favorite in our house.
After that, we took the streetcar out to Twelve Mile Limit. It was a 15 minute walk through a suburban neighborhoo after the trolly ride, ending in a Tyvec-clad building with a sandwich bar out front reading “FOOD.” Inside we found a perfect caricature of a southern diver bar. Pool tables, dart boards and dim neon beer signs through a smokey haze: but the bartenders had a strong cocktail showing and some awesome bbq. We initially sat down at the bar between an increasingly inebriated regular and his dog, Daisy. After a couple of rounds the dog got off her bar stool and escorted her charge home. It was surreal, but really tasty.
We headed down to Frank’s for a proper muffaletta, then candy stores for pralines. The Katrina exhibit at the Museum of New Orleans is surprisingly compelling. After a nap, we went down to the Beasts and Brass Benefit for Nathanial Zimet, chef of Boucherie. There was a party for the ages. Probably not something any other tourist can ever take advantage of, but there you go.