du Monde, the original French Market coffee stand
has been operating since 1862.
are close to 100 stations on my Pandora playlist, ranging
from classical and folk to rock and hip hop. Despite the
selection of artists and songs at my fingertips, I always
seem to find myself choosing jazz. It’s comfort music,
soothing my soul at the end of a long day, beckoning a
liberal pour of red with a side of couch collapse and
"go to’s" are always the same: Miles Davis,
Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, and maybe
Norah Jones or Michael Buble to remind me that good music
is not just a thing of the past.
a weekend on my hands, music on my mind, and a city on the
verge of celebrating its tricentennial, I couldn’t think
of a better time to visit the birthplace of jazz.
pack your bags. We’re going to New Orleans!"
was January, the month NOLA turned the big 300 — and
just weeks before Mardi Gras on Feb. 13 — presenting the
perfect opportunity for my husband, Benjamin, and me to
check this vibrant city off our bucket list. Despite
thunderstorms in the forecast, our goals were to get lost
in the French Quarter; drink Pimm’s Cup before noon;
dance in the streets; lose track of time at Cafe de Monde;
peel crawfish like a local; eat oysters and maybe
alligator; and above all, soak in the jazz.
purposely chose to visit "New Oar-linz" (not
"New Or-leenz") close enough to Carnival to feel
the energy, yet far enough to avoid the chaos. We’re
crazy and all, but err on the side of 40-something
caution. What little we knew about our destination was
from word-of-mouth tales of debauchery, feathered
costumes, and flash-for-beads. We set out to break all
preconceived notions and simply discover the old, the new,
and the whatever that came our way.
lodging for the weekend was Old No. 77 Hotel &
Chandlery. Located three blocks from the French Quarter,
it once served as an 1850s warehouse in the port. A major
renovation in 2015 resurrected the building into a swanky,
boutique hotel with suites curated by local artists.
Hardwood floors and exposed-brick walls lead to a rotating
art gallery. On the ground floor is Compere Lapin — one
of New Orleans’ top restaurants (not to mention our
favorite of the trip) serving Caribbean-and European-takes
on local cuisine.
most curious travelers who visit this magical city, we
wasted no time on our first night, grabbing our coats and
heading straight into the darkness.
the French Quarter is where beauty lies, boasting
buildings dating back to the 18th century when the Spanish
ruled. Tucked away on Chartres Street sat the charming
Angeline by Chef Alex Harrel. The intimate dining room
looked out onto the rain-soaked pavement where reflections
of horse-drawn carriages and gas lamps danced with
themselves. Happy Hour boasted $3 beers and $5 plates of
crispy cauliflower and pate. We stayed beyond discounts
for roasted oysters, cast-iron cornbread and honest dishes
like herb-brined chicken and Louisiana short ribs.
having yet to fully indulge (New Orleans style), the
following morning was particularly painful. We had
committed to a bike tour with Free Wheelin’ without
accounting for the two-hour time difference.
the weather cooperated as we straddled our
"cruisers" and embarked with our fellow
travelers on a three-hour, 10-mile tour of the city. Like
a classroom on wheels, my questions were answered about
the width of the Mississippi River, the population and
everything in between.
by the French in 1718 under Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de
Bienville, New Orleans lured pirates, prostitutes,
pickpockets and partiers. Perhaps we have them to thank
(or blame) for NOLA’s 24-hour bars, no last calls, and
freedom to carry open containers of hooch. With 140 annual
festivals, the city is also the birthplace of classic
cocktails like the Sazerac and Hurricane.
pedaled our retro rides through the Marigny and Bywater
neighborhoods, home to the largest collection of 19th
century homes in America. We cruised to Esplanade Avenue,
Saint Louis Cemetery No. 3, and the famed neighborhood of
Treme, known for its jazz clubs, soul food and Creole
it being almost noon, the streets were eerily empty. What
signs of life we did see were glimpses into a world where
days seemed to tick away by the second. Rocking on porches
of old wooden cottages were locals waiting for nothing in
particular. Lazy dogs lifted their heads with little
effort to bark. The smell of fried chicken floated from
open windows, causing our bicycle gang to slow in passing.
guide pointed us upriver, downriver and geographically
everywhere in relation to the Mississippi, but never
north, south, east or west. It’s like the compass doesn’t
exist there. We crossed lanes by waiting on "neutral
ground" as opposed to "the median,"
stopping midway at City Park for beignets and cafe au lait.
This was our first taste of the deep-fried nuggets of
sweetened dough dusted in powdered sugar. They became our
lunch we stopped at the Napoleon House, a beloved landmark
in the historical French Quarter. Dating back to 1791,
this former house of NOLA’s first mayor, Nicholas Girod,
has a vibrant history, including a plot to provide refuge
for the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. While the plan never
came to pass, the building has been known as the Napoleon
House ever since, despite its former role in 1914 as an
Italian grocery store and its current one as the best
place to get a Pimm’s Cup before noon.
sampled traditional recipes dating back over two
centuries, like alligator sausage po-boy, jambalaya and
the Italian Muffuletta, paying homage to the immigrants
who first opened delis along the riverfront.
next door was the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, showcasing
the history of pharmacology at the site of the apothecary
of America’s first licensed pharmacist, Louis J. Dufilho
Jr. On display were propaganda for superstitious cures,
exhibits of early medicines and potions used by voodoo
strolled through the French Market and Jackson Square,
where artists, musicians, palm readers and dancers compete
for dollars with talent on the steps of St. Louis
Cathedral. Escaping the rain, we visited the Presbytere
with exhibits on Mardi Gras and Hurricane Katrina. When
you ask a local about one of the worst disasters in
American history, they won’t tell you that 80 percent of
the city flooded or that hundreds of lives were lost.
Instead, they’ll tell you why they stayed: the energy
and curious culture of New Orleans.
the antique shops on Royal Street to the House of Voodoo
on Bourbon Street, the city’s allure revealed itself,
especially at the Old U.S. Mint. With the largest jazz
collection in the world, on display are photographs,
records, manuscripts and instruments belonging to legends
like Bix Beiderbecke, Edward "Kid" Ory, George
Lewis, Sidney Bechet and Dizzy Gillespie. I looked down at
Louis Armstrong’s first coronet and could almost hear
us, it was the start of something remarkable, as if the
city’s heart skipped a beat because someone noticed —
recognizing that the sounds of yesterday fostered an
artistic enlightenment that not only survived and
persevered but changed music forever. Colorblind to race,
gender, age and politics, jazz has gifted us all in spite
of our differences.
evening, magic happened at Preservation Hall, the
cornerstone of the jazz scene. Established in 1961, this
dark, intimate venue existed for the sole purpose of
honoring one of America’s most innovative art forms.
50 of us sat shoulder-to-shoulder on wooden pews,
entranced by the acoustic performance by local masters.
Going where the music led them, each one left us
spellbound with their improvisational solos that came from
the deepest part of their souls.
us, this was the highlight, getting to witness the
real-time evolution of this venerable and living
tradition. But we were far from done in discovering all of
NOLA’s appeal. The street scene was alive with every
type of performer imaginable, each one trying to outdo the
other for your attention. We caught a burlesque show at
SoBou and cocktails at Hot Tin’s rooftop bar — a
speakeasy so cool that you wondered how you got in.
dinner, we ducked into Antoine’s, an 1840s New Orleans
institution famous for inventing Oysters Rockefeller. As
one of the oldest family-run restaurants in the country,
this classic French restaurant is equally known for its
extensive wine list with more than 20,000 bottles lining
the 170-foot-long cellar. Here, we dug into crawfish and
threw back Louisiana gulf oysters with pate.
STORY CAN END HERE)
beignets at the infamous Cafe du Monde, we walked in the
rain, stopping at the sound of an elderly man drumming on
a bucket. We stood mesmerized by his rhythms and
customized lyrics gifted to each person who passed. I
asked what kept him in New Orleans.
…," he said, pointing with his drumstick. "It
home, I thought about all we had experienced, wondering if
jazz would sound the same after this trip. Opening my
playlist, I poured a glass of red, scrolled to Ella and
realized that nothing was the same after New Orleans. It
had chosen me.
is travel writer based in Vista. Her website is
No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery: www.old77hotel.com
du Monde: www.cafedumonde.com
Brunch at SoBou: www.sobounola.com
Tin’s rooftop bar: www.hottinbar.com
Orleans Pharmacy Museum: www.pharmacymuseum.org
U.S. Mint: www.louisianastatemuseum.org
more info, visit: www.neworleans.com