I’m not going to ALA in New Orleans this summer, but I know many hangingtogether readers will be there. I spent nine days in New Orleans in February and wanted to share some recommendations for food, music, and other diversions.
Dining: Yes, have your beignets at Café du Monde, but don’t let that dampen your appetite for lunch. You can get good Po’ Boys anywhere, but the best muffaletta was at Frank’s (933 Decatur) – and they’ll make you a fine vegetarian muffaletta, too. There are more great places to eat than you’ll have time for, so don’t let an OK meal take the place of a great one! Antoine’s was a fine place for oysters Rockefeller and Sazaracs, but a bit stodgy for my taste. Bayona (430 Dauphine St.) is Susan Spicer’s restaurant (the chef on HBO’s Treme is loosely based on Spicer). Everything at Bayona was fantastic. Feelings (2600 Chartres St.) features Creole dishes and has wonderful ambiance.
Going beyond the French Quarter, Dante’s Kitchen was my favorite of all the restaurants we sampled. It’s at the corner of Dante and River Road, not far from the end of St. Charles Street, so take the streetcar. Jacques-Imo’s (8324 Oak St) is a fabulous restaurant and doesn’t take reservations, so you may want to get there early if you plan to go to the Maple Leaf (see music venues below) after dinner. Atchafalaya (901 Louisiana Ave. – take a taxi) was also a real treat.
Music: Make sure you don’t limit yourselves to the French Quarter (though I enjoyed One-Eyed Jack’s and would have liked to have had the Preservation Hall experience, but we didn’t get there early enough and the line was longer than our patience). Locals eschew Bourbon Street and head to Frenchmen Street instead. It’s not far away, and it has nicer clubs, better music, and is reasonably priced. On Frenchman, the Spotted Cat is an easy place to dip in for music and a beer at any time of the day. Other Frenchmen St. clubs are the Blue Nile, Snug Harbor, and d.b.a – and they are all within a couple blocks of each other.
Venture beyond the French Quarter and Frenchmen St. and visit Mid City Lanes Rock ’n’ Bowl (3000 South Carrollton); it’s an experience: great music, good food, and bowling! Chickie Wah Wah (2828 Canal St.) is an intimate club (OK, it’s a bar); we saw Jon Cleary there. Tipitina’s is legendary, fairly big, and draws big names. The Maple Leaf (8316 Oak St.) is a bar with a large separate room for music. The Rebirth Brass Band plays there most Tuesdays and it’s well worth the trip. It can get really hot, so dress accordingly. Kermit Ruffins plays Vaughan’s (4229 Dauphine St.) in the Bywater on most Thursdays. When we were there Wendell Pierce who plays Antoine Batiste on Treme was partying with Kermit. It can be crowded; be nice as you push your way to the front. If you get a chance to see Mia Borders, the Subdudes, Tab Benoit, Trombone Shorty, or Jon Cleary, just do it.
Other diversions: For a nice place to get away from the insanity of Bourbon Street and have a quiet drink and some conversation, continue a bit further east on Bourbon and visit Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (941 Bourbon). It’s old (pre-1775) and dark and can be a sanctuary from the madness. The Louisiana State Museum Presbytere has a very good exhibit called, Katrina and Beyond. If there’s a Second Line parade, join it! Wander around St. Louis Cemetery #1. Rent bikes and explore a bit. We cycled around the 9th ward (hardest hit by the flooding and still struggling), to City Park, and to Lake Ponchartrane. Rent a car and get out to see Cajun country and see the wetlands before they’re gone (we lose a football field of wetlands there every hour). And then do something about it www.americaswetland.com.
There’s so much to enjoy about New Orleans. Be the one who does more than just wander around with a Hand Grenade (a boozy chartreuse drink) and complain about the heat. And remember to stop in at the Convention Center from time to time.