A Spring Weekend in New Orleans

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Recently, I decided to write a book about a chef who is a big old Dungeons & Dragons-playing nerd. I don't remember why I decided it needed to be set in New Orleans, but there was no dissuading me once I'd made up my mind. Since our last visit was in February 2020, I jokingly told Alan I needed a refresher trip, and to my astonishment and joy, he readily agreed! What was even better was a few days later, my sister messaged me to say they'd love to join us. The last time we vacationed with them (sans kids) was a weekend in Las Vegas when their 7th grader was still in a stroller, so this was definitely a long time coming.

We ended up booking rooms at the Dauphine Orleans Hotel in the French Quarter, a hotel we'd stayed at back in 2014 when we met up with a couple of friends for a long weekend. It's a clean, well located three star hotel with an adorable courtyard with a pool and an amazing cocktail bar called Mae Bailey's Place that is never busy. 

Day One

We arrived a couple of hours before J&S, so we walked around the French Quarter for a couple of hours, got lunch at a place called Toast that had the absolute tallest french toast we'd ever seen, and then headed back to our hotel to take a nap as we'd been up since 4:30 in the morning for our 6 a.m. flight. 

The view from our balcony at the Dauphine Orleans Hotel

We are creatures of habit when it comes to visiting places we are already familiar with, and we've kind of got an itinerary set out for New Orleans when we're showing others around, so we hit up a lot of our usual haunts. Also, because a member of our party has mobility challenges, we didn't stray too far off the beaten path. As always, Bourbon Street remains absolutely filthy and disgusting, but once you get off it and into the Quarter, everything is exactly as beautiful and creative and whimsical as I remembered it being. We hit up Napoleon House and Pat O'Brien's -- not for the hurricanes (they're crap there) but for the courtyard ambiance. And as is tradition, we ended our wanderings at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop for the craziest purple drinks known to man before heading back to the hotel and a drink at May Bailey's before crashing.

Day Two

The next day we got brunch at The Court of Two Sisters (fitting for a trip of two sisters and their husbands, no?) and then made our way over to The Cabildo and The Presbyt√®re on Jackson Square for some quality education about the history of New Orleans, including the amazing exhibition on Mardi Gras and the Krewe system.

Later, while wandering around the Quarter, we stumbled upon a second line featuring the St. Augustine Marching 100 and a couple of Mardi Gras Indians, a truly special sight to see. St. Augustine is widely regarded as one of the best high school marching bands in the country, and you won't see Mardi Gras Indians anywhere but in New Orleans.

Later, we popped into a shop called The Pepper Palace, and what transpired from there was a thing of great and terrible beauty. I ended up buying A LOT of hot sauce, as well as some very spicy jelly beans and something called Cornferno, a product billed as "the hottest popcorn in the world. Friends, it does not lie. I had literal tears in my eyes as we strolled back to our hotel. I was crying on the streets of New Orleans, and I wasn't even a 25-year-old drunk girl. For dinner, we went to The Royal Cafe (meh) before stumbling on the cutest little ice cream shop on our way to catch a show at Preservation Hall, a must-do when you're in New Orleans. Just don't be like the drunk rich white ladies who kept interrupting the show and making the band leader very angry. I'm honestly surprised they didn't get thrown out.

Day Three

On our third day, I wanted to do some research for my book, so we used the Hop On/Hop Off bus to get around the city, heading to both the Garden District and the Marigny and Frenchman Street. A major plot point in my story is an interior designer who moves home to New Orleans and can't find a job in the industry, so she ends up tending bar at a well-known jazz club on Frenchman Street. In my head, I'd crafted my vision of what the perfect place would look like, and I was astounded when we walked into Bamboula's and it was quite literally exactly what I'd envisioned, right down to the portraits painted on the walls.

Also, walking through the Garden District? Yeah, I want to move there. The air was perfumed with jasmine, the homes were beautiful, and it just felt so peaceful but still New Orleans. We even got to have a nice long chat with a local about what their experiences were like during Hurricane Katrina and subsequent storms. It was a fascinating conversation, and I so appreciated him taking the time to indulge us. The people of New Orleans truly are the warmest I've come across anywhere in the U.S.

We walked back to the Quarter from Frenchman Street, stopping at one of those chair massage parlors along the way where my brother-in-law and I had 20 minutes back massages that felt so good I fell asleep.  We also made a second stop at Lafitte's because I love it so much.

After a short nap in our rooms, we headed back out for dinner at Felix's Restaurant & Oyster Bar, which wasn't as good as I remembered from past trips (the line for Acme Oyster House, which is our usual go-to, was over 1.5 hours long). From there, we braved Bourbon Street (it really is quite disgusting) to visit Jean Lafitte's Old Absinthe House, one of my favorite bars in New Orleans (but I love Absinthe, so ...). It was here that I learned my sister hates anise, something I never knew about her until now. After that, it was back to the hotel for some shut-eye before our final full day in the city.

Day Four

We really wanted to have one fancy meal while in New Orleans, so we opted for brunch at Antoine's Restaurant. On previous trips, we'd been to the bar here but had never gotten a meal. One reason we chose this place is the book I'm writing features a chef whose family is one of the old guard of New Orleans society, and a restaurant has been in their family for several generations. There are several restaurants like that in Nola, but having been to Galatoires and disliked it, I wanted to explore another one of these institutions. I'm so happy we did because everything about our prix fix menu was astoundingly good. My sister and I got the bottomless mimosas, and our server knew that meant we wanted just the smallest splash of OJ. Our glasses were always full. We also ordered their famous baked Alaska, and it was definitely worth those extra calories.

The meal was so rich and filling that we had to head back to the hotel to nap it off and change into our stretchy clothes. Later, we took a tour of the quarter in one of the donkey-pulled carriages. It was great to get up close and personal with all the streets of the Quarter and some in the Marigny and learn some additional factoids about the area, but I could have done without the driver making a comment about the length of my hair when we passed a bar that offers haircuts as well.

We ended up back at Napoleon House for dinner and then headed over to the Hotel Monteleone for drinks. We stayed there in 2020 and had an amazing night at the Carousel Bar, so we wanted to show it off to J&S. We were lucky enough to get a seat there after only 15 minutes. From there, we made our way back toward the hotel, stopping off at Finnegan's Easy, an Irish dive bar that's not really a dive where we had really great drinks and hung out in a really lovely back patio.

Day Five

I wouldn't say I count this as an actual day in town since we were leaving that afternoon, but we still managed to get breakfast (a second stop at Toast), grab some beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde, and walk around for a bit more sightseeing in the Quarter before our hotel called us a car.

And with that, it was back home to Massachusetts where I immediately pulled up Zillow and tried to convince Alan to let us move to the Garden District.

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