New Orleans: A sexy, jazzy, tasty destination for Milwaukeeans
Note: The contents of this guide were checked for accuracy when this article was updated on Feb. 13, 2018 at 3:19 p.m. We continually update the thousands of articles on OnMilwaukee.com, but it's possible some details, specials and offers may have changed. As always, we recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the businesses mentioned in the guide.
NEW ORLEANS – When people think of New Orleans, visions of feathery masks, brightly colored beads, boozy drinks, hazy jazz clubs, girls flashing their goods and heartless hurricanes usually come to mind. Indeed, all of these elements are a part of the culture, but there's so much more.
A visit to The Big Easy can be upscale, seedy or somewhere in between. Whether one stays in a five-star historic hotel or questionable, crumbling quarters, New Orleans has a certain magic that entrances most of its visitors. (Multiple conversations with locals lead to a statement like, "I came here X number of years ago on vacation and I never left ...")
Perhaps it's the "anything goes" feeling of freedom that permeates the streets. From complete freaks to normal Nans, it seems everyone slips into a NOLA niche. The blend of cultures, predominantly French, Cajun, Creole and Haitian, creates a unique blend of food, drink and music offerings unlike anywhere else in the world.
The city emulates endurance, resilience and strength that's, in part, conjured from a history of adversity. In 1788, the Great Fire of New Orleans burned down most of the French Quarter, and hurricanes, like 2005's horrific Katrina, forced residents to rebuild their homes and their lives. A postcard at the French Quarter Postal Emporium on Bourbon Street reads, "New Orleans: destined to outlast the cockroach," reminding everyone that it's definitely a place for the hearty and not the weak of heart.
Bourbon Street: flash 'em if you got 'em and then keep going
Most visitors stay in the French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carre, which is the oldest neighborhood in the city. The Quarter has a total area that's under one square mile, so walking is the most common mode of transportation. In terms of what to do in the Quarter, Jason Clime, the regional coordinator for the Louisiana Office of Tourism, put it best.
"Everyone has to go to Bourbon Street, at the very least to see what all the fuss is about," says Clime. "Bourbon Street is an experience, a place where people lose their inhibitions and that can be a beautiful thing."
Strolling up and down Bourbon Street, which spans the entire Quarter, offers a feast of eye candy. "Upper Bourbon Street" is an eight-block stretch and where most of the debauchery takes place. Walk-up windows serve "huge ass beers" to go, as well as strong, sugary drinks from daiquiris to hurricanes to the secret-recipe hand grenade. (It has a melon flavor. Midori or some cheap knock-off perhaps?)
Bars, voodoo shops, restaurants and clubs, both jazz and strip, line the street on the ground floor. (Try Larry Flint's Hustler Club or Rick's Cabaret to push the NOLA experience beyond an R-rating.) Above the businesses, there's usually a balcony with an ornate iron railing holding back a gaggle of partiers tossing strings of beads to those exposing naked torsos.
Bourbon Street: beyond boobs and beads
A few must-stops on Bourbon Street include Cafe-Lafitte-In-Exile, the oldest gay bar in the country, and the home of a fantastic Bloody Mary that, because of all the fixings, is more of a meal than a beverage. Or grab an Abita, the most popular local beer in New Orleans, at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop. It's inside one of the oldest buildings in the Quarter and did not have electricity – instead it was lit entirely by candle light – until very recently. It is believed, but not confirmed, that the tavern got electricity so they could install flat screen TVs when the Saints went to the Super Bowl.
The massive, famous Pat O'Brien's is a hardcore tourist destination with a great patio that serves up decent drinks in souvenir glasses. People in green blazers rove the connected drinking and eating spaces offering to snap photos. Pat O'Brien's hurricane mix is a common New Orleans' souvenir that's sold in lots of shops in the Quarter. If you are visiting with kids, this would be a good place to dine because it's boisterous and fun and, unless it's during Mardi Gras, pretty tame for Bourbon Street.
Pirate's Alley Cafe and Absinthe House is located on a quiet, cobblestone alley not far from Bourbon Street that was once the site of a Spanish Colonial prison that jailed Battle of New Orleans' war hero, Jean Lafitte. The dark and cave-like cafe is staffed by people who are experts at emulating pirates. From their ragged clothing to their "matey" speak, they have the Blackbeard schtick down and are well trained in the art of serving absinthe. The cafe slings four different types of absinthe, three of which cost $10 a glass and one, which is Cognac-based, that costs $20 per glass.
All of the pirate barkeeps provide plethora of absinthe-related information while making the 120-proof drinks. They use a large carafe filled with ice water, set the sugar cubes on fire and place them on green-lit coasters to further the mystique of the ancient drink that was referred to by Vincent Van Gogh as "the Green Fairy." Absinthe was only re-legalized in New Orleans in 2007.
For non-alcoholic drinks, Cafe du Monde in the French Market features paper-hat-wearing workers serving cafe au lait and beignets – square, fried donuts coated in powdered sugar. At Cafe du Monde, beignets are served in orders of three. Splitting an order of these sugary gut bombs is highly recommended. Otherwise, for a less touristy coffee experience, go to one of the numerous Community Coffee shops in the Quarter. Community Coffee is the Alterra of New Orleans.
Real-deal jazz joints
To hear authentic New Orleans jazz, Fritzel's European Jazz Club on Bourbon Street guarantees a taste of traditional every night. But just beyond Bourbon, on St. Peter Street, is Preservation Hall, the home of the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band – a jazz music lover's must.
"Young and old can gather together in one room and be moved together by some of the most emotionally powerful music in the world, all in a 200-year-old living room that has been essentially unchanged since we opened for business in 1961," says Preservation Hall's J. Lloyd Miller. Page 1 of 3 (view all on one page)
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