As part of my day job I traveled to New Orleans for little over a week to manage part of my organization's annual conference. Carrie joined me towards the end of my stay for what would be a wild adventure around New Orleans over Halloween weekend. On top of the Halloween festivities, the Saints played at home against the Seahawks, Tulane had their homecoming, and Voodoo Festival, one of the country’s largest music festivals took place that weekend. Needless to say the city was in full party mode!
New Orleans has long been on my list of cities to visit in the United States, and thanks to this work trip it became a reality. I was able to spend my evenings and a couple of days at the end taking in all, or well, some of what the city has to offer. New Orleans is a city unto itself, with its work hard and play harder attitude, where to-go cups for your alcoholic beverages are a common sight, and the architecture is heavily influenced by the French.
New Orleans and Tourism
New Orleans is undoubtedly one of the most well known destinations in the U.S., because of its rich culinary scene, Mardi Gras celebrations, and the perpetual party that is Bourbon Street. Tourism is a major industry in New Orleans, which I witnessed first hand with the influx of visitors into the city for the various events occurring that weekend. To put the level of tourism into perspective, in 2015, 9.78 million visitors traveled to New Orleans spending $7.05 billion, representing an increase of 3.5% over 2014, breaking the previous record.
A vital component of tourism's impact on the local economy is the average stay by overnight tourists. The Chamber of Commerce for New Orleans found that overnight tourists in 2015 stayed an average of 4.2 nights and spent an average of $238 per person per day. This is an important aspect of tourism's contribution as the longer someone stays the larger impact they will have on the local economy.
Conventions like the one my organization put on are a major contributor to the local economy, with thousands of people flying in and staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, and like myself tacking on time at the beginning or end of a convention to make a vacation out of it.
Where to Eat and Drink in New Orleans
New Orleans famously has one of the richest and unique culinary scenes in the United States. Regularly voted one of the top foodie destinations in the U.S. we had a range of options. Here is what we loved and highly recommend.
Two Chicks Cafe
As soon as I arrived on Sunday I was in search of somewhere to eat brunch. At the recommendation of an acquaintance who I would work with at the convention center, my colleagues and I headed to Two Chicks Cafe, a small cafe located in the Warehouse District, not far from the Convention Center.
Everything from the furniture to the food and juice at the Two Chicks Cafe has been handcrafted by the Two Chicks, two friends who have a passion for food and love New Orleans. The menu offers a routine selection of brunch items like french toast, crab cake benedict, and shrimp and grits. After much deliberation I ordered the traditional benedict with a side of buttery grits, which were delicious. The Two Chicks Cafe is not open for dinner, so make sure to be there for breakfast, brunch, or lunch!
Urban South Brewery
One of the first things I did before traveling to New Orleans was check out the locations of its many breweries. About 15 minutes walk from the Warehouse District, where I stayed is the Urban South Brewery. The brewery is located at the far southern end of the Garden District off Tchoupitoulas Street in a large, spacious warehouse with plenty of room to play cornhole on the two courts they have set up.
Urban South offers seven beers ranging from the refreshing Charming Shandy to the Rectify Coffee Porter. For my flight I chose the Charming Wit, Oktoberfest, Delta Momma Citra Lager, and the Wet Hop Ekuanot IPA. While I drank my flight, my colleague John and I played a game of cornhole and despite my healthy lead I was defeated in a close finish (well done John). If you are interested they offer tours. And, if you are unable to make it to the brewery look for their beer in restaurants and stores throughout the city.
Looking for a taste of Cochon, the famous cajun and southern restaurant, but can’t get a reservation? Lucky for you they have a sister restaurant right next door called Cochon Butcher, a butchery as the name implies and a wine bar. It’s the perfect spot for a quick, casual, and delicious lunch or dinner. Cochon Butcher is located in the Warehouse District just off of Tchoupitoulas Street. I had the chance to visit during lunch and had the satiating pork belly sandwich, and shared a bowl of fried brussels sprouts and coleslaw with my colleagues.
The Sazerac, a cognac-based cocktail is one of the great gifts New Orleans has given to the world of drinking and in 2008 it became the official state cocktail. A colleague who has spent a lot of time in New Orleans recommended Bar Tonique as one of the best places to have a Sazerac, a neighborhood bar on Rampart Street. The bar has a wide selection of cocktails and craft beer. And, they have a great happy hour (noon to 5 p.m. on weekdays) with $5 daily drink specials, like Pimm’s Cup Mondays, see the full list here. Looking for a non-sports bar scene, serving great cocktails, with friendly bartenders? Then look no further than Bar Tonique. I enjoyed it so much I took Carrie there after she arrived later in the week.
Pêche Seafood Grill
Pêche Seafood Grill, led by award winning chef Donald Link, was the recipient of two James Beard Foundation awards in 2016; the Best New Restaurant and the Chef Ryan Prewitt Best Chef: South. The James Beard Foundation is a NYC-based national nonprofit culinary arts organization named in honor of James Beard, a prolific food writer, teacher, and cookbook author, who was also known as the Dean of American Cookery. Referred to by Time Magazine as "the Oscars of the food world” the Foundation recognizes chefs, restaurants, and restaurant design and graphics just to name a few of the categories.
Pêche is part of the same restaurant group as Cochon and is also located in the Warehouse District. Pêche uses locally sourced products and proudly publicizes the farms with which they partner with on their website, the majority of which are in Louisiana. A list of all the farms that they source their food from can be found on their website. By this point in the week Carrie had joined me in New Orleans and was able to manage a reservation at Pêche. For dinner we started with a dozen Louisiana oysters and an order of hush puppies. The hush puppies were obviously my choice and totally worth it!
Next we shared the steak tartare with oyster aioli, fried brussels sprouts with chilli vinegar, and the crab and jalapeno capellini. Each dish was perfectly prepared and left us satisfied. Reservations are essential, but if you are unable to get one then the bar is an option.
We were interested is seeing more of New Orleans than the Warehouse District and French Quarter so one afternoon Carrie and I took the streetcar along St. Charles Avenue out to Tulane University, my Dad’s alma mater. After walking around the campus we decided to check out a restaurant Carrie had read about, Chais Delachaise, a globally inspired bistro with indoor and outdoor seating located a couple of blocks from Tulane. For lunch we shared an order of pomme frites deep-fried in duck fat and a poached seafood arugula salad. The service was excellent and the food delicious. Chais Delachaise is known for their selection of wines and beer, but looking to take a break from drinking beer, and it being too early (before noon) in the day for wine we had bloody marys. A word to the wise, the bloody mary is made with a premade mix, so I’d recommend sticking to the beer and wine.
NOLA Brewing Company
After Abita, NOLA is the next most widely available craft beer in New Orleans. Seeing as I had visited Urban South before Carrie arrived we chose to visit NOLA Brewing Company after our trip to Tulane and Auduban Park. NOLA Brewing Company offers an incredible selection of about 20 beers, ranging from the ubiquitous around New Orleans the NOLA Blonde Ale to the mix-fermentation sour series, my favorite. I had a flight that included the Tart of Steel, Wharf #5, the 002, and the Darkest Before the Dawn and Carrie the Lemon Ginger, Citra Blonde, Cuke and Rally, and Darkest Before the Storm.
The story of how NOLA started is well worth telling. After Hurricane Katrina the only brewery left in New Orleans, Dixie Brewing Company moved its production to Wisconsin leaving a void in the brewery scene. Displeased by the sight of “Brewed in Wisconsin” on the side of a longstanding New Orleans beer, Kirk Coco, Founder and CEO of NOLA Brewing Company decided it was high time that beer be brewed in New Orleans again, and so NOLA Brewing Company was born.
Angeline, a southern restaurant run by Chef Alex Harrell is set in a classic colonial French style building in the French Quarter. The beautiful interior and ambience makes for the perfect setting for a romantic dinner. At the recommendation of our server we started with the crispy smoked pork cheeks, followed by a main course of the Mississippi Rabbit Milanese, which we split. The food is excellent and if you are looking for that one “splurge” dinner in the French Quarter then consider Angeline.
Willa Jean, a spacious, retro-chic bakery and restaurant serving classic southern fare in the Warehouse District. We went on Halloween, a Monday and there was a 20 minute wait for breakfast! We snagged two seats at the bar, which had no wait. I ordered a hot masala chai and Carrie a cold one. To eat I went with my go-to chicken biscuit sandwich and Carrie the artichoke, cheese, crostini. My sandwich was absolutely perfect and would easily order it again if given the opportunity. Carrie was somewhat surprised to find her dish as more of a cheese dip rather than the light bread and cheese platter she was looking for. If you are looking for a great place to have breakfast look no further than Willa Jean.
What to See and Do in New Orleans
Streetcar Ride Along St. Charles Avenue
Possibly the most iconic image of New Orleans is a streetcar traveling up a southern live oak tree lined St. Charles Avenue, surrounded by grand southern-style mansions. St. Charles Avenue runs from downtown New Orleans through the Garden District out past Tulane University and Audubon Park. Looking to spend an afternoon outside of downtown New Orleans, Carrie and I hopped on a streetcar and headed out to Tulane and Audubon Park.
Pro tip: If you are going to ride the streetcar make sure you have cash and importantly exactly what you need as you can not pay by card and you will not get change. Its $1.25 for an adult one-way fare or $3 for an adult all day pass.
In what can only be described as a corner lot house in a quiet neighborhood far removed from the touristy French Quarter stands one of New Orleans best spots for live music and listening to live music over a drink is a must in New Orleans. Bacchanal, self-described as NOLA's backyard party.
Bacchanal has an excellent selection of old world wines. They also have an assortment of cheese for sale and will prepare a platter for you, with a selection of bread, pickles, olives, and jam to accompany your cheese. For a Monday afternoon the place was packed and the solo artist terrific.
St. Louis Cemetery #2
New Orleans is filled with unique architecture some of which can be found in the cities numerous cemeteries. What’s unique is the fact that the graves are above ground due to the fact that the city is below sea level. This makes for a cool walking tour. St. Louis Cemetery is north of the French Quarter and relatively easy to get to.
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street
The fact that Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is the oldest structure in American housing a bar was more than enough to draw us to it. Originally constructed between 1722-32, prior to American Independence, the building now houses a bar on the infamous Bourbon Street. If you are going to visit only one bar on Bourbon Street then make it Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, located at the far end of the street where it's moderately less hectic. Being that it was Halloween weekend the street was packed with revelers dressed in costumes. One group had gone so far as to dress up in matching outfits and dancing in sync!
Frenchman Street is where we spent much of our last day in New Orleans. Located at the far eastern end of the French Quarter, the street is lined with bars featuring live music, even to our delight on a Monday afternoon! Our first stop was The Spotted Cat Music Club, a cash only bar featuring live music throughout the day. We stayed long enough to catch two of the acts, both of which were amazing. The last act we were fortunate to catch was Sara McCoy a well known musician in New Orleans, who had dressed up for Halloween. You can hear some of her music here. Check out the video below of the first act we listened to.
After the Spotted Cat Music Club we headed down the street to Bamboula’s for some more music. We grabbed a beer at the bar and listened to a group that featured a tap dancer, who was also dressed for Halloween. Unsurprisingly Frenchman Street was filled with people dressed up for Halloween.
Jackson Square is another iconic images of New Orleans and was the site of our final act on Halloween night. Walking around with our to-go beers we strolled around the square and caught the beginning of the Halloween Parade and the hundreds of party-goers dressed in costumes as well as the many tarot card readers. New Orleans celebrates Halloween unlike any other city I have visited. If you’re a big fan of the holiday then I would consider traveling to here next year.
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