Friday, 17 April 2015

And all that Jazz: An A+ Guide to New Orleans

I recently returned (the end of March) from a conference in The Big Easy. I'm in love.
What a city. I'm not exactly certain how we accomplished all that we did in terms of sightseeing when we were only in town for five days (and the conference was as amazing as the city itself), but somehow we managed it. Sleep was definitely sacrificed. We figured it was a small price to pay.

Our conference was put on by the National Art Education Association, and included over a thousand sessions, attended by over five thousand of those in the art and design world. I can't even begin to explain to you what it looks like when you plunk five thousand art teachers down in one city. Use your imagination. Yes, it was kind of (exactly) like that.

We stayed at the Hilton Conference centre, which is like many conference centres, super-sized and located near the rest of the big block hotels, equally close to the cruise ship terminal. Not ideal. But Hilton's have comfortable beds, and seen as we left very few hours for sleeping, our comfort during those few hours was essential.

In an effort to sneak away from the cruise ship passengers and conference attendees, we attempted to avoid the obvious in terms of tourist spots. Prior to the trip, we were too busy planning (for the conference itself) to consult the guide books, so instead, we quizzed each and every server/bartender/local we encountered...writing it all on napkins. As you do. We were really interested in where the locals went in the evenings in order to avoid Bourban street (in all its glory).

Proof of our efforts....

I left New Orleans ('Neworlins') feeling as though we hit it out of the park. We ate incredible meals, sipped fantastic cocktails, and let the jazz music consume us. We even jumped on a swamp tour (a true highlight). I left feeling proud of what we had accomplished (both academically, and socially), and as silly as this sounds, the city of New Orleans felt like a long lost friend. I will be definitely be back.

I couldn't wait to dump the contents of the napkins onto the blog, as I would love for all of you to experience some of these places we did. So here I go...

On Dining:

BAYONA: Home to locally renowned head chef, Kim Spicer. A Great meal. Bayona also has a great back courtyard. You'll need to make a reservation

IRENES: I Loved this restaurant. It is filled with Character. We had so much fun, waiting for our table at the back piano bar. Once again, a wonderful meal, and great crowd.

MIMI'S IN THE MARIGNY: This is a must. You may need to jump in a cab, depending on where you're staying, but trust us, it's worth it. This little spot serves excellent tapas, and again is a fantastic scene. Make sure you go upstairs. This is essential. Downstairs is not the same (and it's smoke filled)...but it does have PACMAN.

SYLVAIN: Probably the best dinner of the trip. A cute little spot, and the food was fantastic. We seemed to be the only ones eating here for the first time. Definitely a place to go back to. 

The back piano bar at Irenes (below).

Cheap(ish) and Cheerful...and Touristy, but Tasty: 

MULATES When, on the third day, we still hadn't had jumbalaya, we hit up Mulates for lunch, as it was reccommended by another conference goer. Definitely a touristy spot, but good food, and good prices. Completely satisfying lunch spot, and located down by the conference centre, so was convenient for us.

On Drinks:

ARNAUDS ( FRENCH 75)- We stumbled into French 75 on night one, had an amazing drink, and really weren't aware of the gem we'd found. We went back again, as our drinks were so tasty, then to read that it's one of the 'must-hits' in the city. The bartenders are great. Put French 75 on your list.

THE BOMBAY CLUB- Tucked away. Great happy hour ($3 wine, need I say more) and a live piano player

THE BLACK PENNY (Very cool tiny Beer Bar on Rampart St)

BAR TONIQUE (Great Mixology also tiny, and also on Rampart St.). This one was recommended by multiple people

Jazz on Frenchmen Street:
Frenchmen Street is a happening place, any night of the week, but understandably gets a little crazier as you get closer to the weekend

The Spotted Cat: Another spot we went back to twice. A great Jazz bar (cover on the weekends) 

Maison: A great scene, lots of fun. Usually an energetic band, and dancing.


13 (for bar food)

The Art Market (you must check it out) open until midnight. Great stuff (Art, jewelry, etc)

On Bourban (if you must):
Oldest Bar in the City: LAFRITTES
Fritzels: Go upstairs! (If I recall correctly, acts go on at 9pm)

Finish it all off with Beignets:
Cafe Du Monde: Best, after a long night out, when there are no line-ups. Think 2am. DELICIOUS! Go early in your trip, as you'll want to make this stop an evening (early morning?) ritual. Go ahead, try and eat just one.

Swamp Tours:
Cajun Encounters: We were in New Orleans at the end of March and the gators were just coming out of hibernation, so keep that in mind. Also, go on the earlier side, then they won't have been fed all day by other boats, and you'll have a greater likelihood of seeing them. We took the swamp boat as we were told the Air boats scare the animals (not certain this is true). If you're like me, I needed to see this side of Louisiana. It didn't disappoint. $55 USD/person.

Looks a little like the Jungle Boat Ride at Disneyland, no?

The following were also recommended but we ran out of time:
Cane & Table (get the pina colada)
Carousel Bar (rotating bar)
The Franklin

Herbs Saints

When Sunday came around, we were sad to be leaving. 

I'm confident I will be back, but at this point in time, I don't know when.

Please let me know if you make it there, as I would love to live vicariously.

Photo credits to my travelling partners, Catherine, and Laurie!

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