NOLA 44 — Forty-four hours in New Orleans without ever entering the French Quarter
A maxed-out weekend in America’s favorite party town without ever entering the French Quarter.
A person could spend one weekend a month for an entire year in New Orleans without ever leaving the French Quarter, and still not patronize all of the hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, shops, and other activities on offer. Quite frankly, the Quarter is the bomb.
And while nothing says New Orleans like the French Quarter, the city has such a “deep bench” of gastronomic and hedonistic delights, you could skip that venerable historic district on your next trip and not even miss it.
So forget the Quarter and explore the real New Orleans; you’ve got forty-four hours.
6PM, COCKTAILS: Swizzle Stick Bar 300 Poydras on lobby level of Loews Hotel, 504-595-3300
Want to ease into your NOLA weekend while still jumping in with both feet? Kick things off with a couple of Sidecars at this lively bar that has an upbeat happy hour scene. Run by the Commander’s Palace folks, The Swizzle Stick is a nod to Adelaide Brennan (from the legendary local restaurant family), who wore a gold swizzle stick around her neck, which tells us she might have enjoyed a fine cocktail, now and again. And you can, too, at this grown-up, but fun bar hang.
New Orleans mixologists stand at the forefront of America’s ‘crafted cocktail’ revival and revolution, and only fresh ingredients are used at the Swizzle Stick, with immaculate presentation. Try a Corpse Reviver Number 2 or a Gin Fizz.
8PM, DINNER: Drago’s 2 Poydras at the Hilton 504-584-3911
Feeling braced against the madness of bad food and drink, stroll down Poydras to Drago’s. Two-dozen char-broiled oysters on the half-shell? Oh yes, sir. Grilled in garlic butter and served with lemon and parmesan? Yes, indeed, cap. Cajun Surf and Turf? Well, maybe, but why not just bring another order of oysters? Family owned, clean, friendly, casual, delicious? Absolutely.
10PM, DESERT AND COFFEE: Angelo Brocato’s, 214 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-486-0078.
This is an authentic, old-time (meaning it’s faux-retro?) Sicilian desert parlor still going strong after 106 years. Absolutely essential cannoli, spumoni, Napoleons. Super rich homemade gelatos on par with the best in Milano.
Hair-growing coffee has been expressed here long before the culturally hegemonistic founder of St-rb-cks was even born. Superstar chef John Besh (August, La Provence, Luke) eats desert here, so what does that tell you? They had me at fig cookies.
11PM, CLUBBING: Frenchman Street.
The stretch of Frenchman that starts about two blocks east of the Quarter is simply one of the best street hangs in the world. Fantastic music, tasty chow, cheap liquor, and a communally blissful conviviality that just gets you smiling and dancing.
Don’t be surprised to see a spontaneous street party break out, blocking traffic as people turn the pavement into a dance floor. Street venders hawk burritos and hot links. Music jams erupt on street corners as players show up from gigs they have just finished.
Many Frenchman Street clubs have no cover or a nominal one; be sure to tip the musicians when they pass the hat. Most bars will let you enter with drink in hand, but buy another once inside. This is nothing like Bourbon Street and that’s a good thing.
–d.b.a. There’s a cover and the music can be more arty for an upscale hipster crowd, but the joint swings just fine with the likes of Walter “Wolfman” Washington.
–The Spotted Cat One of the Top Ten live music dives in the world, the electrical wiring in this club wouldn’t pass code in Bangladesh, so grab a broken-down chair by the front door. Popular New Orleans bands jam here: The Phister Sisters, St. Louis Slim, The New Orleans Jazz Vipers, The Rites of Swing, Washboard Chaz, and the New Orleans Moonshiners, to name a few. Unknown up-and-comers as well as legendary players sometimes sit in and the results can be stupendous.
–Snug Harbor Pricey cover, traditional bigger-name jazz acts, an institution.
–Apple Barrel R&B and blues dive featuring acts such as Frenchy Moe, Alabama Slim, Mike Hood, Andre Bouvier, Little Freddie King, and Blue Max. Fall by, because you never know what you might get and it doesn’t get more real than this.
–Cafe Negril Blues or Reggae outfits perform most nights. Jamaican food, Carib drinks.
–Blue Nile A hugely fun club, some terrific local acts perform here, such as Kermit Ruffins, Trombone Shorty, and Big Sam’s Funky Nation.
–Checkpoint Charlie’s Ever-evolving schedule of blues, rock, death-metal.
–Monaghan’s “13″ Tasty late night bar chow.
–Yuki’s Cool, Japanese pub and izakaya-style grub with live DJ’s on weekends. Check out the lotus-root chips and large sake selection.
–Dragon’s Den, Hookah Café, La Maison de la Musique (formerly Ray’s Boom Boom Room) and a number of other haunts round out the street. The most important thing to keep in mind is that no matter what happens, you don’t want to miss breakfast.
9AM, BREAKFAST: Buttermilk Drop 1781 N Dorgenois St., in the Treme. 504-252-4538
Catfish Breakfast platter, check. Hot sausage breakfast sandwich, grits and hash browns, check. A half dozen Buttermilk Drops, the most heavenly donut-like pastries on the planet, check. But better make that a dozen. Gallon of coffee and three aspirins, check.
11AM, ART GALLERY CRAWL: Warehouse Arts District. Fortified by a frozen granita from PJ’s Coffee House, 644 Camp St., burn off some calories by hitting the bricks (can you find the old cobblestone streets?) in this historic neighborhood full of renovated brick warehouses.
Over 25 galleries line Julia Street alone. The fantastic architectural detail of the large old structures that have been tastefully refurbished blends well with the art within. All of the walking is a nice way to build to what is really important in New Orleans: your next meal.
2PM, LUNCH: Tracey’s, Irish Channel area of the Garden District, 2604 Magazine St. 504-897-5413
Shrimp, oyster, and roast beef poor boys that will rock your world. Make mine dressed, baby! Gourmet Magazine intones: “The best roast beef sandwich, ever.”
Sweet potato fries, cheese fries, gravy fries, gravy and cheese fries, boudin balls… all washed down with Abita amber, the fine local brew, at only $3. Yes, there is a God, and she usually orders a muffaletta, to go.
4PM, TOUR: Old New Orleans Rum Distillery, 2815 Frenchman, 504-945-9400
The mad scientists/artists/party hounds who own ONO have not only crafted gold medal-winning rums, they built a one-of-a-kind distillery and party space that is pretty cool.
The one-hour tour is bargain priced at $10, and includes a complimentary rum drink and a tasting of four different rums. One of their signature drinks is a Partly Cloudy, a cousin, it would seem, to a Dark and Stormy. Either way, cheers matey!
6PM, COCKTAILS: Cure, 4905 Freret, 504-302-2357
Cross an herbalist with a mixologist and you might get one of the bartenders at Cure. Crafting original cocktails like Bees for Pele or Disappearing Ink with the passion and drive of medical researchers, you halfway expect Marie Curie to pop up from behind the bar holding a glowing jigger of infused vodka.
Clean and handsome in a former firehouse, drinks here can push the envelope that has previously sealed the concept of what a cocktail should be… and do. Thinking man’s drinking at its finest.
8PM, DINNER: Pampy’s Creole Kitchen, 2005 North Broad St., 504-949-7970 (As of April, 2012, Pampy’s has possibly closed)
Succulent Southern fried chicken, nicely spiced filet gumbo with tangy sausage, and you have to love the okra. But the Number 9 Special should be on your bucket list.
Lots of politicos hob-knob here, so expect to see guys and gals in suits and skirts from happy hour onwards. It’s a mostly Creole crowd and the owner—a City Hall insider—had a little run-in with the Federal Prosecutor a few years back, somehow making everything taste more authentic.
10PM, DESERT: Sucre, 3025 Magazine St., 504-520-8311
Yes, it’s pricey, but when you’re getting state-of-the-art, who cares? Homemade marshmallows, chocolates and pastries. Coffees and port with your pleasures. Any place that makes Bananas Foster and salted caramel-flavored macaroons should win your heart, and your sweet tooth.
–Bullet’s Sports Bar, 2441 A. P. Tureaud Ave. 504-948-4003
Made famous by the Treme TV show, Bullets features Kermit Ruffins gigging here most Tuesday nights when he’s in town. On Saturdays, live music jams reign and you might hear some legend like Henry Butler. A great hang and highly recommended.
–Sydney’s Saloon, 1200 St. Bernard Ave., 504-947-2379
Like other NOLA bars that were previously patronized mostly by African-Americans, Sydney’s has now been anointed by the hipster set. That’s mostly due to Kermit Ruffins making this bar his new joint. Great jukebox, hot music, and if Kermit is cooking, plenty of turkey necks, corn, shrimp, and gumbo. The neighborhood can be a bit dicey late at night, so stay mindful.
–Chickie Wah Wah, 2828 Canal Street, 504-304-4714
A non-smoking club in New Orleans? Okay, I like it, anyway. Great beer selection, live bluegrass and beyond, funky religious décor and art, and really tasty chow options, all make for a pretty good time.
11AM, BRUNCH: The Columns, 3811 St. Charles Ave, 504-899-9308
A streetcar trundles past on the neutral ground as a gentle breeze wafts through the drooping boughs of the large oaks. The jazz guitarist playing on the huge porch churns out the perfect soundtrack as a waitress brings out another award-winning Bloody Mary.
Built in 1833, the Southern mansion that became the Columns Hotel is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Eating or drinking here can transport one backward in time, but since the end of 44 magical hours in New Orleans draws nigh, perhaps it’s best to remain in the present and savor every last detail before the return to a more mundane reality. Still, there is time for one more stop.
2PM, ONE FOR THE ROAD: Surrey’s Cafe, 1418 Magazine Street, 504-524-3828
Yes, your kidneys and liver are in a state of shock, but that’s normal down here. For a healthy, bracing refreshment to send you on your way, have a glass of the organic, fresh-squeezed orange-mango-pineapple juice, or perhaps the watermelon lemonade. Resist the temptation to doctor the fruity concoction with a shot of vodka or rum. Save that for your next visit.