New Orleans Beyond the Festival
There's more to NOLA than beads and bourbon.
Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras, the Voodoo Experience — the Big Easy’s parade of festivals lasts all year long, so there’s no need to pack your party beads away. If you are still standing after a full day of shaking your boudin and eating po’boys with fellow festivalgoers, there is the rest of New Orleans for you to dive into. For those of you who prefer to steer clear of the Bourbon Street brouhaha and get a taste of what the locals love, here are some fresh recommendations for where to eat, drink and be merry after the fest.
Martinis and Music in the Garden District
While there may be nothing more scrumptious than a Jazz Fest po’boy gobbled as brass bands march by, one might tire of eating while standing in full sun and muddy shoes. The best antidote? A true white-tablecloth experience in the Garden District. With multiple James Beard Awards and a history as lush as the leafy streets and cemetery that surround it, Commander’s Palace is this city’s grand dame of fine dining, and the locals love it. With chef Tory McPhail concocting new creations such as seared foie gras over spiced ginger carrot cake, Commander’s knows how to find that sweet spot where tradition and innovation meet. Try the famed 25-cent lunchtime martinis (three is the limit!), and then stroll amid the flourishing gardens and mansions that surround this sprawling, turquoise-striped palace. For a cozier locale, try La Petite Grocery on buzzing Magazine Street. Housed in a late-19th-century grocery store, this neighborhood restaurant serves regionally sourced dishes that have quickly made it a local favorite, such as blue crab beignets and gulf shrimp and grits. And when you have lingered long enough over such a luscious meal, make a boogie stop nearby at beloved music venues the Maple Leaf and Le Bon Temps, where you can catch New Orleans legends such as the Rebirth Brass Band or the Soul Rebels.
Cocktails in the Quarter
If you happen to find yourself on Bourbon Street and prefer not to be, don’t despair! Delicious alternatives are just around the corner. SoBou, one of the city’s best contemporary restaurants, is presided over by the talented duo of chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez and “bar chef” Laura Bellucci, two pros who know how to make food and cocktails come together. Her "Purslane" rye whiskey cocktail paired with his boudin stuffed fried quail equals paradise. SoBou (short for South of Bourbon) is the latest project of NOLA food ambassadors Ti Martin and Lally Brennan, owners of Commander’s Palace, whose lifelong love for New Orleans’ cocktails and conviviality shine through in SoBou’s playful menu.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
If you want to get a taste of cocktail history, step over to the fabled Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone. Within its storied walls, the Vieux Carré, a classic New Orleans libation of rye, cognac and bitters, was first created by bartender Walter Bergeron in 1938. But if you leave your coveted seat at the bar for a moment, it will have moved when you return — the bar at the Carousel actually revolves. And if it’s this city’s famed cocktail, a Sazerac, that you crave, get thee to Sylvain, which is also a stone’s throw from Bourbon Street. This recently revamped carriage house is rumored to be home to a ghost named Aunt Rose Arnold, a madam who lived here almost a century ago. If you don’t have a reservation for dinner inside, you can still stop for a drink outside on its foliage-covered stone patio; Aunt Rose may be hanging around, too.
Music on Frenchmen
On the far northeast edge of the Quarter, just past Esplanade Avenue and its grand homes dripping in magnolias, you will find Frenchmen Street, the musical heart of a buzzing little district known as the Marigny. An easy walk from the French Quarter, this is ground zero for post-fest festing. Here you will find D.B.A., a friendly hole-in-the-wall and Brooklyn, N.Y., offshoot that opened in 2000. It was the first real craft-beer and high-end-whiskey joint in New Orleans, back before it was cool to curate a fancy beer menu here. You can savor a NOLA pale ale while tapping your toes to the sounds of local musicians including Alex McMurray, whose smoky vocals evoke Tom Waits, and the rollicking Treme Brass Band. Just down the street, the popular Spotted Cat may be bare-bones and tiny, but that makes the music magic onstage all the more intimate, as if the band were playing in your living room with a whole lot of friends squished in. Hear New Orleans jazz singers such as Antoine Diel croon the song Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? while sipping beer from plastic cups. Since there is no cover and no credit cards, bring plenty of cash and tip the band amply. And if you want to go for the traditional gem of the Marigny music scene, book a table at Snug Harbor. Although it may be popular with tourists, that’s not a drawback at this jazz institution, where New Orleans musical royalty, including the Marsalis and Neville families, play regularly.