Let me begin by saying, I love New Orleans, so this post is long-winded (just like me). But, my hope is to share our experiences so that if anyone reading has the opportunity to go, you will have some ideas! I’ve been to Nola twice now: first, an amazing girlfriends trip back in January to visit our friend who moved there to pursue her pharmaceutical passions and then, this past weekend, to celebrate my husband’s 30th birthday.
We feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to visit New Orleans together (my husband had also been there once before for a quick 36 hours and also fell in love with the city). This trip was truly possible because of the kindness and generosity of Matt’s boss, who opened up his stunning home to us for the weekend. New Orleans is fabulous no matter what, but I must say, staying in a true southern home right smack dab in the middle of a Nola neighborhood is the best of the best and we are so grateful for the experience!
This home was as spectacular as a home can get…high ceilings, crown molding, window shutters (we have decided no matter where we end up in life, interior shutters are a must), fireplaces with original carvings, and a chandelier that I couldn’t take my eyes off of…what a treat to stay in such an architecturally beautiful home with impeccable decor! We will forever be appreciative of this remarkably kind gesture!
And now for the recap…
It’s hard to put New Orleans into words- one minute you’re walking down Bourbon Street being lured into bars to take shots while beads are thrown about you, the next, you’re sitting in an old, fancy hotel sippin’ champagne, feeling all 1920’s proper. And that’s what makes the experience so incredible…you go from one extreme to the other and back again, all in just a short visit!
The locals (at least all the ones we talked with) are beyond friendly, offering suggestions for where to get the best po’ boys, oysters, or frozen coffees in the city. Beyond Bourbon and the French Quarter, the neighborhoods we experienced are so uniquely charming- ancient trees with roots pushing up through the sidewalks and houses in every color with gorgeous porches, shutters, and charming details.
The main streets of these neighborhoods are not flooded with chain after chain, but rather ma and pa restaurants and shops dripping with history and character. For whatever reason, it’s just a city I feel connected to (that statement creeps my husband out, but if you’ve felt what I’m talking about, you get it). Walking through the Garden District, I feel like I’ve been transplanted to a different country and you can’t help but be in awe as you pass by such amazing southern architecture, knowing each home and building has a story behind it.
Though we had a few set plans for the visit, much of our time in Nola we left open-ended…lots of wandering around on foot (it’s definitely a walking city, which makes up for all the food), hopping on the street car to head into the Quarter for a quick visit, and strolling in and out of shops and restaurants all while taking in the local vibes. We arrived late Friday, but still decided to walk down Magazine street in the Uptown neighborhood and grab a quick drink to kick off our visit- we also just wanted to get our bearings straight so we had a basic idea of where to go the next day.
Saturday morning, we grabbed coffees at a neat little coffee shop called Hey Cafe, then got ready to hit up a bar to watch the Nebraska game. Thanks to my friend, we knew of a bar nearby that was supposed to have the football game playing, but when we arrived, fellow Nebraska fans explained the game would not be shown and to follow them down the street to another bar. As we walked with our Nebraska-strong crowd, I couldn’t help but laugh at how a group of strangers quickly bonded over football- mad props to Husker fans I suppose!
We ended up at an outdoor bar called Tchoup Yard. (The name tripped me up a thousand times, but it’s really just “chop” yard). Anyway, this place is completely outdoors with bright, colorful patio furniture and one large single bar that reminded me of a Tiki Hut. We grabbed some bloodies and sat with our new buddies out in the beer garden, right in front of a big TV.
I had so much fun getting to know our fellow Husker fans: some locals who were born in Nebraska and remained fans throughout the years, others in New Orleans for residencies, and some just there for a weekend- celebrating respective bachelor and birthday parties. The older I get, the more I appreciate meeting new people and hearing their life stories- so for me, the thrill wasn’t in the football, but rather, in the conversations, random connections, and the laughs we shared with friends who we’d just met! One fan there was actually a former Husker linebacker in the 90’s which I thought was pretty darn cool!
Since we sat outside for the entire game, we were a bit overheated by the end…so we decided to head home and cool down for a bit. Right as we walked in the door, the rain came pouring down…Matt loved the rain and wanted to walk around in it, so after a quick change of clothes, we grabbed umbrellas and began strollin’ the streets like a couple of kids who had never seen rain before.
We had dinner reservations at 8:30, but thought it might be good to have a quick, late afternoon “snack” to hold us over. We wanted some type of seafood, so decided to pop into a small restaurant on Magazine Street called Basin. There, we ordered drinks along with crab and craw-fish beignets, corn and crab chowder, and char-grilled oysters. The food was amazing and our waiter took the time to ask us where we were visiting from (we must just scream “Hi! We’re tourists!”) and chatted with us a bit, sharing with us how he ended up in New Orleans.
After Basin, we headed back to shower and get ready for our next dinner. My good friend was kind enough to join us for dinner, even with her early Sunday morning wake up call, so she picked us up and we headed to the Carrollton neighborhood for a quick pre-dinner drink at Oak. I’m a sucker for all things wine, so I loved this place…one half of the space is a chic wine bar, the other half a beer bar, connected with a lovely outdoor patio with TVs for prime football viewing. Lucky for me, we sat on the wine side and sipped some Pinot Noir, chatting away, before it was time to head to Boucherie, a meat-centric restaurant located just down the street from Oak.
At Boucherie, we went quite experimental, at least for me, ordering pig ears (oh, stop it… when in New Orleans, you eat anything and everything) as one of our appetizers. We also munched on Boudin Balls, which were so yummy (think arancini balls gone southern). For our main course, my girlfriend and I decided to split the Beef Brisket with Garlic Parmesan fries and the Applewood Smoked Scallops, since both caught our attention and it’s too hard to choose one! I was too busy enjoying pig ears to take any photos, but I assure you, Boucherie is a delicious place to hit up when in Nola.
After dinner, we crashed, which was good because we wanted to get up “early” on Sunday and get down to the French Market. Early for Matt and I isn’t really early by most human standards, but hey, we were on vacation so a 9 am rise isn’t half bad. We sipped some coffee on the front porch steps before heading over to St. Charles Ave. to take the street car to the market. Just like a little kid (or a dog) I had my face glued up against the street car window the entire time, soaking in the houses and landmarks that line St. Charles. Once at the French Market, we walked from end to end, admiring artwork from local vendors and working up a serious appetite.
Bizarrely, we ended up having popcorn craw-fish as our breakfast (I mean, why couldn’t we have grabbed a beignet…?) at a little outdoor restaurant where there was a band playing some live jazz. After “breakfast” we walked along the river, taking in the beautiful scenery. We also just walked the streets and everything and anything was catching my eye.
Look everywhere in New Orleans…up, down, behind you…there’s always something…artwork, comical signage, performers…it’s just one big sensory treat.
After our French Market morning, we grabbed an Uber to head back home where we did a quick change into our fancier (I’m saying fancier in an accent) clothing before joining my friend at Commander’s Palace for a late jazz brunch. Commander’s Palace has been around since 1880, a true New Orleans establishment, located in the Garden District. The last time I was in Nola, we passed by and the bright white and turquoise exterior had me intrigued, so I was thrilled we had Commander’s on the itinerary this time around.
The brunch is ri-dic-u-lous…meaning you get so. much. food. You get a starter, entree, and dessert all for the price of just the entree, so you best come with an appetite if you plan on brunching at Commander’s Palace. The best part of the entire experience is the live jazz…we were privy to the fact that Sunday brunch includes live music, so we panicked a little when we arrived and there was no music in sight.
Never fear, within minutes the sweet sounds of jazz instruments began to fill the restaurant and we quickly realized we were going to get an up-close and personal musical experience. The band comes table to table, playing a few minutes just for your intimate party, which immediately sent Matt into an awkward panic. “Look down and don’t make eye contact,” he says to us! So we started “you-hoo’ing” the band to get him riled up. Oh, in the end, he loved it…how can you beat delicious food, an old-school ambiance, and a jazz serenade?!
After departing Commander’s stuffed to the brim, and with balloon in hand (I asked to take a balloon since they had them on every table), Marissa drove us around, giving us a mini-tour of some must-see famous houses in the Garden District: the American Horror Story house, Sandra Bullock’s home, and John Goodman’s home. It was starting to rain by this time, so we just did a fast drive-by, hopping out a few times to get a closer look.
Marissa dropped us off back home and we did yet another costume change, this time getting a little comfier before heading back downtown to Bourbon Street. We ended up getting to Bourbon earlier in the evening, like 6:00, which was perfect for my ol’ 30 year old husband (I kid, I’m the loser of the two of us without a doubt, freaking out if I’m out past midnight). We grabbed the famous Jester drinks before tackling the crowds of Bourbon along with the many angry Saints fans who were drowning their football sorrows in Bourbon’s finest alcohol.
Okay, let me get this out there…there is no place like Bourbon Street. It’s nutty, loud, and so wonderfully chaotic. There are performers doing flips down the street, young kids playing drums, people dressed up in the most fabulous costumes and ensembles…it’s just indescribable. We nursed our drinks along Bourbon then slipped away from the madness for a bit to relish in Jackson Square and some of the quieter, calmer streets.
After some leisurely walking, we headed back toward Bourbon and hit up a casual bar, Erin Rose, where rumor had it, some killer po’ boys were served in the back. Rumor was true…
We split a tasty shrimp po-boy, enjoying the casual, quirky atmosphere of this bar.
After getting our “dive” bar fix, we walked over to the Hotel Monteleone to enjoy the Carousel Bar, which was recommended to us, and I knew it would be right up my alley! Of course, I absolutely adored this classy landmark. I enjoyed a Rosé and Matt, an Old Fashioned, as we sat at a window table overlooking Royal Street. There is actually a revolving bar there…which Matt didn’t realize literally moved until he sat down to grab us drinks and slowly rotated away.
We stayed at the Carousal Bar for a few drinks, before heading back to Bourbon for one last round of 29 year old drinks.
We chose a more subdued beer garden, where we split a frozen mango cocktail and talked with some salesmen who were in town for a conference- I swear you leave New Orleans all the wiser about random people and things. Then, one final stop at the Beach, another bar, for some live music and a beer for Matt, a final cheers to his 20’s. (Fun fact…Matt and I met when we were 19, so I can now say I’ve celebrated a decade of birthdays with him).
Monday, Matt’s birthday, and our last day…I hate when trips end, I literally get a pit in my stomach…maybe I’m meant to be a nomad. We woke up and walked down Magazine Street to grab some iced coffees, then turned around and headed in the opposite direction toward our brunch destination. The last time I visited New Orleans, my girlfriend brought us to Atchafalaya, a lovely Uptown restaurant on Louisiana Street that serves up some mouth-watering brunch options. I also love the ambiance of this place…high ceilings, art work…cool… yet, with that traditional southern charm.
We enjoyed birthday brunch cocktails along with tasty meals, that we knew would keep us full until our departure.
After brunch, we stopped into a store that features local artists’ pieces and we chose a beautiful painting called “Good Morning French Quarter.” Then it was time to head home to clean and pack (insert sad face).
Matt and I had been talking about going to New Orleans together for a long time…since we’d had our separate experiences that we both raved about, we knew getting there as a couple was a must. At several points over the weekend, we both said, “oh heck, let’s buy here and just rent in Chicago the rest of our lives.” The city is that good… you fall madly in love with all its crazy charm, extraordinary eats, and it’s incomparable uniqueness…
In one of the restaurants we dined at, a sign read, “We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time.” And I think that is a perfect way to describe New Orleans…you don’t need much time to appreciate this amazing city- it’s naturally vivacious and alluring, whether you’ve got 24 hours or 5 days… What a perfect place to ring in Matt’s 30’s. Until next time, sweet Nola…
Question of the day: What cities are on your travel bucket list?