Destiny awaits… I received a call from my brother informing me that he was unable to join me for our planned trip to New Orleans. I was sort of bummed about it but knew his work was certainly more important than a trip to NOLA – New Orleans, Louisiana. Thankfully, I remembered a friend (her name will be Alice for this article) was going to NOLA to meet another friend from law school, so I managed to a hitch ride with her and made a new travel buddy.
I hadn’t been to New Orleans since I was a kid, so this trip felt like new territory for me. It was all new — even the road trip. We managed to see more accident trial lawyer billboards on either side of I-10 than we did trees. This is an exaggeration, but you get my point.
Since this was my first, although certainly not last, time in NOLA, check out some things to do in New Orleans on your first visit.
Typically, I like to do some kind of tour when I first get to a city. Because New Orleans is known for its music, my first and only thought was to do a music history tour of the city. After researching my options, I decided on Storyville Tour Company’s Sounds of NOLA Tour. It costs thirty dollars and is approximately two hours long.
The tour begins in Louis Armstrong Park and ends on Bourbon Street near Preservation Hall. The tour offered a wide variety of information, explaining everything from the origin of Jazz and how it got to New Orleans, the history of the musicians who lived there and where they are now, important landmarks like the J & M recording studio (the original birthplace of rock & roll), and so much more! I highly recommend this tour — although, you must be able to withstand the physical challenges of a two hour (maybe longer) walking tour.
Garden District – Tin Roof
It’s always great having multiple people on a trip because you have different minds researching different places to go. I did not have Tin Roof on my list but Alice’s friend from Houston did! Tin Roof is a rooftop bar located in the Garden District. We went to Tin Roof for happy hour before dinner on Friday night. It was a great place and certainly had a great view.
We weren’t the only group who thought this was a great venue. As we were walking out of The Pontchartrain Hotel, there was a wedding party walking in; they were also headed up to the Tin Roof. This group looked like they were about to get down with some music, food, and drinks! NOLA does weddings, unlike no other place I have seen before. It was the first time I have ever seen a New Orleans Second Line Wedding Parade. If you haven’t seen one– you must check it out! You won’t miss it.
Exploring Frenchmen Street
I spent two evenings on Frenchmen street (as well as its surrounding area) listening to live music. The first evening we went as a group to Frenchmen Street and it was spectacular. My brother had previously been to the Balcony Music Club (BMC) and recommended to go there. BMC is located a block over on Decatur Street. We really enjoyed the group that performed, which was the Andre Lovett band. Each night has a different line-up so be sure to check ahead of time before you go. Or, just go and be surprised. We certainly were!
On Friday evening, I decided to take a solo stroll down Frenchmen street. The more I travel, the more I realize it’s fine to do things on your own. You get more comfortable doing things on your own the more you do them. It just comes naturally after a while. In this case, Alice and her friend had ended up touring all day and got a late start. I had an earlier start and wanted to see what it was like earlier on in the evening on the musical street. I didn’t want to read any reviews ahead of time about this area. Instead, I wanted to form my own opinion and go with the flow.
I walked up the street and immediately found the Frenchmen Artist Market — something I wasn‘t looking for but was fortunate to have found! I bought my first souvenir — a bracelet made from a cymbal. Then, I spotted the Spotted Cat and walked over. There was a five dollar cover charge, which was not the case at BMC the previous night. The space was much smaller and I felt a bit skeptical at first. It was packed inside — I found my way to the bar, and stood (standing room only) by the nearest couple and watched the most interesting live band performance to date. The performance was by the Washboard Chazz Blues Trio. Watching him play the washboard combined with the live folk dancers dancing to the music was spectacular. I had never seen anything like it. It was the best five dollars I’d spent in NOLA so far.
A Stroll Around the NOLA Street French Market
While I took the music tour on the first day, Alice and her friend took the Big Red city bus tour. On the tour, they discovered many places in town to check out. One of the places that stood out was the NOLA Street French Market. We met up for an afternoon at the market and had a stroll around.
If you are into outdoor vendor markets with local crafts and handmade souvenirs this is your place! I ended up meeting a man named John Allison who collected debris from homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He makes hooks and coat hangers, bottle openers, and other miscellaneous items for your home from the debris. The name of his stand is called Chique of Arabi. I would stop by his stand to see what he makes. It’s authentic to NOLA and would be a great keepsake for your home, not to mention the benefits of supporting a local artist. Yes, I bought one!
I didn’t have much time to explore the market but I have this on my list because it has something for everyone. There is retail that’s new, vintage, and perhaps a combo of both, sort of like what Chique of Arabi was serving up. And, for the exotic food lovers, step right up; you will find fresh oysters on the shell, Cajun gumbo, and yes, even Gator sausage sticks — one size only. The market is back on my list for my next visit to see how much the price of Cafe du Monde coffee is selling for that day. Prices vary depending on the vendor- you might get lucky and find it for seven dollars at per can. The highest price that I saw was twelve dollars and that was inside of a hotel gift shop.
Bar R’evolution in New Orleans
The first night that we arrived, we met up with Alice’s friend and thought we would get some grilled oysters at Louie’s Oyster House. Unfortunately, the line was longer than two full blocks and I was about to get hangry so we quickly moved up the street.
We walked up to a place that looked rather interesting. We opened the door and it appeared as if the theme of the restaurant was almost like a welcoming slap in your face. It was the kind that went right up and said, “hi, how are you? I’m that saloon that you see in the movies with the red seats and flapper girls.” I asked if we could sit inside the bar area, and ordered food as soon as we were seated. The friendly staff accommodated us without any issues. We ordered a round of drinks, glanced at the menu, and I splurged on a cut of meat that was by far the best piece of steak I have eaten in a very long time.
A Welcome Surprise
At the moment, we didn’t realize that we were sitting inside the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street (also a great venue for live Jazz). Our server was incredible — he knew his wines! He recommended that I try their Chateau St. Cosme Albion, Côtes Du Rhône, which was perfect. The other two ladies I was traveling with had the Overnight Saint-Sation, which was a vodka cocktail served with fresh berries. The decor and theme in the bar reminded me of the early 1900s in the wild west. If you don’t want to wait in line on Bourbon Street or are looking for a creative cocktail with friendly staff to serve it up, check this place out!
Side note: most trips I budget for at least one nice meal. If you can’t taste the food where you are going, what’s the point of going? The first bite of steak melted in my mouth. I’m not sure if it was because I had been drinking some deep, red flavors in my wine before that bite or if the meat just wanted to say hi but it was full of flavor. The sauce was flavorful and not like any I had ever tasted before. The wine paired with the red meat hit the spot. The meal, drinks, and company were a perfect match. I couldn’t have asked for a better New Orleans restaurant experience!
Overall, my first trip back to New Orleans was incredible. I will never forget what I learned about Jazz history or the different stages it has endured over the years. I sometimes forget how much live music captures my soul. When I lived in Europe, I used to hear instruments played every day while walking to the metro. Some folks played the keyboard, the guitar, and the most unique of all, the harp. My New Orleans trip came at a time when I needed to feel music influence my life in the way that it did back then. It reminded me that music is the answer — a phrase I have been saying since Dreams Abroad began.