The Big Easy gets easier

With new direct flights to New Orleans, Anthea Gerrie lets the good times roll in this tantalising US city


Sipping cafe au lait from exquisite china in the brick-paved courtyard of a secluded 18th century carriage house, I reflected with only slight regret that I’d soon be sharing these rarefied pleasures of old New Orleans with more Britons than ever.

British Airways’ new non-stop flights from London to this uniquely tempting city, mean that paddling down the Mississippi on a steamboat, sipping a Sazerac cocktail to the strains of live jazz, or surveying elegant Greek revival mansions from a streetcar very like the one named Desire are now just that bit closer to home.

Despite — or perhaps because of — the tropical weather conditions which have threatened the city over the centuries, most recently Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is a city built for pleasure. Cocktails, music, art and simply superb food are the stuff of life for locals; visitors get to ride the bandwagon as long as they skip the tourist traps and follow the insiders.

Seek out the less well-known corners of the French Quarter, still an essential on every first-timer’s list for its historic landmarks and vibrant buzz, but also the city’s other neighbourhoods; from Magazine Street’s great shops and restaurants or family-friendly Mid City with its lovely 1,300 acre park housing the New Orleans Museum of Art, to the Warehouse and CBD (central business district), less picturesque but where virtually all the best restaurants are to be found,

It’s hard to find a more enticing base though than the Quarter or FQ, as locals refer to those few square blocks of colonnaded old buildings, their lacy wrought-iron balconies dating back to Spanish 18th century rule.

While Bourbon Street’s tackier bars are to be avoided, one block away lies Royal Street’s gracious courtyards and antique shops, or long-standing favourite for French cuisine, Arnaud’s, whose award-winning French 75 bar is a popular meeting place.

On quieter Chartres Street, Soniat House B&B’s palm-shaded courtyard is the perfect retreat from the crowds while still enjoying all the pleasures of this historic neighbourhood.

Although the breakfast of freshly baked biscuits (scones by a Southern name) is delicious, the best start to the day is a walk through the streets of the Quarter while it’s deserted to hit the Café du Monde in the French Market.

Although on every tourist map, this charming cafe at the foot of Jackson Square has — somehow — remained authentic, offering its chicory-laced coffee and pile of freshly-fried beignets snowy with icing sugar throughout the day, impromptu jazz bands busking a soundtrack outside later on.

For more jazz, it’s just five minutes to the Toulouse Street wharf where the Natchez, the last working paddle-wheel steamboat on the Mississippi, leaves three times a day.

Steam buffs can visit the engine room, everyone will enjoy lounging on the top deck with something from the two cocktail bars listening to the band playing traditional jazz favourites.

With so many attractions of newer neighbourhoods, it pays to explore further than the FQ. Magazine Street is home to the city’s most eclectic boutiques and favourite hangouts, including Shaya, the modern Israeli restaurant which has been permanently sold out since winning a Best New Restaurant in the USA award last year. Book well ahead, especially for lunch, between a spot of retail therapy.

The lovely Garden District is nearby, home to the main New Orleans synagogue, while the St Charles streetcar still rides the streets after 180 years, passing one of the famous Cities of the Dead, the Lafayette cemetery with its mausoleum tombs high above New Orleans’ swampy ground.

Stretching six miles from Audubon Park into the Warehouse District at its other end, stop at the excellent World War II Museum along the way, although the eclectic Southern Food and Beverage Museum has relocated from its former riverside home here to a new site less than 10 minutes away.

Down towards the waterfront, main dining street Tchoupitoulas has its own attractions for gourmets.

The new Ace Hotel nearby makes a convenient base, if arguably a little too pleased with its own hip-ness; the lobby bar is packed with millennials for happy hour while its Josephine Estelle restaurant is becoming a dining destination.

The Compere Lapin restaurant of another hip hotel, Old No 77, is a hard act to follow though, thanks to the Caribbean-influences on the menu from its female chef, herself from St Lucia.

And while Emeril’s, the flagship restaurant of New Orleans’s own celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, pleases tourists as well as locals, those looking for a more casual atmosphere should check out the small plates at his first new restaurant in the city in 20 years, Meril.

The music doesn’t stop when you leave the city, heading out into Cajun Country.

Dance the two-step to live bands at the Zydeco Breakfast at Buck & Johnny’s in Breaux Bridge or dinner at Randol’s in Lafayette, that unique blend of blues, rhythm & blues and Louisiana Creole music that you’ll only find in this part of the world.

Take a swamp tour on the bayou to discover alligators from a safe distance, and the magnificent plantations houses along the River Road. Better still, check in.

At Houmas House Plantation, an hour from New Orleans, discover the 38 acres of stunning gardens before relaxing by the Mississippi with a mint julep and fabulous dinner.

Letting the good times roll has never been easier.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive