“I like that kind of rawness New Orleans has…”
says NBC’s “Deception” star, Katherine LaNasa
Arguably San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in America; while New York City is one of the most exciting. But New Orleans,The Big Easy, is the sexiest city in the United States with its mysterious atmosphere, devil-may-care attitude, warm and friendly people, sensual music, exotic, delicious, spicy food and “go-cups” (you can take your libation with you in a plastic cup while you’re walking in the street). N’awlins native, actress Katherine LaNasa who co-stars in the NBC-TV show DECEPTION, shared with us what she loves most about this timeworn but elegant French Creole city (Click here for AStarWasBorn.com’s interview with LaNasa)
For fun and food, the star naturally gravitates towards the French Quarter, an historic neighborhood on the banks of the Mississippi River. “The Quarter,” as locals call it, is known not only for its lush courtyards, wrought-iron balconies and Spanish-influenced architecture, but also for its party reputation. Most of the risqué business is confined to Bourbon Street, where neon lights, strip clubs, 24/7 dive bars and an anything-goes attitude are a beacon to visitors who want to “laissez les bon temps rouler” (let the good times roll) – the city’s unofficial motto.
Off of Bourbon, the streets are alive with the sounds of jazz spilling from music clubs, the sultry scent of Creole and Cajun cuisine wafting from the greatest restaurants on earth, ancient taverns and bars including Pat O’Briens (home of the famous Hurricane cocktail), historic French Quarter hotels, and voodoo shops. Popular tourist attractions in the very compact Quarter also include Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, the French Market (including Café du Monde, famous for café au lait and beignets) and Preservation Hall.
Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter Street) is one of La Nasa’s favorite spots for jazz. This intimate venue is for serious lovers of traditional jazz – a tiny, time-worn gem where the finest jazz musicians in the country hold court. Seating is limited, and the venue barely holds 100 people, but Preservation Hall is always packed for the two nightly shows. It is also the home the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which tours all over the world and just did a jam session on the 2013 Grammy Awards telecast.
In the heart of the French Quarter, the gleaming white St. Louis Cathedral is an exquisite visual centerpiece of the city. Laying before the this minor basilica is Jackson Square, an open park the size of a city-block, which honors General Andrew Jackson with his likeness on an equestrian statue.
The river side of the French Quarter faces a sweeping bend in the Mississippi River – the famous curve that gave New Orleans it’s “Crescent City” nickname. Visitors can catch a riverboat cruise on the Natchez, an authentic steamboat with a steam calliope that plays two daily concerts. The night-time dinner jazz cruise on the Natchez features the sweet sounds of the Dukes of Dixieland Jazz Band.
Afterwards, if you “desire” a little nostalgia à la one-time resident Tennessee Williams, you can catch a streetcar along Canal St., which runs along the downtown border of the Quarter to City Park and New Orleans’ famous above-ground cemeteries. New Orleans is home to many beautiful cemeteries and their distinct tombs are often attractions in themselves. The oldest and most famous of which, Saint Louis Cemetery, greatly resembles Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Nothing compares to the world-class Creole food of New Orleans, a truly unique cuisine that blends the culinary influences of the city’s various immigrant inhabitants, most notably African, French, Spanish, Native American, German and Italian. Famous eats include po-boys, spicy boiled crawfish, seafood gumbo, jambalaya and pralines. Lesser-known to visitors (but absolutely adored by locals) are char-grilled oysters. These lovely bites are lavished in an herbed butter sauce and grilled to perfection over an open flame. Locals know one of the best places to go for this NOLA delicacy is Felix’s (739 Iberville St.) – a dive-y French Quarter restaurant where seasoned shuckers at the raw bar are as entertaining as the oysters are delicious.
Sylvain (625 Chartres Street), another one of La Nasa’s favorite restaurants in New Orleans, is a new hotspot in the city’s historic dining scene – a place you’ll find famous local chefs, bartenders and locals rubbing elbows with in-the-know visitors at the bar/restaurant, which serves great craft cocktails and an upscale bar menu. LaNasa loves the Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad at this eatery (pictured at left).
It’s almost impossible to find a bad po-boy in New Orleans – the ubiquitous sandwich served on crusty loaves of French bread appears on menus across the city. Dripping, gravy-soaked roast beef and fried seafood po-boys are ingrained in the city’s eating traditions, but there’s a new generation of po-boy shops putting a different spin on the classic. The ringleader of the movement is Killer Po-Boys, a pop-up restaurant in the back of the Erin Rose Bar (811 Conti Street), a friendly dive bar just around the corner from Bourbon Street.
Famous French Creole restaurants like Antoine’s and Galatoire’s have fed generations, and these stalwarts are still among the city’s best restaurants. Restaurant R’evolution in the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter is the newest, most ambitious fine dining restaurant to open in New Orleans in recent memory. The creation of Louisiana uber-chef John Folse and Chicago celebrity chef Rick Tramonto, R’evolution puts a modern spin on the city’s famous Creole and Cajun dishes.
New Orleans, which just hosted Super Bowl XLVII, is most famous for Mardi Gras, its Carnival celebration, a season of parties, balls and parades that starts on January 6 (the Feast of the Epiphany) and extends to “Fat Tuesday” – the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of the Lenten period of fasting and praying in the Catholic church. Parades big and small roll throughout the Carnival season, but the major parades that visitors flock to New Orleans to see happen during the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday (particularly the weekends). Don’t forget to grab a King Cake if you’re there during Carnival season. Tradition holds that the purple green and gold pastry is only available during Carnival (January 6-Fat Tuesday), and one of the best is made by Haydel’s Bakery. Hidden inside each braided cake is a bean or plastic baby, and custom dictates that whoever finds it must buy the next king cake.
Although many people think New Orleans is on the Gulf coast of Louisiana, the Big Easy is a river city located about an hour from the nearest beaches. One of La Nasa’s favorite spots is Waveland, Mississippi, a beach town where her grandmother has a home just an hour northeast of the city. “We call it the Redneck Riviera,” La Nasa joked.
Where to stay in New Orleans
New Orleans is home to plenty of international hotel chains, but seasoned travelers know the best places to stay are in the city’s historic, family-owned hotels like the famous Hotel Monteleone (where the Carousel Bar rotates guests around some of the best cocktails in the city), The Roosevelt (a hotel that shines brighter than ever after a spectacular, multi-million-dollar post-Katrina restoration project), and in the grand balcony rooms at the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.
Just seven years after the devastating Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is still letting the Good Times Roll. To plan your trip, in addition to checking out www.NewOrleans.com to book hotels, tours and attractions, we recommend reading a recent article by NEW YORK TIME’s blog, The Frugal Traveler, on New Orleans.
The Frugal Traveler recommends tuning into the local jazz station WWOZ-FM to help plan your daily itinerary and trying the 25-cent martini and turtle soup at the popular Garden District restaurant, Commander’s Place. The Vinyl District website’s section on New Orleans also offers cool places for hot music.
After all the food, drinking, dancing and partying, we can’t promise you that you won’t have heartburn, but we can promise you pure “raw” fun!!!!
Sources: NewOrleans.com, New York Times’ Frugal Traveler, Wikipedia
SPECIAL THANKS TO NEW ORLEANS.COM & Editor and New Orleans resident Colleen Rush FOR THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS TO THIS ARTICLE. PLEASE VISIT THEIR WEBSITE (www.NewOrleans.com) TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR NEXT TRIP TO NEW ORLEANS.
Photos courtesy of: Royal Sonesta Hotel, New Orleans.com, Preservation Hall, NBC-TV Publicity, flickr photo of Brussels Sprouts Salad by rdpeyton.