It is amazing what smart people with good intentions can do to increase tourism. A few years ago, New Orleans was discussed with sadness and tears and pity parties. We wondered how this formerly over-the-top tourist extravaganza could ever regain its footing. From Acts of God, to incredibly poor politics, it looked like the glory of New Orleans was going to be a historical study for academics. Culinary artists, gourmets, gourmands, and oenophiles were going to have to take their tastes elsewhere… New Orleans was no longer an option.
Fortunately the city that heralds “Let the Good Times Roll” did not hear the lamenting sounds of outsiders. Business people and political leaders picked themselves up from the debris of Katrina and developed an extravagant city that is flush with good food, good wines, great shopping, interesting museums, and a joie-de-vivre that is constantly in your face. Children running through the streets and hotel lobbies are happy; parents are jubilant; and seniors stroll blissfully along the streets, holding hands, kissing over drinks, and partying through to the following morning.
This sixth in a multi-part series, “My Take on New Orleans,” will, hopefully, capture some of the joyfulness that makes New Orleans a destination that is selected by choice and not by chance.
New Orleans. What to Do (Beyond Drinking and Eating).
Just in case New Orleans visitors have a bit of down time between meals, the locale offers up unique museums and wonderful shopping. The World War II Museum must be placed at the top of the “to do” list. The mandatory first stop is to view the Tom Hanks movie, Beyond all Boundaries. Bring a few tissues and a small American flag. The movie will make you cry while instilling a strong sense of patriotism. Save some visiting time to dine at the restaurant where award-winning Chef John Besh’s menu hovers at the cutting edge between casual dining and gourmet. In addition to great food (especially for a museum), there is live entertainment in the Stage Door Canteen.
I noticed long lines of children and parents waiting to visit the Audubon Insectarium which is, of course, dedicated to insects. The attractions are enchanting to those who really like insect encounters, bug animation, and Japanese butterfly gardens. Visitors even get a chance to eat bugs at the Bug Appétit where samples of exotic creations are prepared by bug chefs. Dishes may include chocolate “chirp” cookies, and hors d’oeuvres topped with queen ants or six-legged salsa.
The Confederate Museum is the oldest museum in Louisiana and stores the second largest Confederate collection in the nation. We know they lost… but it is still interesting to see the war from a different perspective. The memorabilia includes flags, uniforms, weapons, medical instruments, and personal effects of President Jefferson Davis, Generals Beauregard and Lee, and other southerners who believed that they were on the right side of the conflict.
For art historians, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art/University of New Orleans, is dedicated to the paintings and sculptures from the American South from Colonial period to the present. On Thursday evenings (6:00-8:00 pm) Ogden After Hours presents live music.
Where to begin? Mall shopping is always fun, and The Shops at Canal Place is a pleasant place to stroll and even provides an interesting locale for a quick lunch. The space does not look like much, but the crowded tables encouraged me to sample the food. Much to my surprise the po’ boys were excellent. If you definitely need a drink, take a seat at the Café Nuage (3rd floor).
Saks Fifth Avenue (1st floor) is definitely worth a walkabout. New Orleans women and men must look fabulous at meetings and cocktail parties, for the selections were very tempting and the prices were not over the top. Another must stop for wonderful leather boots is Wehmeiers. Look for American Alligator, South African ostrich, lizard, shark, and stingray (2nd floor).
The Rhino Gallery also deserves time, attention, and your credit card. Incorporated in 1987 as a nonprofit, it helps to encourage interest in the Louisiana fine arts and crafts movement. Look for unique, one-of-a-kind bracelets, earrings, table-top ornaments, and wall hangings (2nd floor).
To traipse up and down Magazine Street, someone with a black belt in shopping will need at least one complete day. Definitely start at Mignon Faget, to select unusual jewelry. There is a really good chance you will walk off with the rabbit bracelet in sterling silver and the tiger bracelet in 14K gold. From this starting point, plan on finding antiques, paintings, jewelry, desk top accessories, pottery, and even a pawn shop.
Being a Guest.
The best way to be a guest in New Orleans is to stay in the French Quarter at a landmark property. This means checking into the 125-year-old Hotel Monteleone. The notables who have slept in these venerable rooms and walked the halls include Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Anne Rice, John Grishman, and Truman Capote. The hotel has a terrific rooftop swimming pool that catches the sun from early in the morning to late afternoon. The bar is busy, busy, busy! Looking at the Carousel Bar would lead a stranger to think there was no other place in New Orleans to get a drink. Feel free to gaze at scores of girls and girls, guys and guys, girls and guys, kids and parents, lovers and young marrieds, plus seniors with walkers looking for respite from the heat. I even spotted a new bride (still in her gown), grabbing a quick drink as she waited for guests to arrive.
There are so many hotel brands sprinkled throughout the city that it is hard to make a decision. For up-market consideration, visitors can select between Marriott, W, Sheraton, Hilton, Hyatt, and InterContinental. For budget travelers, the selection options include Best Western, Clarion Inn, Comfort Inn, Doubletree, Drury Inn, Hampton Inn, La Quinta, Quality Inn, and Hilton Garden Inn.