We’re coming to the end of the Carnival season, and Mardi Gras is right around the corner. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, celebrates the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent.
If you’ve never been to New Orleans, it’s one of the most vibrant, welcoming, colorful cultures in the country. It’s long been a melting pot for French, African, American, Caribbean, and Native cultures, and that mixed history shows itself in many ways throughout the entire city. Things you should definitely check out on YOUR first trip to NOLA, even if it’s not during the big week itself:
1.) The Food. Seriously, it’s almost impossible to find something bad. Whether it’s fancy Cajun (like at Commander’s Palace) or down home fried chicken (like at Dooky Chase) you are guaranteed to love it. My personal favorite on my latest trip was the insanely good contemporary Southern cuisine at Boucherie. Owner James Denio took SUCH good care of us while we were there, and the food is insanely good. Denio is also on the brink of opening Bourre, a restaurant whose menu will be primarily chicken wings and daiquiris. Needless to say, I’m going back to New Orleans the minute Bourre opens.
2.) The Crafted Cocktails. New Orleans lays claim to the first and oldest cocktail in America – the Sazerac. Traditionally a combination of rye whiskey, Peychaud’s Bitters, sugar, and absinthe, the Sazerac was created by Antoine Amedee Peychaud, a Creole apothecary who left the West Indies for New Orleans in the early 19th century. New Orleans also lays claim to the creation of the Hurricane, a mixture of different rums, passion fruit syrup, and lemon juice. Legendary speakeasy Pat O’Brien’s created this during Prohibition to help get rid of the all the rum he was forced to buy when also trying to get the more popular scotch and whiskey. Today instead of drinking it in secret, you can enjoy yours while listening to the famous dueling copper pianos.
3.) The Art. In New Orleans, art is on every street corner, whether in traditional gallery form (like at the Garden District Gallery) or by the multitude of artists selling their wares (like those displaying at Jackson Square in the French Quarter). Every day local artists are celebrated, and their vividly colorful wares make me long for a huge house with lots of blank walls.
4.) The Handmade Goods. New Orleans is filled with places that sell amazing, original handmade goods. I bought two pairs of earrings at the gorgeous Adorn and Conquer. The city also created the Cultural Products District, designed to create and rebuild cultural destinations. One-of-a-kind works sold by artists in these districts are exempt from sales tax, which is a great way to revitalize the creative community in any metropolis.
5.) The People. I love people-watching no matter where I go. In New Orleans, you’re treated to some of the best, including this wacky older woman in a costume who got on our streetcar and then pulled out her sewing. Of course, she was sewing purple fringe onto a velvet bra, just in time for the Mardi Gras parades.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!