New Orleans: Ten Things You Have To Do in The Big Easy Posted by: Rod Ford | 1 Comment
1. Mansion Gawking
We discovered “The Jewel of America’s Grand Avenues” by accident our first night in town. We jumped on the St. Charles Streetcar—knocking through the night with open windows in a cool, breezy 70-degrees—on our way to a late dinner when we were treated to an unexpected nighttime tour.
The homes along St. Charles Avenue are a collection of some of the most beautiful mansions in the South built by those who helped establish the great city. Some of them are open for tours during the day, others have been converted into hotels and bars, and some you only get to gawk at from afar. The restaurant was closed by the time we were done sight-seeing, but the opportunity to ogle some of the city’s finest architecture was worth the mediocre late night bar food.
2. Airboat Swamp Tour
We drove 30 miles south to Marrero, La., for a swampland adventure at Jean Lafitte Swamp and Airboat Tours. With no idea what to expect, we piled into the airboat docked in the waters of south Louisiana. Our tour guide, Paul cranked the 450 horsepower boat up to full speed and we flew across the swamp. It was a cool, sunny day, perfect for alligator hunting. Paul quietly maneuvered us through the bends and lush overhanging trees. Then he pulled the boat up to a still cove, shut off the engine, hopped out of his seat and pulled out a bag of marshmallows. “Welcome to the swamp.”
He tossed a few of the marshmallows in the water, and the moment the gators were within reach he scared the shit out of everyone on the boat when he shoved his hand in the water and ripped out a four-foot gator. Gripping the hissing (yes, they hiss) beast by the throat and the tail, he said, “I’m from here. This is what we do for fun,” and paraded it around for us to pet.
Things I learned about Paul:
He’s been bitten by alligators more than 200 times
He’s hunted alligators since he was 7
His father didn’t see “hard land” [concrete] until he was 27 years old
Alligator hides are sold by linear foot, you can get $20 to $100 per foot
He participates in an alligator wrestling competition every year
His cousin always wins “because he’s bigger.” (Does weight class really matter when wrestling an alligator?)
3. You Say MuffaLEtta, I Say MuffaLAttaz
We headed to the French Quarter in search of food after our morning on the airboat and stumbled upon one of the culinary gems of the city. Napoleon House is a quiet sanctuary filled with arguably the best muffaletta sandwiches in the city and a top-notch, $6 Pimm’s Cup (that’s a pretty low price for The French Quarter). The muffaletta’s origins began with Italian immigrants at Central Grocery in the French Quarter. It is traditionally comprised of layers of marinated olive salad, capicola, mortadella, salami, pepperoni, ham, Swiss cheese and provolone on a dense round bun.
We argued about the correct pronunciation of the word for our entire trip. According to Wikipedia: “The proprietors of Central Grocery, who invented the sandwich, pronounce the word “moo-foo-LET-ta,” other locals say “muff-uh-LOT-uh.” Turns out we were all saying it wrong.
4. Glenn Louis DeVillier Literary Tour
On our first night in town, we scheduled a 6 p.m. date with Glenn Louis DeVillier, local writer, historian and knower-of-all-local-gossip. Glenn took us on a walking tour, showing us sites, including the boyhood home of Lee Harvey Oswald; where Tennessee Williams wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire”; where William Faulkner wrote A Soldier’s Pay; where Eudora Welty wrote “Why I Live at the P.O.”; and a Mardi Gras escape route through the Hotel Monteleone. He also took us to the observation deck of the Omni Royal Hotel; led us to one of the best seafood restaurants in the Quarter, The Pelican Club; and told us who killed J.F.K. (You’ll have to pay for the tour to find out for yourself.)
5. Sazaracs and Prime Rib
We made a noon reservation at The Rib Room in the Omni Royal Hotel where Bourbon and Boots friend, Michael Gottlieb, has recently taken over as executive chef. We put our trust in Michael and let him guide our culinary adventure, which mainly centered around meat…lots and lots of meat. Look for Michael’s new menu at Rib Room. You have to try the restaurant’s signature dish, prime rib. Ours came out rare, tender and delicious. We also recommend the short rib, chopped steak and Sazaracs, a native New Orleans variation on the old-fashioned.
6. Cocktail Carousel
A must on any tourist’s list is a “ride” on the Hotel Monteleone’s famous Carousel Bar. The bar and seats on the carousel move at a slow pace and carry you and your drink with it. This was a major highlight of the trip, not only for the novelty of the bar, but also for the delicious drinks we tried: Brazilian Sparkle, Corpse Reviver (made with absinthe), Hemmingway Daiquiri, Ramos Gin Fizz, Sazeracs, a Bulleit Old Fashioned…the list goes on.
We arrived and put our names on the list and after about 45 minutes (which as I understand it, is not long) were ushered to a seat in the back of the restaurant at a table with a floral, vinyl tablecloth. We felt right at home in this lively creole-soul food restaurant and ordered accordingly, starting with the highly-recommended shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake appetizer (one slice is rich enough to share with a small table) and ending with an enormous fried chicken plate. Yes, I’m a glutton.
8. Free Tour at Antoine’s Restaurant
On Glenn’s recommendation, we headed to the French Quarter and got the first table for an early lunch at Antoine’s Restaurant. This restaurant is a major tourist attraction in the city. The people flock not just for their $20.12 prix fixe lunch special (it goes up a cent with each passing year, so hurry!) which includes $.25 martinis, but more so for it’s rich history and beautiful dining rooms.
Antoine’s is the country’s oldest family-run restaurant. It was established in 1840 and has stayed true to its French-Creole culinary heritage. Enjoy your meal in the dining room of your choice, but don’t pass up the free tour of the restaurant’s 14 dining rooms, each with their own unique history and décor and a peek inside the wine cellar, which holds up to 32,000 bottles.
9. The Dead Cities
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest and most famous of the New Orleans aboveground cemeteries. It opened in 1789, and the small, one-square-block graveyard is the final resting place of thousands of departed souls. Some of its more well-known inhabitants include the Voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau; Etienne de Boré, a wealthy pioneer of the sugar industry and the first mayor of New Orleans; and a newly-constructed nine-foot pyramid, which will be the final resting place of Nicholas Cage (Yes, just like the movie poster from “National Treasure”).
10. People Watching
We picked the perfect weekend for people watching in this great city. Not only was there a highly-publicized AARP convention, but the city was flooded with Ole Miss fans for the Saturday game (the two were sometimes indistinguishable). We saw men in fishnets; had our fortunes told; skipped over puddles of sick on Bourbon Street; and relished in the jovial, R-rated banter of the locals. Four days just wasn’t enough time to see it all in New Orleans…I’m guessing we’ll have to go back.
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