Updated: May 23, 2020
Met up with my brother-in-law¹ to visit The National WWII Museum and celebrate St. Patrick's Day (not necessarily in that order).
• Auberge NOLA Hostel: For the first part of my stay I flew solo, so I thought I’d give a hostel a try. This place received good reviews and was economical at $50/night. I was assigned Dorm 1, which was a large room with four bunk beds, when saw it I thought: German WWII concentration camp. Since all the lower beds were taken, I got stuck with an upper which wouldn’t have been so bad except when boarding, the bed loudly creaked, and swayed so much that I thought I might topple the whole thing. Honestly I don’t think my weight was the issue, it was more the quality of the beds, it was as if IKEA made prison beds (Prysunk Byeds?). I guess I should be thankful, as one reviewer/top bunker mentioned he was 69 years old, but somehow still managed to successfully mount. When deciding to book a hostel, I was concerned about partying being an issue. The first place I looked at on booking.com prominently displayed a photo of a pool party. In the end it was not the drunkenness that was bothersome (though there was some), but the inconsiderateness: unattended cell phone alarms, door slammers, flashlights, stompers, etc. Oh yeah, and the room smelled: 7 twenty-somethings + 1 geezer + limited ventilation = funk.
• Via booking.com booked a fully cancelable room at the Pelham Hotel² for $148/night. (inclusive of tax). Getting a room with two queen beds limited our options. About a month before our stay, the hotel contacted me directly and said they would upgrade my room, if I would cancel my reservation with booking.com, and book with them directly. I did and it worked out quite nicely. I’m thinking this could be a technique to be imitated in the future. Book a fully cancelable room on booking.com then reach out to the hotel directly to get an upgrade and/or reduced rate. - Located in the Central Business District, which is just south of the French Quarter. This area is a sweet spot, away from the French Quarter craziness, with correspondingly lower prices. Within easy walking distance to Bourbon St., all streetcar lines and the Mississippi River.
• Madame Isabelle's House Hostel: The plan was to spend the last night in this hostel to avoid an early morning flight. At $32/night, this place seemed like a good fit. I wound up canceling, as due to the coronavirus, staying in a hostel on the front end may have been risky, but staying at one on the back end (March 20) would have been downright irresponsible. I cancelled and asked for a refund, but the place said I needed a doctor's note. I was a little disappointed, but $32 is a small price to pay for my well being (though I do have a friend who is a doctor . . .).
• 202 / Airport Express bus: Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) to/from the French Quarter (Loyola & Perdido or Loyola & Howard). $1.50 one way. Board at the airport on Level 3 (when exiting the plane, go up). The bus only makes the above two stops, so it’s almost as fast as taking a car. Runs hourly every day of the week from 0345 to 1900.
• E1 (Downtown): Is your only other public transportation option. MSY to/from Canal and Magazine (the west edge of the French Quarter). Board at the airport on Level 3 (when exiting the plane, go up). $1.50 one way. Runs more than hourly every day of the week.
• Taxi: Going Rate is $40 (inclusive of tip).
• Shuttle: $24 one-way, $44 round trip.
• UberX: ~$38
• Lyft: ~$35
I imagine some of my subscribers would eschew the public bus. I once knew someone that proudly stated “I never take the bus”. Well I'm going to go with Isoroku Yamamoto, the admiral who led the Japanese Navy to victory at Pearl Harbor, on this one: “Yamamoto stood perfectly for all the greatness of new Japan. But he also knew his America. He had studied at Harvard, served as naval attaché in Washington, traveled around the country. Don’t take taxis, take the bus, he used to tell new Japanese arrivals.”³
Thought I’d address this right off the top. When I was younger, I frequently traveled to New Orleans for business and must admit that I looked forward to visiting Bourbon Street. I remember it being filled with a lot of fun stuff (a 10 year old tap dancing prodigy tapping in the middle of the street, every type of live music: country, zydeco, classic rock, jazz, and hey is that young lady running around with out a top on?!.) It had it’s own smell: one part beer, one part BO and one part cigarettes that said “Laissez les bons temps rouler”⁴. When I returned this time it was different (or was I?), there was less live music (and less variety), the smell was gone and hey, what’s with all the old people?! If you've never been to Bourbon Street, you probably need to visit, and even if you’ve been there before you will want to stop by, but this time I was determined to see the New Orleans beyond Bourbon Street.
• That being said, I needed to stop by Pat O’Brian’s. It has a dueling piano setup, where the pianists play any and all requests (everything from In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida to Rhapsody in Blue). In the past, I really enjoyed this virtuosity, but this time around the requests seemed stale (Theme from Cheers?) and the quality of the performance lacking (and there was all those old people). - I must disclose that my review may be jaded by a prior experience, years ago, at Pat O’Brian’s that was deeply disturbing. A good friend, let’s call him Francis, drank a Hurricane, which is Pat O’Brian’s signature drink, a putrid concoction of rum, rum, rum and passion fruit syrup (the eponymous glass is the best part of the drink). It must have had a bad maraschino cherry, as he immediately became violently ill in the bathroom (and I mean violently, with a capital V). As I think about this now, he may have ruined Pat O’Brian’s for me, forever.
• The Jazz Playhouse (at the Royal Sonesta Hotel): Just 50 feet from all the insanity that is Bourbon Street is this oasis of civility and live music with sophisticated jazz/R&B seven nights a week, with no cover and reasonable drink prices for drinks served in glass glasses.
• Frenchmen Street: Blue Nile, 30°/-90°, The Maison, etc. It’s like a mini-Bourbon Street, with less drunkenness and better (and more authentic) music.
• The Maple Leaf Bar: Located in Uptown, well away from the French Quarter. Live music nightly. Sights
• National WWII Museum: I was initially very concerned about whether a museum, no matter how large, could do justice to the largest conflict mankind⁵ has ever seen. Would it adequately cover the portion of the war when the US was not involved, the events leading up to the war, the events after the war? I’ll never know as the coronavirus shut the place down two days before I was to visit. • The Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum: Does a solid job telling the history of the Lower Ninth Ward and the effects of Hurricane Katrina. A work in progress, but you have to respect this grassroots effort to tell a story that no one wants to hear, but everyone should. Some very interesting exhibits to include:
- The story of the McDonogh Three who were three six year old girls who were the first black students to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans (and possibly the entire south). One of the three, Leona Tate, is part of museum management and was working the day I toured the museum. She was nice enough to share her memories of that day ("I wasn't afraid, but there were an awful lot of people yelling") and discuss how far we have (and haven't) come.
- I remember soon after Hurricane Katrina there were stories being spread that the levees in New Orleans were intentionally breached to displace New Orleans poorest residents. At the time, I thought it was just another conspiracy theory, as baseless, as it was ludicrous. Well, now I can understand where it came from, as the federal government used explosives to breach the levee to flood the Lower Ninth Ward during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. It was done at the bequest of bankers to protect downtown New Orleans and calm Wall Street nerves.
- Take the 88 bus to get there.
- Hungry? An excellent place to stop for lunch (and the only place) is Cafe Dauphine. Ask your server what’s fresh. I had Redfish Florentine and homemade lemonade. - Walk off lunch by taking a stroll directly south three blocks to the Third District Reach Revetment which offer good views of the New Orleans skyline, while simultaneously keeping the Mississippi out of the Lower Ninth. While standing on it, note the level of the water in the river and the level of the sidewalks.
• Free Tours By Foot did a fine job of delivering a free walking tour of the French Quarter. Some of the highlights:
- Doreen Ketchens: Perhaps the best and most famous street performer in New Orleans. She has played for four presidents and can play just for you, if you catch her at the corner of St. Peters and Royal St, Thurs - Sun, 1100 - 1500. She is such a Vieux Carre fixture, that she has her own Yelp page.
- Antoine's Restaurant: Perhaps the most famous restaurant in New Orleans and the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller. If you're not a fan of classic French cooking, then just stop by the adjoining Hermes Bar.
• Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery: Site of the Battle of New Orleans, which took place on January 8, 1815. The Visitor Center does an able job explaining the battle (though try and time your visit to coincide with a guided ranger talk, which occurs according to a varying schedule). Basically Major General Andrew Jackson led a force of 5,700 Regulars, Militia, Volunteers, Sailors, Marines and Pirates against 8,000 British Regulars. With the Americans dug in behind Rodriguez Canal, the battle was a resounding American victory, with some 2,500 British casualties vs. just 62 for the victors.
- The battle took place two weeks after The Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, was signed. One may think, therefore, that the battle was a waste, but there is a possibility that the British may have backed out of the treaty if they had been the victors.
- You can use the 88 bus to get there, but will still need to walk the last half mile, so car is really your best option.
- Stop by Gerald's Donuts & Burgers in Arabi for breakfast. Southern diner breakfast food and a donut shop. Not sure if your doctor (or dentist) would recommend this place, but I do. - Prior to visiting the battlefield, watch the movie The Buccaneer, starring Yul Brenner (with hair) and Charlton Heston (with impressive hair). Possibly the best movie Lorne Greene ever made. Not necessarily the most accurate version of the battle and events leading up to it, but it will get you in the spirit. Nobody could play Andrew Jackson except Heston. The only movie ever directed by Anthony Quinn and you can watch it on dailymotion via this link for free.
New Orleans is known for a myriad of drinks. This link provides a solid overview of the drinks and where to drink them (far better than I could have done). I'll just focus on one:
• Daiquiri: The most ubiquitous drink in New Orleans. You may think you know what goes into a daiquiri: Rum + Lime Juice + Simple Syrup. And if you visit one of New Orleans finer drinking establishments, that is what you will get, served in a stemmed cocktail glass. But the frozen daiquiri served in one of New Orleans' innumerable daiquiri shops is a very different drink. It is two part syrup concentrate (now doesn't that sound tasty), eight part water and one part whatever liquor they’ve chosen for that mix. All are served in a 20 or 32 ounce styrofoam cup from a commercial grade daiquiri machine, each bearing a catchy name such as Mardi Gras Mash, Hypnotic Chill and 190 Octane. It's 1800 calories of goodness. Basically they are a commodity, with no one shop making a superior product. Expect to pay $9-14, with the shops off Bourbon Street generally having better pricing.
- There are also drive though daiquiri shops, which is either sheer lunacy or the greatest invention known to mankind.
• Café Du Monde: Everybody I talked to about New Orleans mentioned this place, “you have to get the beignets at Café Du Monde”. Well I was about to, when I thought of my good friend "Hurricane" Francis (see above). He recently had visited Paris (btw: I gave him a this much appreciated restaurant recommendation, get the L'onglet marine de boeuf). When I asked how he liked the Louvre, he replied that he skipped it, too touristy, he wanted to experience the real Paris (which I later realized meant drinking Aperol Spritzes in cafés while reviewing the latest French “fashion” trends). Well, I was inspired by my good friend and wanted to experience the real New Orleans, so I skipped Café Du Monde, cracked opened an icy cold Bud Light and drank it right there on the street while listening to some kid drumming on two upside down Home Depot five gallon plastic buckets.
• Galatoire's Restaurant: I know, I promised myself to see the New Orleans beyond Bourbon Street, so how did I end up eating at the most famous restaurant on Bourbon Street? Well, let's just say I had to declare force majeure. Anyhow, why should I have to apologize for eating at a James Beard Award (2005) winning restaurant? I must admit though that my experience did not start off well, as upon entering the host with a look of disdain said "First of all we must get you both jackets". I didn't realize there existed a restaurant in this world that still required a jacket. Trust me, I have no issue with dress codes, as they hearken back to an earlier time of style and civility (not only in dress, but in comportment and public discourse). Though I fail to see how providing me a loaner jacket does this, as it does not make me feel more stylish or civil, just (more) self conscience (which may be the purpose). Enough about my attire . . . though the place is so classy, they don't have a bar and is so well lit that everyone could notice my jacket didn't quite fit. The service was acceptable and the meal above average, though my shrimp cocktail appetizer was less than overwhelming (in size and taste) and was served on a bed of shredded lettuce instead of crushed ice (which I found rather odd). If a fine dining restaurant cannot procure superior fresh shrimp for their shrimp cocktail, then quite simply they shouldn't put it on the menu. My dining companion gave the place a B+, but I could not be so benevolent, as I have eaten more memorable meals without wearing a jacket and some of the most memorable without wearing anything at all.
• Café Reconcile: This place is an eight week culinary training school for young adults. Eating here enabled me to continue my life’s mission of helping others succeed in life and fulfill their dreams. It also enabled me to eat authentic and delicious New Orleans soul food at a very reasonable price.
- Get the Deep Fried Turkey Neck as an appetizer. • Jacques-Imo’s Cafe: I liked the idea of visiting what some have called the best restaurant in New Orleans, especially as it was located in Uptown, well away from the Bourbon Street riff-raff. Normally this place is packed, requiring a long wait, but my charisma, boyish good looks and the fact that the coronavirus had scared away most of the customers enabled us to be immediately seated. We sat at the bar so we could chat with our bartender, Sherri about the finer points of the menu and our impending St. Paddies Day itinerary. She informed us that the sublimeness of the fried chicken was due to frying at low temperatures for 20-25 minutes and that the governor had just issued orders to shut down all bars and restaurants at midnight, effectively canceling our St. Patrick’s Day. It was a real kick in the jimmies. I decided to drown my misery in a Sazerac, sautéed chicken livers and fried chicken. I ordered the sautéed chicken livers in honor of my Father, my Mother-in-law, and Tony Bourdain. I thought it sounded exotic, you know to be part of this whole nose to tail culinary experience, but in the end even the best chicken livers still taste like . . . chicken livers. The fried chicken though was excellent, I ordered the dark & white combo (can’t we all get along?) which included two sides (I went with greens and red beans & rice). - The not too loud music sounded quite nice to these baby boomer ears. I’m talking Wildfire, Into the Mystic, If You Could Read My Mind, etc. - At the end of our meal, I chatted with the owner Jacques about the episode of The Cook's Tour when Tony Bourdain visited the restaurant. - If you have the time, commute via the St. Charles Streetcar, exiting at Oak St. Walk 2.5 blocks west, you can't miss the place as there is a two top in the back of the pick-up truck sitting out front on the street.
- One of the premier live music venues in New Orleans, The Maple Leaf, lies adjacent, which can make for the perfect after dinner drink.
New Orleans is famous for two sandwiches, which is actually quite impressive. • The Po’ boy: You can’t throw a piece of French bread in this town without hitting a place that is famous for their Po’ boys. Based on Tony Bourdain's recommendation I decided to visit Domilese’s. It was built in the '30s and has apparently not undergone renovations since, except to remediate the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. An added bonus is, it forced me to leave the French Quarter and get out to West Riverside. Take the St. Charles Streetcar ($1.25), exit at Valmont and walk exactly a half mile south (if you are visiting during New Orleans’ nine month summer then you may want to make alternative travel arrangements). After entering the place, pick up a number off the counter and review the menu on the wall. Tony and I went with the Off the Menu Special, a fried shrimp Po’ boy with Swiss cheese and roast beef gravy, (it’s not that special though, as it’s actually written on the bottom of the menu), recommend you go with something that suits your taste. Then go to the bar and order an Abita Amber (that will come in a frosted schooner glass at $3.50). When your number is called, inform one of the old ladies behind the counter of your decision and yes, you want it “dressed“ (topped with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise and pickles). Bon Appétit! - The St. Charles Streetcar is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world, since 1835. The car you ride in may seem that old, but only dates to the ‘20s.
- A Po' boy consists of roast beef or fried seafood (often shrimp, crawfish, fish, oysters or crab) served on French bread.
- Why do they call it a Po’ boy? No one really knows.
• The Muffuletta: The traditional-style muffuletta sandwich consists of a muffuletta loaf split horizontally and covered with layers of marinated muffuletta-style olive salad, salami, ham, Swiss cheese, provolone, and mortadella. If you‘re not into olives then give this sandwich the go-by. Invented at the Central Grocery Co. in 1906 by its Sicilian owner. Normally I’d be inclined to obtain mine from the inventor, but unfortunately Central Grocery is only open until 5:00 pm, and to me the Muffuletta is a post drinking late night snack before you go to bed sandwich. So I recommend you follow my lead on this one and stop by Verti Marte on the way back to your lodgings. It looks like a run down corner convenience store (which it is), but there is a rundown deli counter in the back where you will order your muffuletta. Then pick up a cold Tchoupitoulas IPA tall boy single, pay cash at the register and proceed to the Mississippi River directly across from Jackson Square where you will enjoy your feast while looking out at the river traffic and the lights of the fifth longest cantilever bridge in the world. It’s a very nice way to end the evening (or start the morning). - If there are two of you, one sandwich will still get the job done. - Pronounced "muff-uh-LAH-tuh".
- Why do they call it a Muffuletta? No one really knows.
• Stumptown Coffee: Five for five on the ACRE. Located off the hotel lobby of the Ace Hotel, it comes with cool music & art, comfortable chairs and good people watching. An AAR Must Coffee.
Drinks with a View
• Hot Tin: Meh. I really wanted to like this place. Located on the roof of a pretty cool hotel with a connection to Tennessee Williams, with good views of the entire New Orleans. But it just didn’t work for me.
• Monkey Board: Named for the highest platform of an oil rig, this place is located on the 17th floor of the Troubadour Hotel and offers 270 degree views of downtown New Orleans from the center of downtown. The place has a dated look (concrete paver flooring, sliding glass windows and architectural picnic tables), which actually works, like what a rooftop bar in Havana would look like. I’d stick with beer, as it didn't strike me as a cocktail place.
• Hundreds of songs could be recommended, so in the end I'll just go with the one that truly symbolizes New Orleans, Professor Longhair's "Tipitina".
- If you are visiting the Chalmette Battlefield, it couldn't hurt to listen to Johnny Horton's version of Battle of New Orleans.
• Required Watching: Treme, does an outstanding job capturing the music, crime, and humidity that makes New Orleans, New Orleans. If watching all 36 episodes seems bit daunting, then go with The Big Easy (it’s not Casablanca, but then again Ellen Barkin is a very good actress).
• Required Drinking: Abita Amber, which is available on draft at most of your finer and not so finer drinking establishments. Abita The Boot, is an option for you Bud fans.
• It‘s pronounced “New Or-lens”. Don't say “Nawlins”, trust me only tourists try and pronounce it that way.
¹ There is not a finer drinking companion to celebrate with.
² The Pelham Hotel vs. the Auberge NOLA Hostel is a perfect example of the grade inflation that is rampant on all online booking sites. The Pelham is a nice hotel, well appointed, with a 24 hour front desk, daily maid service, valet parking and a score of 8.5 on booking.com. The Auberge NOLA Hostel is a hostel with a shared bathroom, shared shower and a score of 9.2 on booking.com. How can a hostel get a better score than a nice hotel?
- I cover this issue in more detail in The After Action Report: The Lodging Protocol.
³ Walter Lord Midway: The Incredible Victory (I was studying for my planned visit to The National WWII Museum).
⁴ The expression "Laissez les bons temps rouler" is a Cajun French phrase. The phrase in its, French / Cajun French, form is a calque⁶ of the English phrase "let the good times roll". It is not a expression in French speaking countries.
⁵ Man vs. Mankind vs. Humankind: There is disagreement throughout mankind on which is the correct word to use. From a grammatical perspective, it is either mankind or humankind. From a political correctness perspective it is humankind. And from a etymological perspective it is mankind, as the "man" in mankind is from the old English word "man" which is gender neutral.
⁶ A loan translation that is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation.