Where To Eat, Drink And Stay In New Orleans In 2020
Guest Lounge at Maison de la Luz. Photograph by Mr Stephen Kent Johnson, courtesy of Maison de la Luz
To party or not to party is never the question in New Orleans, a city given to the finer pursuits of bourbon and fried foods. But the Crescent City does do subtlety, does understand nuance, does allow a man a singularly debauched event such as Mardi Gras, which we celebrated here a few weeks ago, and pulls it off with dignity fully intact. No city parties harder or with such seeming grace and elegance as The Big Easy. This is how we do it.
01. Maison de la Luz
Bar Marilou at Maison de la Luz. Photograph by Mr Stephen Kent Johnson, courtesy of Maison de la Luz
The key with any excursion into the Deep South is to set yourself up with a comfy landing spot. The recently opened Maison de la Luz , designed by Ms Pamela Shamshiri to be a little bit witchy, is like a cabinet of curiosities fashion icon Ms Iris Apfel might have collected after a few lifetimes of grand touring. The rooms are in soothing pale purples and plush – forgiving surroundings for when you are feeling a bit rough around the edges the morning after. Another absolute favourite is the Napoleon-era carriage house turned bed-and-breakfast Soniat House, a place as famous for its lazy-making fern-filled courtyards, its honesty bar and its biscuits as it is for its peace and calm – all just at the western edge of the French Quarter. On a recent visit we ran into our friend, the former menswear designer for J.Crew, Mr Frank Muytjens, who was there enjoying a little R&R and perhaps a little research for his own glorious B&B in Massachusetts.
02. Hotel Peter & Paul
Rectory Lounge at Hotel Peter & Paul. Photograph courtesy of Hotel Peter & Paul
Now that you are settled, ease your way into the fray at the incredibly elegant Elysian Bar at the Hotel Peter & Paul. A drink here feels no more transgressive than meeting a friend for high tea, if that friend had redone their 18th-century bordello for the occasion. It is a soft, silky haven. If this doesn’t feel like your thing, another pleasant stop-off with some comforting calm amid the always rollicking city is Bar Marilou, at Maison de la Luz, a similarly fantastical creation that suggests equal parts opium den and Victorian grand tour.
Seafood Okra Gumbo at Galatoire’s Restaurant. Photograph courtesy of Galatoire’s Restaurant
Primer applied, you are ready to paint the town red. If you go in for history and grandeur, Galatoire’s, established in 1905, is a wonderful family-vibes spot in the French Quarter for soul-nourishing Southern food (oysters Rockefeller, delicious duck gumbo and crab every which way). Galatoire’s is a portal through which you can enter another time, New Orleans time, where time seems to slow and all the bar-room gossip seems calculated to prompt the ghosts in the walls to speak. If you’re out and about in the Garden District, Commander’s Palace is no less esteemed for a platter of oysters and one or six stiff cocktails. Turkey And The Wolf, also out that way, is a great casual spot with stick-to-your-ribs sandwiches (hope and pray that its vinegary Italian American is on the menu when you visit). Then again, you are in New Orleans and you really ought to go for creole cooking. Alas the late great chef Ms Leah Chase died in 2019, but her Dooky Chase is still cooking and still welcoming devotees (such as the Obamas) in Treme.
04. The Sazerac Bar
Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt New Orleans. Photograph courtesy of The Roosevelt New Orleans
Every city comes with its own heavy history and associations. One of which for New Orleans is the movie JFK by Mr Oliver Stone. One of the great scenes in that film, in which Mr John Candy nervously slurps martinis and crab étouffée, takes place in the muralled Sazerac Bar. Whenever I visit a city, I like to enjoy a tipple at a spot that takes me into the fantasy of that city, and this is the spot in New Orleans, the spot that may have invented cocktails in general, but certainly invented the Sazerac, a rye and cognac right-left with enchanting doses of absinthe and bitters.
05. Napoleon House
Bar at Napoleon House. Photograph courtesy of Napoleon House
To temper the buzz from one of the world’s most famous cocktails, you may be in need of some sustenance. Shrimp po’boys wouldn’t go amiss. Neither would a muffuletta, that weird and wonderful New Orleanian pile of Italian deli meats and olives on Sicilian sesame bread – a top-five sandwich. Find both at Napoleon House, a cosy little oasis in the French Quarter with artfully distressed plaster walls and a welcoming café feel. For some other sneaky respites, may we suggest Bacchanal, a rocky garden towards the Ninth Ward with some live music, cool vibes and decent wine list?
06. Preservation Hall
Exterior of Preservation Hall. Photograph by Ms Renee McMahon/Alamy
Whether you go in for organised religion or not, whether you’ve had six Sazeracs or none, the band at Preservation Hall will take you somewhere positively holy. On a recent visit, the weekend that the legendary local musician Dr John passed away, the show at the 60-odd-year-old jam joint was a joyous, momentous, riotous and emotional wake, church service and everything in between. No matter the occasion, the band here will send you up and out with the angels and then out in search of a taxi home to repent, to do it all over again.