As we slid into Bourbon Street on a hot sticky August afternoon the road was quiet save a few tourists walking back to their hotel rooms for a rest and a shower…….I didn’t know what to expect but The Grey Traveller had arrived for a 3 day slash 4 night stay over and I was ready to hit the French Quarter.
Staying in the Four Points Sheraton Hotel I couldn’t have chosen better location wise as the hotel straddles Bourbon and Toulouse right in the thick of it and close to major sites such as Jackson Square, the river and shopping.
As the sun goes down so the walkers, strutters,vendors and people watchers line the streets. Traffic is banned and you find yourself gawping at barely clad women, dogs wearing sunglasses and tourists carrying cocktails the size of a fishbowl. Music heaves out of bars, clubs and cafes and each place welcomes nay beckons the tourist dollar to be spent in their tills.
We found the best eating places were a little off Bourbon down the sides streets and along Royal. One that needs to be mentioned is Pere Antoine which served up the best gumbo and jambalaya on this road trip. Set in a picturesque building in a truly picturesque street the atmosphere was friendly with a palpable buzz of tourism excitement without the loud and bold on Bourbon.
Nighttime found me at The Beach on Bourbon where they played a heady mix of soul and eighties music welcoming locals and tourists alike to drink and dance and drink and dance the night away whilst young girls would encourage you to buy shots in what appeared to be test tubes.
Daytime and the city offers interesting times to explore and walk the French District, board a Mississippi steamer for a jazz cruise and hop on a Streetcar named Desire to view the Garden District. Of course there are shops but every city has shops.
The steamer Natchez is a gentle cruiser taking tourists upstream with a detailed commentary about what you can see riverside. You pass the sugar factories and war grounds whilst the big red paddles ply the river and you can’t help feeling just a tad Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry as the scenes slip by. The entertainment is dixie and their is food available should you not be filled from a southern stye breakfast. I recommend Cafe Conti which was infact recommended by a local…… Po’boy breakfasts and crepes truly spoiled for choice and fill a hungry explorer for the day.
A walk through the French covered market where tin pictures manufactured in ‘the style’ of old Louisiana are a nice buy. Stopping for cloudy lemonade or a beer at Cafe Gazebo followed by coffee (and chicory) and donuts at Cafe du Monde will provide the energy for the leg work especially if you want to hoof it over to the Second World War Museum a rainy day option which has several floors of memorabilia to suit any keen history buff or war enthusiast.
The Old US Mint had an exhibition about Louis Armstrong’s connection to the city and jazz and of course you can hear strains of jazz from every alley and bar. You will see musicians carrying their instruments as they head for bars and clubs as the sun goes down, with reflections of the city twisting in and out of the horns and tubas as they are polished medals of honour for these musicians.
The Streetcar ride which is easy to take from St Charles Street was a welcome break from the intensity of the French Quarter, the streets get wider the homes larger and the gardens spill out onto broad sidewalks.
So yes there are two sides to New Orleans, the heady mix of night time entertainment on Bourbon and the day time attractions of the river and the history. And as the sun drops again and you have to choose is it going to be an absinthe or a hurricane to start the evening off with a bang you will be drawn to Bourbon and all it has to offer.
If it’s a hurricane call into Pat O’Briens for large red storm in a shapely glass and if it’s absinthe then call into Pirates Alley …they are both waiting for you.