With New Orleans back in the news, battling yet another storm and more flooding, concern for this colorful, historical city and its warm, friendly citizens, kept me checking the weather, hoping for the best.
Flooded with nostalgia, I dug deep in the archives of electronic devices of yore to unearth memories of my adventures in this magical, mysterious Crescent City that welcomes everyone to the party. Most of the rediscovered photos from time spent in The Big Easy contained the smiling faces of friends, family, and even some new friends made right on the spot. These images were taken prior to the existence of Pretty Spooky, without thought to how they’d look on an infinitely scrolling, mobile-device-optimized, digital screen. But, these few photos, taken on a Halloween trip, truly embody the essence of New Orleans.
There’s nothing like starting out mornings in NOLA with a stroll through Jackson Square’s open-air artist’s market, paired with Café Au Lait and beignets under the green striped awnings of nearby Cafe Du Monde. We learned years ago, that it’s wise to order two of their delicious chickory coffees, one to enjoy on the patio, and the other to enjoy while strolling in the square. Every time I’ve ever been there, the cafe is crazy-busy, and there’s been no opportunity to add to our order, after the fact. So, order all you want, all at once.
Another tip, is to scoop up any art that speaks to you as soon as you spot it, because it probably won’t be there when you go back. Unfortunately, we learned this one the hard way, foolishly thinking we would come back to get the painting later, after we finished our unencumbered stroll. With art as colorful as its people, beignets as sweet as its hospitality, and coffee as strong as the soul of this city, mornings in Jackson Square are the perfect way to begin the adventure that is a visit to New Orleans.
Everywhere you look, buildings and architecture are rich in variety and history. Stunning wrought iron wraps many second and third story balconies in vivid color and glorious, lacy details.
Residents take pride in decorating their balconies to reflect their personalities, tucking-in little surprises, for passers-by to enjoy. Sometimes, the details are subtle and reserved (by New Orleans standards), letting the architecture take center stage.
Other times (especially during holidays), residents decorate with zeal — and abandon all subtlety. This swamp themed Halloween balcony made me want to listen to this homeowner’s stories over some sweet tea, or maybe a libation. This town oozes personality!
Speaking of libations, The Big Easy is the perfect place to enjoy some classic cocktails and try some new concoctions, because some of the best bartenders and mixologists live and work in New Orleans– and they aim to please! Yes, it is legal to walk around with plastic to-go cups, and there are street vendors and walk-up windows aplenty, selling Hurricanes and Hand Grenades in brightly colored, plastic vessels accessorized with bendy straws. But, why pass up the chance to perch in front of a pro and partake in their artistry, complete with garnishes, and proper glassware, glistening with condensation?
These glowing sippers are from SoBou (short for South of Bourbon), which has top-notch cocktails and cuisine. However, there is no shortage of extraordinary eateries in The City of Chefs, that range from casual Po’ Boy counters to starchy formal dining rooms. Plus, many restaurants serve up generous sides of southern-fried spooky, because your table for two might be more crowded than you realize.
It doesn’t matter if you’re there for the booze or the boos, both kinds of spirits are abundant in NOLA. New Orleans has as many types of ghost tours as Bubba Gump has kinds of shrimp. There are Jazz Ghost Tours, Cemetery Ghost Tours, Voodoo Ghost Tours, Swamp Ghost Tours, Horse Carriage Ghost Tours, Pub Crawl Ghost Tours, and you can take ghost tours day or night, in any area of the city.
Paranormal patrons of the luxurious Hotel Monteleone have hit the purgatory jackpot! Rumors have long circulated regarding the existence of ethereal entities, who grace the historic grounds of the opulent, family-owned hotel. The living might also have wait for — what seems to be — an eternity to get a seat at its spinning Carousel Bar. But, we were fortunate to hop aboard around 10:00 AM on a Saturday, and happily lingered for a few rotations (the carousel makes a full rotation every fifteen minutes), and a couple of perfectly crafted, classic cocktails.
Another benefit of being early, is getting a bit more attention from the knowledgeable bar staff, who share tidbits about everything from cocktail culture to history of the region and the hotel. Pictured here, in the sparkling lights of the elegant lounge, is a decadent Bloody Mary along side a beautifully balanced Aviation.
With a completely different, less refined, but equally as haunted vibe, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is known as the oldest bar in the United States. Jean Lafitte and his brother, Pierre, used the blacksmith shop as a cover for various illegal activities.
Even now, drinks continue to flow, as rowdy revelers belt out tunes in this pirate den turned piano bar. It’s dim and a little gritty — just the way a pirate would want it.
And, when it comes to things being beyond ideal, this port city is completely proficient at partying. Halloween in New Orleans is a boisterous bash, ranking just behind Mardi Gras for a good time. Festive New Orleanians dress up the streets, buildings, and themselves for All Hallows’ Eve, exceeding the casual, everyday adornments, occasionally spotted in the form of clever wordplay on altered street signs.
Not to be outshone, sidewalks get gussied-up, too. Water meters, dubbed “Crescent Boxes,” with attractive covers, pepper foot paths and provide year round ocular titillation for amblers and roamers alike. Nothing is plain in New Orleans.
If you keep chasing Crescent Box covers, you’ll eventually end up back on Bourbon, near the Old Absinthe House.
Costumed and festooned, this is where we had our first absinthe, and the one we still enjoy to this day: Lucid Absinthe Supérieure. The Absinthe Frappe (absinthe, soda water, simple syrup, and mint garnish), is a better first sip of the evening than it is a finale. Absinthe, at more that 60% alcohol by volume, is potent stuff. Unlike ordering at Cafe Du Monde, do order just one. Pace yourself, for the night is young and there’s much mischief afoot.
Our self-created costumes, were inspired by the colors of Mardi Gras, and included sensible shoes for traipsing ’round town. Starting in the Central Business District, sauntering through the French Quarter, and finding our way to Faubourg Marigny’s Frenchmen Street, and back again.
Garnering glances of approval from fellow carousers, our ghoulish garb had us feeling right at home in one of the most haunted cities in America. We grabbed drinks at a handful of establishments, which included Check Point Charlie’s, where I accidentally got sucked into a surging mosh pit on the way to the restroom, and stayed for a few songs, any way. Fun lurks around every corner in the Saint City.
As do reminders of the city’s resiliency. On our return from Marigny, we rounded the corner and were face-to-face with artwork of a girl whose object of protection has fallen short of its purpose. It was later that we learned this poignant piece was, in fact, an authentic Banksy. And, her unsuccessful umbrella is a metaphorical representation of the incapable levees, that during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Gustav in 2008, failed to protect New Orleans.
But, New Orleans, has pluck like no other place. For centuries, its resilient and resourceful residents have been the magic of the Crescent City. With art as colorful as its people, beignets as sweet as its hospitality, and coffee as strong as its soul, there is nothing plain about this city. This town oozes personality– and no amount of rain could ever wash that away.