New Orleans’ Big Birthday Ball

Celebrate the city's tricentennial with legendary cocktails, artsy strolls, and jazz on every corner.  
New Orleans' Big Birthday Ball
The beat of New Orleans: Darryl Young, “Dancing Man 504,” struts a fine line. Photo by: Daymon Gardner

New Orleans sure knows how to throw itself a party. Marking its 300th birthday in 2018, this city founded by the French has stocked the bar with Sazerac and kept the king cake coming for the merrymakers flocking here to explore and to celebrate. Neighbourhoods such as Riverbend, Algiers, and Mid-City burble with fresh energy. The bike-share program Blue Bikes pairs with the city’s flat-as-a-bar-top terrain to make an afternoon’s pedal under the shade of live oaks—and through history—a winning prospect. Hop off at Magazine Street for finders-keepers shopping (beaded clutches, vintage enamel­ware) and let your appetite guide you to restaurants, such as Indian-themed Saffron NOLA, that showcase the many cuisines in this vibrant city. Grab a fork and raise a glass. On its birthday New Orleans is a gift to all.

—Starlight Williams and Andrew Nelson

 

Meet the Neighbours

From music to museums to merch, these vibrant crescent city districts have you covered

Faubourg Marigny

Swap Bourbon Street’s raucous beads-’n’-beer atmosphere for the Marigny’s Frenchmen Street, where locals go for music. Clustered in three blocks are some of the city’s jazziest joints; swing by Snug Harbor, Spotted Cat, and d.b.a. After dancing the night away, refuel at 13 Monaghan (try the “tachos,” tater tots piled with cheese, chili, and more) and Dat Dog; its “bacon werewolf” pairs Slovenian sausage with bacon and sauerkraut.

Garden District

Locals love to take in this neighbourhood’s Greek Revival manses, Victorian cottages, and one-of-a-kind shops. Travel back to belle époque Europe along Magazine Street at Balzac Antiques, where Murano chandeliers share space with period chairs. Funky Monkey is a treasure chest of vintage clothing and costumes, from orange suede shoes to fuchsia wigs. Fashion got you famished? Tuck into the five-course blind tasting menu at Coquette.

New Orleans' Big Birthday Ball 1

Boating party: Visitors canoe the lagoon at New Orleans’ Museum of Art. Photo by: William Widmer/Redux

Warehouse District

Once the heart of New Orleans’ industrial area, Julia Street (or Gallery Row) is a showcase for regional artists. On the first Saturday of every month, people flock to its galleries at 6 p.m. for Art Walk, where artists debut their latest with a side of wine and cheese. Another crowd-pleaser, for kids: the Louisiana Children’s Museum, where they can poke, prod, and clamber through exhibits, including a giant model of an eye.

Carrollton

Take the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to Oak Street, an eight-block microcosm of Norman Rockwell storefronts and New Orleans funk. At Blue Cypress Books, resident cat Kitty Meow guides bibliophiles through a vast stash of literature. Follow your nose (and stomach) to vegan Breads On Oak for its “muffanada,” a meatless take on the muffuletta sandwich. At Maple Leaf Bar, which opened in 1974, catch the funky, Grammy- winning Rebirth Brass Band.

 

Museums: On and Off the Wall

National WWII Museum

New Orleans played a vital role in World War II as the base for the maker of Higgins landing craft, which were key to the invasions of D-Day. This museum focuses on American contributions to Allied efforts.

Historic New Orleans Collection

Artefacts from the city’s past are displayed at this French Quarter site, from Victorian absinthe spoons to 17th-century maps. Its newest annex adds some 12,000 feet of display space.

Slave Trade Marker Project

A city long reticent about its past as a slave port and market is bringing it to light with plaques on landmarks. Bonus: The New Orleans Slave Trade Marker Project includes an app that maps this sobering city chapter.

New Orleans Jazz Museum

This popular attraction in the Old U.S. Mint brings alive the rich history of New Orleans jazz music with interactive exhibits and live performances. Special displays celebrate the city’s tricentennial.

 

Tasty Revolution

New Orleans is dishing up fresh takes on crowd favourites, from vegetarian boudin to creole curry

New Orleans' Big Birthday Ball 2

St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. Photo by: Bryan Tarnowski

New Classics

New Orleans is all about culinary daring. DTB (Down the Bayou) is an homage to Creole coastal sensibilities: Chef Carl Schaubhut’s rice bowl spills over with shrimp and blue crab, while his vegetarian boudin balls smack of mushrooms. Housed in an 1832 Creole cottage by the Ace Hotel, Seaworthy means oysters. The bivalves here are fresh enough to slap your taste buds awake, and the caviar (sturgeon, bowfin, trout roe) is a must. Magazine Streeters trace a spice road to Indian-inspired Saffron NOLA, where curry and creole form a dynamic mix.

Rooted in Flavour

Once the heart of New Orleans’ African-American community, the Pythian vanished during the Great Depression. In 2018 this onetime social club was reborn as the Pythian Market, a food hall with restaurants rooted in local traditions and serving everything from gumbo to Vietnamese banh mi. We love Chef Micah Martello’s Fete au Fete, a newfangled New Orleans favourite for its creamy red beans and rice served with andouille sausage and jalapeño cornbread, and gumbo ya-ya, made with a dark roux.

Just Desserts

Everyone heads to Café Du Monde for classic New Orleans treats of sugar- powdered beignets and chicory coffee. But the city’s newest sweet spot may be patisserie and cocktail lounge Bakery Bar, which serves another local delectable: seven-layer doberge cake, iced in flavours from chocolate to cinnamon RumChata pudding. You’ll find more portable bites at Aglio, which brings a taste of Italy to the Crescent City with its fig cookies—semisweet shortbread bites filled with fresh figs and topped with a rainbow of sprinkles.

Commanding Lead

New Orleans' Big Birthday Ball 3

Ace Hotel’s Lobby Bar. Photo by: Bryan Tarnowski

New Orleans’ isn’t the only landmark birthday that is being feted in 2018. Commander’s Palace, the Garden District favourite known for its service and 25-cent martinis, is marking its 125th year. Lally Brennan and Ti Adelaide Martin’s flagship keeps standards high. Its signature courses of turtle soup and crawfish boil quiche have been perfected by generations of chefs, including Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. And, gentlemen, remember: blazers for brunch, lunch, and dinner. No flip-flops allowed. Ever.

 

Shaken and Stirred

Lousiana’s “Cradle of Civilised Drinking” toasts the heady art of the perfect cocktail

Cocktails are to New Orleans as red beans are to rice: the perfect local pairing. Today’s trends turn to fresh takes on classic tipples. At the breezy COMPÈRE LAPIN, a Caribbean restaurant in the Warehouse District, bartender Abigail Gullo sends spirits soaring with her saucy Sazerac and anecdotes of the drink’s place in local lore. “It is New Orleans in a glass,” she says. The French Quarter’s ARNAUD’S FRENCH 75 shakes up gin fizzes as exciting as a first kiss. At MANOLITO, bartender Chris Hannah mixes a range of daiquiris; try his jazz daiquiri, a potion of rum, crème de cacao, and coffee. “Old cocktails have stories,” Hannah observes, “and new ones better, as well.” The cocktail menu is rum-centric at CANE & TABLE, also in the French Quarter, overseen by Kirk Estopinal, a mover and shaker in the famed Freret Street bar Cure. Punches, swizzles, and sours satisfy a yen for a night in the tropics. Wander toward the Mississippi River and pull up to the bar at BYWATER AMERICAN BISTRO, where Crystal Pavlas rustles up a sour starring singani (a South American grape spirit), aloe liqueur, cantaloupe, and lime.

 

Hotels: Vintage Goes Modern

New Orleans' Big Birthday Ball 4

Craft drinks and crisp wines. Photo by: Bryan Tarnowski

New Orleans' Big Birthday Ball 5

Cane & Table. Photo by: Bryan Tarnowski

 

International House

Life’s a party at this 1906 beaux arts icon, as popular for its comfy rooms as for the Loa Bar, where a “spirit handler” pours creative drinks. A bonus: The hotel’s art-filled lobby hosts quirky and seasonal events (ihhotel.com).

Hotel Jung

This newbie lodging brings a reboot of a 1920s classic on Canal Street. The 207-room property features large rooms and suites with marble floors and furnishings in a soothing palette of sands and greys (junghotel.com).

Hotel Monteleone

Breakfast at Tiffany’s author Truman Capote declared himself born in this classic French Quarter hostelry (he wasn’t), and it continues to exude a Holly Golightly fizz. A historic landmark that opened in 1886, the Monteleone pampers guests in its Literary Suites (the Eudora Welty suite is all gold and blues) and packs in newcomers and locals at its rotating Carousel Bar—both a sight and an experience, with its decorated top, revolving seats, and Vieux Carré Cocktail (hotelmonteleone.com).

Psst. Want a weekly dose of travel inspiration in your inbox?