Finally back to New Orleans

I’m disappointed in myself that it took so long for me to get to NOLA following Katrina. I’ve wanted to visit and do my part to help pump some money into the local economy. Sadly, circumstances have prevented it up until this past weekend. But here I am, sitting on the plane home with a rather noticeable hangover, so I am happy to report that (the tourist side of) NOLA is up and running, full speed ahead.

This was a quick weekend run for a buddy’s bachelor party, so we weren’t spending a lot of time at museums or other cultural establishments, but we did take the opportunity to sample some of Bourbon Street’s finer establishments and experience the scene.

We arrived late on Friday night (actually early Saturday morning) and immediately set out to enjoy the nightlife. Harrah’s casino was planted conveniently between our hotel (Hilton Riverside) and the French Quarter, which meant that we always had a nice air conditioned interlude half way through the walk. After passing through the casino and picking up the other half of our crew who arrived earlier in the day, it was on to drinking. And we did. A lot. I can’t tell you the names of the bars we were in, mostly because it is insignificant and because I was pretty drunk most of the time and didn’t care too much. The beer flowed and we had a pretty good time overall.

Saturday we got to enjoy on of NOLA’s other big draws – food. We ate a lot. First up were beignets at Café du Monde, the original fired dough shop in the Quarter. I remember them being a bit better on my previous visits. They weren’t as puffy as previously, which makes them a bit more rubbery and require more chewing effort, but fried dough is always good for a hangover and these were no exception.

We wandered the Quarter for a couple hours, admiring the architecture and the infamous Bourbon Street by daylight stench. The other key cure for a hangover is to drink more, so when we found ourselves wandering past Pat O’Brien’s we really felt compelled to duck inside to their back yard and sample the glory that is the hurricane, originally created at POB’s. The hurricane is one of Bourbon Street’s most famous concoctions, known for trashing people the way a real hurricane trashes cities. Drinking several Hurricanes in succession will likely result in a gutter-visiting experience. In our case the Hurricane was just what we needed to reset our balance and get on with the rest of the day.

Back out on the streets, we eventually found ourselves in the vicinity of Felix’s, the “other” oyster house on Iberville Road. I say “other” because across the street from Felix’s is Acme Oyster House, one of NOLA’s most renowned restaurants. Despite its efforts to keep the casual, come as you are attitude, however, Acme often feels stuffy to me. Maybe it is because it is cleaner. Or maybe because they have the same ropes set up outside that are used for airport security lines. Either way, it isn’t as local an experience in my opinion. So we walked in to Felix’s and the two guys working the counter immediately set to shucking, and talking. Boy did they talk. One of the guys (Mike, I think) claims to be the defending state oyster shucking champion, and he was more than happy to tell us about the competition and his skills. They also were happy to keep serving up oysters right on the bar until we cut them off. The cocktail sauce needs help, and the horseradish that they have is liquefied somehow, so they lose major points for those issues, but the atmosphere was great and the oysters were top notch.

Mike also treated us to a display of one of his Oyster shucking tricks – the long range oyster toss and catch. It was pretty impressive as one of the guys in our party, Quinn, managed to catch an oyster tossed to him from about 10-15 feet away. Thus ended our Felix’s experience with 3 dozen in us and it was time to roam to the next dining spot.

Not everyone in the group was up for the oysters, and we all realized that it was time for some real food to help fortify against the alcohol, so back we wandered through the quarter to a little shop called Oceana. Typical Louisiana style cooking, with lots of blackened anything, gumbo, jambalaya and gator bites. All of it was delicious, and we got to serenade our wait staff as an added bonus (though probably not for them or any of the other folks in the restaurant). At this point we decided that discretion was the better part of valor and we ambled back to the hotel for some pool-side relaxation and naptime before the evening fun, with a stop along the way at one of the many daquiri bars for some cold refreshment in the form of a Jester – part Grain and part 151, with a lot of sugar to top it off.

Dinner was originally planned for Emeril’s but we decided that our alcohol consumption was too high to truly appreciate the nuance of his cooking style, so we failed back to the local cuisine and Pat O’Brian’s again. They talked us out of ordering the 3 gallon Hurricane, which is probably a very, very, very good thing, but they definitely kept the food and beer flowing. More gumbo, jambalaya and po’ boys and we were all stuffed pretty good. I think that the food was slightly better at Oceana, but still passable. I also think that the versions we got at both restaurants were the sanitized version of the meals, focused on tourists and making it taste like the mix at home does, rather than real Cajun-style cooking. There wasn’t much heat (spice, not temperature) to the meals and they seemed a bit bland. Then again, we were dining in places off of Bourbon Street and I’m not surprised but the level of food that we got for what we chose to do.
And then back to bars and eventually the casino (which had a pretty hopping bar that wasn’t nearly as dingy as the ones on Bourbon Street) and then the hotel and an early wake-up call to head back to the airport and come back home. I was on the ground in NOLA for 34 hours – a short trip to be certain – but the town is alive and thriving and looking for more folks to come on down and play.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.