A Middle-Ager’s How To Survival Guide For New Orleans Mardi Gras

5 Posted by - February 1, 2018 - Cravings, Walkabout

New Orleans trip from college with buddy (left) and me (yes, no facial hair then).

Late last year, my buddy Chad texted me and said, “I’ve booked a hotel to New Orleans. We’re going.” He didn’t really have to twist my arm. I had a great time when I was last in New Orleans — I think. It was in college, so don’t judge.

So you get the proper idea, I’ve included a pic of me and a college buddy from that trip.

My College Trip Memories of New Orleans 

When I tried to recall that college trip to New Orleans, I could remember about four or five things:

  • Men on stilts carrying cans of beers stacked 20 high
  • Trying crawfish for the first time
  • The hurricanes at Pat O’Briens and all-day White Russians (I was going through a The Big Lebowski phase)
  • Getting my palm read
  • Not having enough money to get into the House of Blues

New Orleans Brings Some High-Energy Locals

From the beginning, our trip started high-energy. We had an overzealous and VERY friendly Uber driver Corey pick us up from the airport. The conversation gave talk radio a run for its money, as we learned a great deal about the city and what to check out. We already had a pretty formidable list, but we definitely entertain recommendations. We learned that New Orleans was celebrating its tri-centennial (very cool). And New Orleans was named the “No. 1 Travel Destination for the year.”

(This seemed a bit dubious — not that we didn’t expect New Orleans to make some serious travel destination lists, but without some attribution, we wondered if it wasn’t on this Uber driver’s list every year. Low and behold, I stand corrected. The New York Times named New Orleans the No. 1 Place to Go in 2018.)

After the brief history lesson, and upon our prompting, he threw out some restaurant recommendations and places to watch the Saints playoff game.

We learned about Walks Ons (ESPN’s No. 1 rated sports bar. A lot of No. 1s in this town). The beer taps at your seating area DID sound right up our alley though. Bobby Hebert’s (the restaurant owned by the former Saints QB) also came up. Then a smattering of places where we could score some delicious crawfish etouffee and gumbo and jambalaya and catfish flew through his four-door Buick. And he heeded one warning, “Don’t believe the Trip Advisor hype. You don’t want to go to the Ruby Slipper!”

Being from where we’re from, that would’ve been a bit to cliche anyway. So, it wasn’t really part of the plan. (We did later pass by and laugh though.)

I jotted down almost everything for future reference. Regardless, this initial encounter set the stage for our trip. Almost all of the NOLA locals appreciate their tourists. And they go out of their way to show you.

Make It The MOXY In New Orleans

My buddy had booked us a room at the Moxy in the French Quarter area. The Moxy is a boutique hotel owned by Marriott. Instead of checking into a conventional front desk, you get your room key (and a free drink) at the lounge bar.

The hotel is an interesting hybrid of contemporary and vintage style. The room was spacious and affordable. And the 24/7 lounge area, with its friendly bartenders made the perfect place for a final beer for the night. The bar constantly hummed with people drinking and playing board or parlor games. (Though its Connect Four set needs some more red chips.).

She: This place reminds me of the Ace Hotel in Chelsea, NY. I would definitely stay here if the girls are invited to New Orleans next time.

Everything we did was within walking distance or $6ish Uber drive from the hotel.

We packed a lot in during our four days in New Orleans. I had a blast. Still, we left a lot of fun activities and eat and drink on the cutting room floor.

So … here’s the trip, broken down by Food, Festivities, Foam (both coffee and beer) and The Floor (a few notable items left undone).

New Orleans Food Served With Bite and Swagger

Hit the Tourist Spots for New Orleans Night One

As you’ll see in the Foam and Festivities sections, our first night in New Orleans we came out like a cannonball. And then each successive night, we ratcheted it down a bit. For the uninitiated, this a survival technique for those reaching an advanced age.

At that, we still tried to coat our stomachs. Though, admittedly, our first stop at Crescent City Brewhouse for food centered around beer, too. We split the Boudin Balls and the Gator Po’Boy. The food — and beer — was good and did the trick, but I wouldn’t call either great.

Immediately after, we trekked over to the world famous Cafe Du Monde for some beignets and chicory coffee. Open since 1862 in New Orleans’ French Market, Cafe Du Monde offers a simple menu 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The signature items on the menu are the beignets and coffee either black or au lait. Thousands of people come through the cafe each day. And the beignets are caked in so much powdered sugar that it could work as a plot point for a heist in an Oceans movie.

We closed a few nights (or mornings depending on how you’re keeping score), including our first, at Daisy Dukes. Nothing like some biscuits and gravy or an omelette at 3 a.m. People watching — for better or worse — is the name of the game here. I’ll spare you the video we captured of the college fraternity guy (blue blazer and khakis gave him away) swaying around his hurricane’s straw and hitting on the bartender. (We took and saved it as a parenting moment.).

She: How much powdered sugar did you both end up wearing?

Make it Mother’s For Multiple Trips in New Orleans

Friday morning came — and ouch, I’m getting too old for this. There was only one cure for my ills. Since 1938, New Orleans has just the ticket for those suffering from the Bourbon Street flu. And it’s aptly named Mother’s Restaurant. This place is on point. Lines can wrap through the building and outside, down the street. But they have their service down to a science, moving you quickly through the ordering process and to a table. The food itself was phenomenal. And the wait staff provided that friendly New Orleans charm and hospitality dialed up a notch.

The first trip included an omelette, biscuit, some grits and a much-needed Bloody Mary.  It was so good that we went back on two more occasions — again for breakfast and then for some late-night pecan pie.

That Mother’s Restaurant breakfast stuck to my ribs until dinner. (Though if I’m being honest, we finished up at Mother’s well past noon). That night, we were heading to the New Orleans Pelicans game so we decided to try our Uber-buddy’s recommendation of Walk-ons. I opted for the Catfish Atchafalaya. If you’re like me and have no idea what that is by name, I’ll explain. It was two fried catfish fillets. And they’re served over rice and topped with crawfish etouffee, fried crawfish tails and green onions.

I normally don’t eat catfish. My brother worked at a catfish restaurant growing up, and I’ve kind of sworn it off. But I would eat this again in a heart beat. So good.

Later that night, believe it or not, we hit Cafe Du Monde again. Don’t judge.

Gumbo & Jambalaya … So Good

Trying Gumbo Shop in New OrleansOther dining hits over the weekend included the Gumbo Shop. I easily had my best bowl of Jambalaya there.

As we were working down Decatur street on our way to some craft breweries, we decided to give Evangeline a go. They had a solid beer selection on tap and served some delicious alligator. They batter everything there in-house with their own recipe of spices. While this worked wonders on the gator, we weren’t as a big of fans of the country fried bacon on our burgers. The burgers were actually quite good. But still, why mess with such a delightful thing as bacon. Battering everything — especially bacon — isn’t really necessary.

Not all of the food was otherworldly. We were disappointed but perhaps not surprised that the food at World of Beer was unremarkable to, say, barely edible. It made a great spot for the Saints game, but that’s it. (More on that in a minute.).

The Festivities: They Happen Every Day & Night in New Orleans

After consuming as many beignets (and some beer) as we could handle, we worked our way down Bourbon Street back to the hotel. The siren of jazz — trumpet and tuba especially — called us into the Bourbon Street Drinkery. The streets of New Orleans are filled with music and a din of merriment that are constantly inviting you to partake. But this crew was really good. We had a drink with the trumpeter during one of the breaks. He wasn’t originally from the area. Interestingly enough, he had moved from the east coast after graduating from a prestigious music school.

We weren’t surprised. You could tell he was a pro, getting into the fun but perhaps not quite having as much fun as the patrons.

And he wasn’t the only pro in the building. Apparently my buddy and I were giving off the vibe that we needed company. A gold eye-shadowed lady of the night made a few too-close-for-comfort passes on us. We quickly ushered her along to others who might be more interested.

WWII Museum — A New Orleans Gem

We experienced pleasant surprises, as well. The next day’s trip to the World War II Museum was certainly one of them. It definitely was a highlight of the trip. An entire campus is dedicated to the different campaigns and aspects of the war. And the exhibits mesmerize. Even the ticket booth workers wore the fashion and makeup of someone who lived in that era.

You’re issued a dog tag and then wait for your train to service. The train station board above looks of the period and clacks different destinations.

Once on the opening train ride, you learn that the dog tag is your key to the exhibits and that you’ve taken on the persona of someone involved in the war. You can save items of interest from the different of exhibits on your dog tag using the dogtagexperience.org.

I could have easily spent several days in the museum. As it was, we spent a good three, almost four hours learning about the heroism of and the atrocities faced by the brave men, women, children and animals during the war. But we were timelocked. We had a basketball game to catch.

Courtside (Almost) at the New Orleans Pelicans Game

Oh man. After recently watching StubHub for days praying for Knicks tickets to go down to a manageable price, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how affordable New Orleans Pelicans tickets were. They were priced so well, we decided to splurge and sat four rows from the court.

For weeks, we had planned that the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trailbazers game would be part of the trip. And the Smoothie King Center didn’t disappoint.

Because we splurged for tickets, we went in through the suite entrance and into private concessions/lounge. Many people had arrived early to dine before the game, as each of the tickets had a $20 concession credit. What did we use our credit on? Silly question. Beer.

We grabbed those and headed down to our seats for the game. The seats didn’t necessarily allow for the best viewing angles of the game action. But they did offer some awesome sights and sounds of the game experience.

We could hear the Damien Lilliard from the Portland Trailblazers lobbying with the officials. A barely obstructed view allowed us to peak into the huddles during timeouts. You really could witness the speed of the game.

Anthony Davis got into a rhythm in the second half and took the game over. The home team one — 119 to 113.

Here are some of the sights and sounds

Preservation Hall and … A Street Parade

After a lot of fun Friday, we had a big day planned Saturday. We started at a dive bar Sneaky Pete’s for some bloody marys and a seat to watch the KU vs. K-State basketball game. The bartender was a stitch. And my Jayhawks won by one. (That has become an all-too-regular occurrence this season).

Post the game, we had just enough time for a late lunch and a quick trip back to the hotel before heading out to the marquee event of the day. But there was one achievement yet to be unlocked: a street parade.

As fortune would have it, after lunch at the Gumbo Shop and on way back to the hotel, we ran right into a street parade wedding.

History of Preservation Hall in New Orleans

After a quick break at the hotel, we headed to the main event. My buddy had made reservations to the historic Preservation Hall weeks prior. The history of club dates back to the 1950s, as it started as art gallery where the owner hosted rehearsal sessions. A bit like the Blue Room here in Kansas City, now it’s a living museum to traditional New Orleans jazz. Except unlike the Blue Room, Preservation Hall doesn’t look like it has been touched since 1950. The walls are stained and cracked. Old flyers and signs hang faded and torn. The floors, uneven at their best, creak with every step.

I’m also embarrassed to admit that I first learned of the hall watching the Foo Fighter’s Sonic Highways documentary on HBO.

I’m so glad my buddy scored tickets in advance. If you go that route, you show up 15 minutes in advance and check in. If you don’t and want to get in for the show, you need to arrive hours earlier. And at that point, it’s standing room only. The hall does hold multiple shows each evening, so you will likely get in eventually.

Also know that Preservation Hall does not serve food or drink. And there are no restrooms. The shows last only 45-50 minutes, but you’ll still want to plan accordingly.

I didn’t so I ran over to Pat O’Briens, which is practically next door, did my thing and brought us back a few of their famous Hurricanes for good measure. Preservation Hall will allow drinks, they just don’t serve them.

Our Preservation Hall Jam

The Preservation Hall Band New OrleansAs we entered, we learned that tonight’s band would be led by famous Trumpeter Leroy Jones. The bands rotate members. If you want to learn more about him, you should check out thisHe  NPR Jazz Night In America episode where he was prominently featured. Other musicians in that night’s Preservation Hall Jazz Band included drummer Barnaby Gold, pianist Meghan Swartz, and saxophonist Daniel “Weenie” Farrow. I missed the bassist and trombone players names, so if you have a decent guess at who they might be, drop them in the comments.

Preservation Hall highly discourages visitors from recording the show, but I did want to capture the set list. Fortunately, I had a pen and my receipt from Pat O’Briens. I did manage to scribble it down:

  • Sentimental Journey
  • Darktown Strutters Ball
  • 2nd Line
  • If I Had You
  • I Found a New Baby

Remember the uneven floors? Unfortunately, when I went to jot down the set list, I placed my Hurricane down on it. And now some of my DNA is permanently preserved in Preservation Hall. Fortunately, I had consumed most of the drink. Still, sorry.

If feeling naughty yourself and want to listen, I did find someone who did record the session and put it on Youtube (not mine).

She: I’m really jealous that you guys went here, but I’m not surprised at all by you spilling your Hurricane.

And on our last day, the festivities centered entirely around drinking craft beer and watching football ….

Many A Head of Foam and Football

We didn’t exclusively head to New Orleans for the craft beer. But believe me, if I’m in your city, I’ll be seeking out the watering holes where original brews are being created. Our first couple of days were a bit underwhelming for those who seek out the divine, but by Sunday, we’d found several gems.

I would also generally talk about coffee here, too. As circumstance (or my hangovers) would have it, I only stepped into one coffee joint, Merchant. The rest of my lattes were delivered by my magnanimous roommate. (Thanks, Chad!).

If you’re a lover of the craft beer, Bourbon Street does feature a relatively new brewpub called Beer Fest. They had a good selection on tap and friendly bartenders. Because we wanted to work over our Untappd accounts, we went in two straight nights. Be forewarned though, their prices are a bit on the high side. That said, they’re generous with tasters and, if they blow a keg mid pour, they throw it on their tab not yours.

After the Pelicans game, we trekked southwest of the hotel to Avenues Pub for a couple of pints. The place was packed to the gills. And for good reason. They had a diverse selection and a great atmosphere. Chad and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to a group of co-eds playfully debating their top Star Wars movies. No, that argument isn’t reserved for middle-aged men.

Avenues started a bit of an upswing in brewpub and brewery quality. On Saturday, we visited Courtyard Brewery. For beer quality (their brews and others on tap), this place rivaled some of my 2017 favorites. Their porters and stouts challenge some of the finest I’ve tasted. The space was sparse and industrial but appropriately cool.

Suds on Saints Game Day

Courtyard Brewery so good that we made two stops here over the long weekend. Though we soured on it a bit the second day because they had technical difficulties in broadcasting the Saints game. Beer, but no ball. We out.

The other true highlight of the trip was Urban South Brewery. Housed in a large warehouse, they’ve worked hard to make it an inviting space. In fact, it was so inviting, I felt like I was at a Hipster Family Circus. Dogs and kids were everywhere. A bouncy house sat in the corner near the palettes of beer cans, the kids and parents working their own one-in, one-out system. They had TVs behind the bar and about 10 picnic tables set off from the bar. The tables were all occupied. One was even hosting a birthday party for a small child.

I could see how this put off some people. But this was all too familiar to me. It was a good kind of din. Except perhaps for the beagle that kept howling. Besides, the beer was quite tasty. And they had a good view of the Jaguars vs. Steelers game.

Other places of note include The Rusty Nail, a cool beer and cocktail bar, the real dive Garden District Pub (microwaveable pizza rolls anyone), and World of Beer (for the beer selection and game atmosphere). At the latter, we finished watching the infamous Saints vs. Vikings game. We rooted for the home team, but apparently brought our Kansas City Chiefs playoff luck to the proceedings.

With about a minute left in the New Orleans Saints game …

… and as time expired …

Floor — as in the Cutting Room

Like Saints fans, we couldn’t have it all. We missed out on several places where we wanted to eat and drink. Watering holes Cooter Browns and Abita started on the list pre-trip. We added Barrel Proof and Bull Dog Mid City along the way because of recommendations.

For food and other drink, Napoleon House, Commanders Palace, and Mr. B’s didn’t end up making the cut.

She: I have to admit that I was not too excited about the idea of going to New Orleans hence the boy’s trip. I lived there for 5 months and thought I had pretty much done everything there is to do. Anyway, I was so wrong and would like a chance to go back.

Whether you’ve never been or you’re a New Orleans travel veteran, where do you dream or recommend to go? Drop us a note in the Comments.

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