“[New Orleans is] not a city. It’s a way of life. It’s a place that you fall deeply in love with.” -Jesse Moore
NOLA. N’awlins. The Big Easy. New Orleans goes by many names, but is one-of-a-kind– rich with history, culture, architecture, art, music, and food. It has an energy all its own, and enraptures those who walk its vibrant streets. I had the pleasure of experiencing this “way of life” this fall, and there is a lot to share.
A bit of background: New Orleans, or Nouvelle-Orléans, was founded in 1718 by the French Mississippi Company, directed by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, and named for Philippe II, Duke of Orléans of the Kingdom of France. The city developed around the Vieux Carré (“Old Square”), now known as the French Quarter. This grid-patterned center was built with French colonial architecture, using pitched roofs and wood siding, but these “first-generation” Creole buildings unfortunately could not withstand The Great New Orleans Fire of 1788, and another fire in 1794.
When these fires occurred, the Spanish ruled Louisiana, and did so for 40 years. They rebuilt the city using brick and iron, and enforced strict codes that required these construction materials to avoid further destruction. I enjoyed oysters and rosé on one of the many iron-enclosed galleries throughout The Quarter.
While only about 25 structures built during the French or Spanish colonial eras survive today, most of the existing buildings have a Creole style, which was influenced by a mixture of French and Spanish architecture, along with some elements from the Caribbean. This diverse history shows not only in the architecture, but in the food, the music, and the soul of the city.
Speaking of food, New Orleans does not disappoint. In fact, according to bon appétit, America’s best new restaurant of 2017 lies in NOLA’s sleepy Irish Channel neighborhood. Turkey and the Wolf is an eclectic, funky sandwich shop with fresh ingredients (ham smoked in-house for ten hours, two-year aged sharp cheddar) that combine to create an unexpected and delicious experience. The line moves fast, and trust me, it’s worth the wait.
Turn down any street and you are sure to encounter something delectable– the city specializes in seafood (jumbalaya, gumbo, étouffée, etc.), desserts (beignets, bread pudding, bananas foster), and the classic red beans and rice, just to name a few. Crawfish and crab broils are a popular activity, and while sitting on a bench outside a quiet bar in the Garden District neighborhood, a woman appeared from next door with extra crab for everyone there. You couldn’t ask for a more “New Orleans” encounter.
Bacchanal offers a do-it-yourself wine-cellar vibe, where you get to peruse their shelves for the wine of your choice, and then select your cheeses from the fridge along the wall. You hand it to the cashier and they deliver it to your table outside with bread and assorted accompaniments. Outside there is a small stage for live music, stringed lights through the trees, and none of the chairs match. It’s a perfect low-key spot to have a night out and enjoy, music, wine, and the company you share.
For art, just take a stroll down Royal Street in the French Quarter– just a block away from boisterous Bourbon street lies over half a mile of antiques, boutiques, fine jewelry, and art galleries to explore. I even encountered a shop with a shared love of Murano glass lighting.
Finally, you cannot avoid the music that lives throughout this vibrant City of Jazz. There is always a saxophone player or violinist performing on a street corner, a folksy group on stage in the bar, or a full-blown marching band parading down the street with a newlywed bride and groom.
There’s a little bit of everything for everyone in N’awlins, and once you visit, you can’t help but fall deeply in love.