Quick, get ready to relax, and make it fast because the season is gearing up again. So here’s hoping you’ve stumbled onto this column early before the festival frenzy resumes at high speed. If you live in New Orleans or visit often, you are just now recovering from Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and the Irish-Italian Parade. And if you gave your cerebral inclinations their due, then you just had a full fi ve-day festival celebrating Tennessee Williams to contend with. I am worn just thinking about all our events. But get ready: French Quarter Festival and Jazz Fest are right around the corner and they will entice, enchant, exhaust, and have you clamoring for more.
My advice: take these couple of weeks and use them as a reprieve from excess and overcrowding. Our extremes are grand, but need to be tempered with a little R&R; and thankful as we locals are for the masses that descend upon our New Orleans, we do need to have her to ourselves sometimes. Not only do we need quality time with our city, so do our visitors. So, I invite you and your guests to take advantage of the culture of New Orleans in a more relaxed manner. See her without her bling and sexy ways; see her subdued and casual.
There is not a single neighborhood lacking history, culture, food, and music. Some you already know; others are tucked away. Many microcosms: edgy, safe, not so safe, bright and shiny, worn and dirty—yet our magic touches every zip code. With such a short time to savor the peace and restore equilibrium, let’s look to the Quarter for hidden gems missed during Super Mardi Gras, then trek to those neighborhoods that might get overlooked during Jazz Fest.
If you live here, I bet you a cold beer that you’ve never visited more than one museum in the Quarter. Often we “locals” think we have the inside scoop and avoid anything that might be perceived as touristy, when in fact, not a single museum in this city is less than amazing. They all do justice to our culture, our reality. Some are free and none are expensive. The Pharmacy Museum, Louisiana State Museum, Cabildo and Presbytere, Historic New Orleans Collection, Williams Research Center, the Old U.S. Mint, Hermann- Grima House, Gallier House, Keyes House and Foundation (and more) are all within the Quarter. So enjoy a tranquil stroll through history and art. (Use that smarty-pants phone for info concerning all suggested museums and such.)
Want less structure? Just stroll the Vieux Carre; wander into the various shops that showcase local artists and unique merchandise. Support our regional musicians and buy some tunes at the Louisiana Music Factory; also check out their upcoming live in-house music featured during Jazz Fest. For amazing street performances, look to Royal Street in the 500 to 700 blocks (and never overlook Jackson Square or the brass performers on the fi rst block of Bourbon at Canal around dusk)—these various musicians are worthy of any stage. And tip these men and women so they can continue to provide free entertainment.
Hungry? I know you are saving calories for FQ Festival and Jazz Fest, but ya gotta eat, and this is a great time to sample the soon-to-be crowded cafes and restaurants. Check for any prix fi xe lunches and enjoy some of the more upscale fare at truly reduced prices. Also remember that even during peak times, some eateries allow you to bypass a wait in line if you wish to eat at the bar. Great example: Café Maspero, the one with the notoriously long lines to the corner. Peek in: if there’s an empty bar stool, it’s yours for the taking.
This is that time of year when the great outdoors is near perfection. So walk, bus, or bike to City Park by way of Treme and Esplanade Avenue. Just outside the Quarter in Treme is the Backstreet Cultural Museum—a destination must to learn more about our Mardi Gras Indians. Then check out the New Orleans African American Museum (just a few blocks away). If hungry, make your way to Little Dizzy’s on Esplanade and N. Robertson for lunch. Esplanade is a lovely street for walking; however, if biking, use extreme caution, as the street is simply not bicycle- friendly—too narrow, no bike lane.
Broadview Seafood (1468 N. Broad, two blocks from Esplanade) is the place to load up on boiled crawfi sh and a cold beer. Treat this as a light picnic for City Park. As you return to Esplanade towards the park, you will begin to feel something akin to euphoria. This is due to the close proximity of the Holy Land—the Fair Grounds, home to Jazz Fest. In a short time, this whole area will be buzzing. So take in the neighborhood, quiet for now, and meander about. But make sure you get yourself to the park. The New Orleans Museum of Art, the adjacent Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden (free), Botanical Gardens, and more, much more, await.
Before returning home or to your hotel, I suggest one more stop. If you’ve ever been to Jazz Fest and entered or exited by way of Sauvage Street (on the Esplanade side of the Fair Grounds) then you know about Liuzza’s by the Track. It’s ground zero for pre-fest Bloody Marys and post-fest continued fun. But you really should experience it when it’s in full operation as a restaurant. Also, it truly is the quintessential New Orleans neighborhood bar.
A leisurely approach to our city’s landscape, culture, and cuisine is a full-time job, even when selecting one small area to indulge in. Therefore as the festing hullabaloo simmers down and summer settles in, let’s all take more time getting to know the softer side of New Orleans. After all, she is a woman of many moods.