New Years in New Orleans
December 23, 2004 8:40 AM   Subscribe

New Orleans. I'm going next week with a couple of friends to celebrate New Year's. While we plan on doing some of the typical touristy stuff (Cafe du Monde, Bourbon St., Preservation Hall, etc...), I was wondering if there was anything some locals (or non-locals familiar with the city) can recommend that's off the beaten path. [MI]

It's our third time there, and I while consider myself familiar with the French Quarter, unfortunately we didn't venture out of the Quarter that much. Are there any must-sees outside of the Quarter (or in the Quarter that a tourist may have missed the first couple times around)? We'll be there Dec 28th through Jan 1. We won't have a car, but I'm very comfortable with mass transit and seem to be able to find my way anywhere without too much trouble (as long as I grab a map, of course).

For the record, I did check older threads, but the most recent (tourism related) post was back in April. Just wondering if anyone had anything new to add.
posted by AlisonM to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My brother lived there for a few years and I visited twice. I may not remember names exactly, but another MeFi will no doubt. Sorry, my last visit was in 2000, so maybe someone else will know if these places have changed.

1. Rock'n'Bowl at [a well-known bowling alley] - there's good beer and dancing. Fun.

2. Shopping on Magazine St. -- offbeat antiques, boutiques, bookstores.

3. For bars, I liked Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, or a more genteel place for a Sazerac, the Napoleon House.

4. Mom's Cafe (? I think) In the CBD (I think) - excellent cafeteria-style southern food and piles of it.
posted by Miko at 8:53 AM on December 23, 2004

Don't, don't, don't leave town without going to City Park. This time of year the majestic oaks are bedecked in Christmas lights. It's a sight to see. Best if you have a car, but there's a walking tour also.

Recently the Canal streetcar was rebuilt, so getting to City Park from downtown should be easy. From what I understand, there's a leg of the route that branches off from Canal and lets you off at City Park right in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art (which is also worth a visit).

There's apparently a school of thought which says that tourists shouldn't ever venture outside of the Quarter because it's unsafe. This is a crock of shit, to be blunt. I'm not saying that New Orleans is the safest town in the world, but if you're smart enough not to go wandering aimlessly then you'll be fine. Ask around to figure out where is safe to walk and where isn't, though usually you'll be able to tell all on your own. And be twice as careful at night.

Also, this'll sound weird, but the same Canal streetcar line terminates at the conflux of several large cemeteries. There's some really fascinating mausoleum design that's worth a look, especially if you're a photographer.

The Aquarium of the Americas and the Audubon Zoo (where dey all ax'd for you) are both good visits, though not exactly off the beaten path.

On preview: Rock'N'Bowl is excellent, but if you don't have a car I wouldn't suggest it. You don't want to be walking around there at night.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:00 AM on December 23, 2004

Response by poster: There's some really fascinating mausoleum design that's worth a look, especially if you're a photographer.

I am a photographer, actually, back in school after some time off styudying just that. I'm just 2.5 short years, I'll have my BFA. Whee! I actually tend to put too much pressure on myself to make good pictures when I travel, so this time, I'm leaving my primary camera at home. I'm gonna use my digital camera at night, and my Lomo and Holga during the day. No pressure to make Art...I just want to document what I see, and I'll let my friends take the "Alison and Friend standing in front of a cool looking building" shots. I was thinking about playing with the Holga in a cemetary - I'd been on one of the tours the first time I went to New Orleans and I ended up with some interesting (albeit typical) images.

Oh, and I've lived all my life in a large-ish city with a (mostly undeserved) bad rep and commute to NYC for school 3-4 days a week, so I consider myself to be street smart. Thanks for the warnings re: walking around though - definitely advice worth paying attention to for those not in the know.
posted by AlisonM at 9:14 AM on December 23, 2004

I don't know the exact address, but if your hotel has a concierge, ask how to get to R & O's restaurant in the Meterie. It's awesome. Zero ambiance (t-shirts, long tables), but if you want REAL New Orleans cajun food- shrimp boil, po' boys, remoulade, and a pitcher of Abita- it's the best you'll ever have.

The Zoo is cool, too, as is the Blacksmith Shop for a drink.

Re: walking around at night. New Orleans is a very different beast from NYC. Your street smarts do not translate there. You'll be fine in the French Quarter and Garden District as long as you don't act like an idiot, but I wouldn't advise walking around without a man with you elsewhere at night.

And for god's sake, skip the Hurricanes.
posted by mkultra at 9:25 AM on December 23, 2004

My parents visited me a few years ago with another couple and we went to New Orleans for a day. My parents friend was a big football fan and asked if we could go to see the Superdome. They have scheduled tours most days, I'm not sure about game days or holidays, so we all went on a tour.
We all found it interesting from an architectural and historical/political point of view, even though only one of us knew anything about football. Maybe we just had a good guide, but my mother occasionally still mentions it 7 years later.
Check here for an account. Our tour didn't seem that rushed, but there was only band practice for the High School Championship the day we went. Here is the same site listing for all of New Orleans. You may want to check it out.
I have heard many tourists enjoy the swamp tours and the plantation tours but have not been on either. Good luck.
posted by Yorrick at 9:35 AM on December 23, 2004

Response by poster: New Orleans is a very different beast from NYC. Your street smarts do not translate there.

Totally understood, and understood last two times I was there. I was just trying to illustrate that I'm not some kind of dumb chickadee who wanders around oblivious to what's going on around her.

And, um...if liking fruity rum drinks sent straight from heaven above is wrong, then I don't wanna be right. Sorry.
posted by AlisonM at 9:37 AM on December 23, 2004

Hey there--South Louisiana native here. I think savetheclocktower hit all of the highlights, but, since you mentioned you're a BFA student + photography buff, you might also want to check out the new Ogden Museum of Southern Art. It just opened and is in the Warehouse District, accessible from the Quarter (where are you staying?) and right across the street from another museum, the CAC.

Be prepared for lots of Sugar Bowl peeps looking for any chance to WOO or generally get rowdy. And even if you don't plan to do much Uptown, you should still hop on the streetcar and take a spin just to soak up the atmosphere. I also second Magazine Street. If you've never really "done" Uptown, it's a great place to start.

See Also: and the New Orleans Metblog.

Have fun! I'm jealous. Don't pee on the street. And if you see Nick Saban, tell him he better stay put.

On preview: R & O's! Yes! Swamp tour: No! If you really want to see Cajun country, save it for another trip. New Orleans isn't Cajun. Trust me.

Also: I think the Hurricane comment was probably more about tipping you off to, um, ways to avoid seeming super-obviously touristy.
posted by leslita at 9:47 AM on December 23, 2004

Response by poster: We're staying on Royal, close to Canal. I actually was looking into that museum, although I'm not sure if my friends will be up for it. Maybe I'll have to go there on my own one morning/early afternoon.

Also: I think the Hurricane comment was probably more about tipping you off to, um, ways to avoid seeming super-obviously touristy.

I know :) I don't care though. I love, love, love them. And since I don't drink beer (ughghghhghghggghhhh), the rum & Coke that I drink when I go out at home is starting to get a little old. Sweet, sweet Hurricanes, only a week until we meet again!

Thanks for the suggestions so far, everyone! Oh, and savetheclocktower - I'm totally going to get to City Park to see those lights NO MATTER WHAT. I'm a sucker for twinkly lights no matter where they are (you should see my 2 average sized bedroom windows - I managed to stick 300 lights there!), so seeing them there will be incredible, I'm sure.
posted by AlisonM at 9:59 AM on December 23, 2004

Betsy's Pancake House rocks. Cheap food, great atmosphere. Can't beat it.

Antoine's is the oldest restaurant in America.

Bruning's (on the lake) is another old restaurant, that serves up fried seafood that is some of the best I've ever tasted.

Then of course there's always Brennan's and Emerils.
posted by stovenator at 10:13 AM on December 23, 2004

Last time I was there I spent a great night at a total dive bar called "Sin city." I think it was on St. charles. Awesome place..don't know if it's still there.

The Camillia Grill is a great place for breakfast. Near the garden district.

Enjoy. It's one of my favorite places on earth.
posted by aacheson at 11:02 AM on December 23, 2004

Lonely Planet is always a great resource. I like to use it before traveling someplace for the first time. Here's the link for New Orleans
posted by glyphlet at 11:05 AM on December 23, 2004

Oh, crap. I forgot about The National D-Day Museum, which is a must-see if you haven't already been. There's also a Confederate History museum which I remember is pretty good, if small.

I second the Superdome tour, though given the impending Sugar Bowl I don't know if they're giving tours right now. (Good thing you're leaving before the game, it seems.) The St. Charles streetcar ride is also good fun, even if you don't have a destination in mind.

R&O's is, in fact, good food, though there's no way you'll get near it with public transportation. And I'm not sure if it's worth taking a cab.

Enjoy yourself, and make sure to share the pictures with us when you return. I'm always interested in tourists' perspectives on my fair town of birth.
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:08 AM on December 23, 2004

Where to eat in New Orleans depends entirely on your budget. For lavish, expensive meals, there are the powerhouses that others have listed: Antoine's, Emeril's, Galatoire's, and Brennan's various restaurants.

But if you are looking to stretch a budget, there are some really fantastic restaurants, just with less history and fewer waiters (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). Jacques-Imo's is one of the best restaurants in town, with big portions of incredible food at half the price of any of those "institutions" listed above. And its Uptown location makes it a good excuse to get out of the Quarter.

R&O's is very cheap, and has good food, but it is really out of the way (although from there you can cross the street for a good look at Lake Pontchartrain.) The previously mentioned Mother's is near the Quarter, and has the awesome Ferdi Special poboy (ham, roast beef, and "debris," the bits that fall off the beef while it's roasting). The Gumbo Shop, believe it or not, has great gumbo. Central Grocery makes the best muffelata in town. Camellia Grill, uptown, has incredible omelettes and burgers. Uglesich's, near downtown, is some of the best food in the city, open only for lunch on weekdays. This trip may be your last chance ever to eat at this incredible restaurant, as Mr. Uglesich says he is closing shop in April.

With only three days, you'll probably want to stick to "local" food, but in case you get sick of it... The Mango House, uptown, does Caribbean very well. The sushi is good at Horinoya. There isn't much good Italian food here, except at Carmelo. Pho Tau Bay has great, cheap Vietnamese noodle soups, and they have a location just off the Canal streetcar line (and next to Angelo Brocato's exquisite desserts). La Crepe Nanou, near the Garden District, has moderately priced, very yummy French food.

And for anyone interested in more discussion on New Orleans restaurants, check out Chowhound's New Orleans Message Board.
posted by hartsell at 11:15 AM on December 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Go to Brennan's for breakfast. It is on the beaten path, but well worth it. I stop there every time I am in town, even if I have to go directly from the airport.

Drive across the causeway if you have the time. There is something surreal about the length.

Go into any random restaurant, and order something you would never think of trying anywhere else. Something with seafood is usually good.

Walk a block away from the crowds and into the first bar you see. There is a lot of character in the local bars.

Skip Cafe Du Monde, it has become a tourist trap with bad coffee.
posted by bh at 11:19 AM on December 23, 2004

I'd like to add another recommendation for the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the National D-Day Museum. If you want to hear some live, New Orleans brass band music, check out Donna's on the seedy side of the quarter. Funky Butt is another good jazz & brass band venue.

And I like Cafe du Monde, which I think is a tourist destination for a good reason. The coffee may be mediocre but the beignets are great!

The local bars can be fun, but some certainly have more "character" than others. ;)
posted by hartsell at 11:30 AM on December 23, 2004

I recommend taking a jaunt across Lake Pontchartrain to Slidell and visit the Chicken Drop Inn. It's a lively bar right on the water that has some unusual downhome festivities in the evenings. Before dark sample some of Slidell's great cheap grub like the soft shell crab po' boys. There are swap tour outfits in this area which some people go for. I'd just drive around and meet the locals. Once while waiting for the seafood restaurant next to the Chicken Drop Inn to open, a local couple pulled up in their boat. Leaving the waitress on the steps, Bill and Beth took us on their boat to a bar on stilts in the middle of nowhere. We shot pool and bulshitted with the local football coach/bartender, motored around some more until the cooler was empty, and headed back to the restaurant for heaps of hot fried southern seafood goodness. My best advice: if you find a soda machine with a button labeled out of order, try it. ::clunk:: Budweiser!
Salt Bayou Lounge aka The Chicken Drop Inn 38323 Salt Bayou Road, Slidell
posted by roboto at 11:49 AM on December 23, 2004

Snug Harbor is another great jazz club walking distance from the French Quarter. The locals tell you not to walk there after dark but we never had any trouble.

Sid Mar's the New Orleans side of Lake Pontchartrain is a great place to go for lunch.

The most "character" in a bar I've ever found anywhere was at Ernie K. Doe's Mother-In-Law Lounge (Ernie was still alive when we were there). However, it's in a tricky neighborhood. The cabbie didn't want to take us there, and we couldn't get a cab to pick us up at the end of the night. We had to wait for them to close up so that someone could drive us back to the French Quarter.
posted by timeistight at 5:00 PM on December 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Also, take some warm clothes. When we were there over Christmas and New Year we were surprised at how cold it was.
posted by timeistight at 6:42 PM on December 23, 2004

What a convenient thread. My girl and I are driving out to New Orleans for a visit thru New Year's Day. It's our first trip, and I've been looking for this kind of info. Maybe we'll see you there, Alison!

If there's any, uh, newbie advice that you wiser folks have neglected to tell Alison, please include it for me. I'm no slouch at travel, but New Orleans is new territory for me. I'm going to print this thread and take it with us for reference.
posted by Jonasio at 7:47 PM on December 23, 2004

Go to the Gumbo Shop. Gumbos and the Jambalaya are excellent there. Also, the boudin, though it is a Cajun rather than a Creole treat, is good for an appetizer. I bought the cookbook and have been using it, to much acclaim.

There's a local joint called Mandina's that has fantastic turtle soup, with sherry. Get the sherry. Drink an Abita or Dixie with lunch. Maybe get a po boy. I have no idea how to get there, though, not being a local by any stretch of the imagination. I just ride along with my girlfriend and her family.

The Marigny (pronounced marin-ee) district is a lot of fun. Real close to the Quarter, too.

Get a Sazerac and a bottle of Herbsaint to take home. I personally forgot about the bottle and have regretted it.

One other thing: the best drink at the Napoleon House is the Pimm's Cup. It's out of season, but if you've been running around and got real hot, you might approximate the necessary conditions for the summer refreshment that it offers.
posted by lackutrol at 1:59 AM on December 24, 2004

Central Grocery originated the muffelata, by the way.

And Cafe Du Monde is just fine, despite Mr. Coffee Snob above. Open all the time, which is great if you've been drinkin' in the Quarter all night (not that I know anything about that, just what I've been told).
posted by lackutrol at 2:05 AM on December 24, 2004

I'm a local. IF YOU ARE IN TOWN THEN, BY ALL MEANS GO DOWN TO THE RIVER ON CHRISTMAS EVE. In St. James parish and sometimes closer to the city, locals make bonfires and set them afloat on the river. It's absolutely beautiful and always loads of fun.

Along the lines of Snug Harbor, the entire Frenchman St. block around it is a nice, out-of-the-way center of music and clubs. It will be easy to get to from Royal and canal: just walk up Bourbon past the action and through a quieter, somewhat shady section until Frenchman street branches off from it. One or two blocks down Frenchman and you can't miss all the excitement. Check out Blue Nile (latin music most of the time), Cafe Brasil (eclectic), DBA and Snug (jazz, less traditional at dba, local big-names at Snug). It's a lot more laid-back that Bourbon or Decatur or anything in the Quarter. It's the younger, more local place to be. (It is also THE best place to be on Halloween. Don't even think about coming without a costume.)

Don't get too scared if you find yourself walking through what looks like "the bad side of town." Just don't do it drunk. There isn't really a bad side of town. You can be walking down a slum street and suddenly come across a block of mansions. However, don't walk anywhere alone at night, no matter how crowded it gets. College freshmen and tourists get into a lot of trouble that way. Go to the quarter and have fun, by all means. Get into Pat O's piano bar and drink a hurricane. Do not take off any articles of clothing no matter who is promising you beads. This is illegal now, and you run about a 50% chance of a policeman actually arresting you if he sees it.

Listen to everything hartsell said about food. Do not under any circumstances go to copeland's, which is generally considered the worst and most over-priced restaurant in the city. Commander's Palace does a jazz brunch that is supposedly to die for, but it is far out of my price range as a teacher. I doubt you'll be there for sushi, but Kyoto on Magazine Street is excellent. (I, um. Might know the owners but it really is excellent, I promise.)

Speaking of Magazine Street, you might want to wander down it and check out some of the bookstores and boutiques, etc if you feel up to it and want a break from tourist stuff. The graveyards always fascinate my out-of-town friends, with the above-the-ground vaults in various states of creepy disrepair and the shrine to Marie Laveau (in the Lafayette Cemetery).

I'll repeat the bit about seeing the lights in the park. Have fun, don't be stupid. If it looks like a tourist trap, it is one. If it looks like it's too shabby to have good food, it probably has food that's orgasmically good. If they promised that they boiled it alive, that's a very good sign. Do not flash anyone. Have fun.

Oh, and bring an umbrella.
posted by honeydew at 2:12 AM on December 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Also, don't go to the suburbs unless you absolutely have to. That means Slidell, Metairie, Harahan, etc. (With the exception of ST JAMES ON CHRISTMAS EVE WHY AREN'T YOU THERE YET?) Good food out there but let's face it, a suburb is a suburb. Metairie is just about my least favorite place in the world. Spend your time in the city. You won't get bored, I promise.
posted by honeydew at 2:16 AM on December 24, 2004

Many great suggestions already mentioned. Be sure to check out "Live Bait Bar & Grill" (501 River Rd., Metairie, LA, 504-831-3070). During the day it is a bait shop - next to a levee on the river. At night it transforms to a "party shack", serving grilled food, cooked over Mississippi pecan wood with Bayou seasonings. There's a full-bar and always great live jazz performances. No cover charge and very reasonably priced food and drinks.
posted by ericb at 5:49 AM on December 24, 2004

I lived there for 7 years and still visit 2X a year for Jazzfest and Halloween. If you're on Bourbon and you're looking for a good, not touristy bar, try Johnny White's Hole in the Wall. It's down towards the gay section about a block from St Anne on the right. If Sasha is working tell her the Orlando krewe said hello! Second the recommendation of Rock-n-Bowl, especially if the Iguanas are playing it's worth checking out. Don't miss the Dragon's Den or Cafe Brazil, both funky places with a more bohemian crowd. Also, the Mermaid Lounge is a great place for live music. If you're going to City Park to see the lights you might want to check out Lola's (on Esplanade) to have dinner before hand. It's a great spanish place, but make sure to bring your own wine. The mussel appetizer and the paella are amazing. Any questions just drop me an email, I love turning folks on to some of the cool places that are in N.O.
posted by white_devil at 1:07 PM on December 24, 2004

I doubt you'll be there for sushi, but Kyoto on Magazine Street is excellent. (I, um. Might know the owners but it really is excellent, I promise.)

I second this, and I'm an objective source on this one.
posted by savetheclocktower at 2:13 PM on December 24, 2004

Check out Chuck Taggart's (he's a Mefite) New Orleans pages.
posted by Vidiot at 3:22 PM on December 24, 2004

White_devil, Mermaid Lounge shut down about a month ago. Where Y'at did a big tribute to it and I definitely mourned.
posted by honeydew at 4:40 PM on December 24, 2004

Honeydew, I'm really said to hear that. It was one of my favs when I lived there and a must visit every time I was in town. Any reason why it closed? Part of the "revitalization" of that area?
posted by white_devil at 10:15 AM on December 25, 2004

I meant sad, of course. Christmas eve margaritas and posting 1st thing the following morning just don't mix.
posted by white_devil at 10:18 AM on December 25, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you, thank you, thank you everyone for your suggestions! I haven't been back to check this in a couple days (Xmas obligations, not much computer time), but I am thrilled to see all this new stuff since I last stopped by! Often when I'm travelling with my friends, we have no idea what to do, and half the time the guidebooks are lame and trying to figure out what to do takes up half the day. So THANK YOU. You all rock, and deserve all the twinkly lights in the universe to surround you all the time.

honeydew - I won't be there until Tuesday, so I missed the bonfires. It sounds wonderful though - I'm sad I'm missing it. Instead, I spent Christmas Eve sitting at a dinner table here in Connecticut across from a relative who chews with her mouth open, and it was the big, Italian "7 fish", bazillion course meal. And she eats A LOT. Ugh. (At least there was vodka & cranberry juice available.)
posted by AlisonM at 6:36 PM on December 25, 2004

I doubt you'll be there for sushi, but Kyoto on Magazine Street is excellent.

For the record, I am pretty sure that Kyoto is on Prytania Street, not Magazine (I live a few blocks away). And I "third" the suggestion that they are a good place to eat.
posted by hartsell at 7:51 AM on December 28, 2004

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