Can two pseudo introverts have a good time in NOLA?
November 18, 2011 8:05 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I would like to go to New Orleans, LA in March, 2012. We're fairly laid back and not huge into the tourism craziness that I tend to associate with NOLA. It is possible to go to The Big Easy and, well, have a chill time?

We're mainly interested in New Orleans as a foodie vacation. As far as our tastes are concerned, we would be more likely to splurge on a few fancy cocktails than to find the cheapest bar and drink all night. Culture is definitely important to us (movies, music, theater, art, etc). Sports, not so much. We would do some low-key tourism, depending on how crazy the attraction is. We're not huge on waiting in long lines or being in big crowds. As a traveling couple, we're fairly introverted; we aren't out meeting new people and drinking with them.

Where should we stay in NOLA that satisfies our need for good food/drink and culture, and our slight anti-tourism tastes? Should we avoid certain travel weeks? (I checked, Mardi Gras is in February!) Should we do anything in particular? See certain shows, visit certain neighborhoods? What's going on there in March?

Relevant details: We're traveling from Philadelphia, PA, and we're in our late 20s. Thanks in advance!
posted by two lights above the sea to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (30 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Of course.
Go to the Garden District, and places like that. We go to NO quite a bit, and I don't think we've gone to Bourbon Street/the Quarter at all in years. YES go, YES have a chill time, and YES say hello to people, they're awfully nice.
posted by pomegranate at 8:14 PM on November 18, 2011

You might check Chowhound's boards for NOLA. You can avoid the crowds, but New Orleans isn't exactly noted for early nights. Sure, you can see movies and galleries, but live music is the cultural scene. You might encounter total strangers who enjoy some of the same things you do.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:16 PM on November 18, 2011

We go to New Orleans at least once a year, as it's only six hours away. We do stay in the French Quarter, usually, because you get such a great feel for the historic aspect of the city there. We usually book through VRBO. There's so much more than Bourbon Street, and the food is great. Most of the well-known restaurants are in the Quarter or close. Spring break week is kinda crazy, which looks to peak somewhere around March 10. We're planning to be there the weekend of the 23rd for a scooter rally. Maybe we can plan a meetup, supercres owes me a drink!
posted by raisingsand at 8:28 PM on November 18, 2011

I am going to recommend coming to the Bywater/Marigny area, I would in particular recomend a Thursday night at Bacchanal, followed by a Kermit Ruffins show at Vaughn's. Also breakfast at Elizabeth's is great.

As far as the french quarter, start with Frenchmen St, lots of good live music and food.
If you become drunk enough there head down Decatur st. Pavda has fancy drinks, turtles to visit with, and a fancy grilled cheese sandwich, Cafe Du Monde
is a thing, also a man will bet you that he can guess where you got your shoes (you got them on your feet is the correct answer, but you should still give him a dollar).
if at this point you have had enough drinks, you can have the option of heading north towards Bourbon St. and environs to see the spectcle, and then quickly escape.

Uptown, and the garden district are probably nice also, but really we are the better people over here.
posted by St. Sorryass at 8:35 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also memail me closer to the time of your trip and i can let you know if there is anything particularly interesting going on.
posted by St. Sorryass at 8:36 PM on November 18, 2011

The craziness that everyone associates with NOLA is restricted to about 6 blocks of Bourbon Street.

I'm in my mid-20s, live in New Orleans, and I daresay I live a pretty chill, non-wild life for the most part, so absolutely yes, you will have a fine time.

You may find my previous comment to have some helpful suggestions.

If y'all are foodies, you absolutely must check out Boucherie. I went there again for the first time in ages, and basically realized that if I ever get to choose my last meal on earth, it will be anything that the kitchen of Boucherie sends out. Pretty reasonably priced too, for what it is.
posted by mostly vowels at 8:54 PM on November 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

Also, here are (just a few) good fancy cocktail bars of the moment:

Bar Tonique (on the edge of the Quarter. Good, tends to be more universally loved than Cure)

Cure (weirdly polarizing. A lot of people hate on Cure for it's supposed pretension, but whatever, I like it. I tend to enjoy it more during Happy Hour when the drinks are cheap and I have the bar to myself)

Twelve Mile Limit (the new kid on the block. Totally looks like a non-descript neighborhood corner bar, but great drinks inside. Kind of hard to reach without a car, so you might need to take a taxi)

I haven't been there yet, but I've only heard good things about Loa.

Also, New Orleans has some great (GREAT!!! As in, they have originated some of the most iconic New Orleans cocktails) hotel cocktail bars. You must go to the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt, and the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone.
posted by mostly vowels at 8:59 PM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

OK, last thing and then I'm gonna stop:

I reread your question and noticed you said you don't really like talking to strangers. I'd really advise you to open your mind about this on a trip to New Orleans. I moved here from a rather staid Midwestern city, and the gregariousness of New Orleanians never ceases to BLOW MY MIND. Although you can definitely have a quiet drink to yourself if that's what you want, if a local starts chatting with you guys and telling you all sorts of weird stories** just go with the flow. It's part of the charm of the city. People who live here are just really nice and chatty.

**Apologies in advance if it turns out that it's me.
posted by mostly vowels at 9:08 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just chiming to vouch for the excellence of mostly vowels' food and drink recommendations. It really made our New Orleans visit quite enjoyable.

Oh, and just riding the St. Charles Streetcar was pretty chill and fun.
posted by research monkey at 9:13 PM on November 18, 2011

Response by poster: mostly vowels: We're not really kidding around when we say we don't like talking to strangers. Probably the most iconic place to go if you want to party is Amsterdam, and when we went there a few years ago, we really didn't meet anyone or hang out with strangers at all. We're loners (ahem, misanthropes), what can I say?

Great suggestions so far! I certainly didn't mean to make NOLA sound like a party town, but these are exactly the kind of answers I was looking for!
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:15 PM on November 18, 2011

If New Orleans isn't a party town, I can't imagine what is. People have lovely manners, and will always give you space, but a few questions to a native can lead to the most interesting information and even invitations to places no internet board could lead to.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:24 PM on November 18, 2011

Also vouching for the Lower Garden District and Magazine Street. The Green House Inn is a wonderful place for two introverts to stay. Just down the road is Surrey's, and little bit further down is Jackson. Keep walking and you'll hit the antique stores - keep on going and you'll hit Sucré.

There's a crapton more to explore in and around the Garden District, but finding these places is half the fun. Also, you pretty much really need to go to Elizabeth's for brunch.
posted by squorch at 9:25 PM on November 18, 2011

re: Amsterdam: I think it's different. I've partied in Amsterdam and in New Orleans with my similarly-introverted partner, and in Amsterdam we never talked to strangers; however, in New Orleans, the strangers who talked to us generally had wacky tales that we wanted to listen to, and little pressure was put on us to talk back, so we were comfortable.

YMMV of course. But there is also lots of great food/drink stuff to do in NOLA that is great when you want to be introverted; see everyone else's answers for that :).
posted by anotherthink at 9:51 PM on November 18, 2011

Well, I just made my first visit to NOLA a week ago. It was a great eating experience, the guys who ran the B&B I found gave a lot of great advice that satisfied me and my Brooklyn foodie girlfriend. I didn't feel like I wasted any of my time in town. It was in a residential block in Marigny and felt far from being in the middle of a tourist heard -- so it is possible to be within walking distance of a lot of places that you would want to see but still have it feel more chill. Your plan is sound.
posted by cgk at 9:53 PM on November 18, 2011

Seconding Frenchman St! Just infinitely preferable to the madhouse Quarter in every way. I adore the Apple Barrel for live music and Adolfo's, the restaurant above it. (previously)

Cafe Du Monde is sort of a tourist must and therefore crowded, but it's also tasty and a place where you can people-watch without having to actually interact that much.

Magazine Street is great to wander up and down, popping into little stores when you feel like it. It's also home to the weirdly good Manhattan Pizza.

(On preview, just what anotherthink said:) I'm an introvert who doesn't like talking to strangers that much, too (especially at bars, guh). But every time I've been to NOLA, I find myself operating in a different plane--not that I approach people, but I don't need to, people are awesome and friendly and generous and just want to tell you hilarious things, and all you have to do is accept it.
posted by hippugeek at 10:08 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

*pulls up chair and sits down*

I come bearing advice based on two personal visits and recommendations from three friends who all spent many formative years in New Orleans, all of us foodies.

1. Cafe du Monde is kind of a "you really can't not or people will look at you funny" kind of thing. Yeah, it can be crowded, but it's a good quick cheap breakfast snacky kind of thing.

2. Nearby Cafe du Monde, along the river, is Central Grocery, where you can get a fine picnic lunch -- by asking for a half a sandwich. A half of a muffaletta will definitely do for two people (those muthas are HUGE); get that and a couple of beverages, stroll back to Jefferson Square and have a picnic lunch and do some people watching. There is a 60-80% chance that street musicians will set up nearby (and some not even there to busk -- my first trip, this group of guys from France spontaneously set up and gave a free concert with music that sounded like a wild mix of jazz, British music hall, and klezmer; it was awesome).

3. One of my dear friends told me, before my first trip, that I should save up to splurge on the jazz brunch at Commander's Palace. I offer you the same advice. I was perfectly comfortable there on my own; the music kept me entertained, and the staff was polite, but didn't hover. And the food was so good I insisted on buying a cookbook, and they brought it back to the kitchen to get it autographed for me.

4. Another dear friend insists everyone should eat at The Gumbo Shop in the French Quarter; this is also a bit of a touristy spot, but the food is indeed good.

5. The best cop on the New Orleans Police force recommended Felix's to me. I liked it enough to go there twice; it's got an atmosphere that strangely reminded me of Katz's deli in New York, for reasons I am unable to ascertain. Everything (except, strangely, the red beans and rice) is on par; in fact, they have a small combo plate with the three basics -- jambalaya, red beans and rice, and etouffe -- which will serve as a good introduction to some of the classic dishes. (The reason why that cop is the best is for reasons somewhat unrelated to the food and I will tell that story another time.)

6. You actually could do quite well just following your nose and trusting serendipity for meals. The last time I was there, the very best red beans and rice I had came from a completely nondescript hole-in-the-wall bar, where they served the food out of a literal hole in the wall -- a guy with a cigar box collected the cash, while a woman who looked to be about 782 years old served up your choice of one of the three items on the menu out of huge cauldrons onto a paper plate. The bar was a couple blocks from my hotel and I'd wandered in, looking for a quick meal before bed, and ended up having the best red beans and rice on that whole trip.

7. Finally -- it's not a restaurant, but if you're a foodie you MUST, MUST stop in at Kitchen witch cookbooks on Toulouse street. The owners are both also foodies and writers/artists -- she also used to be a waitress at the Gumbo Shop -- and opened shortly after Hurricane Katrina, to sell off some of their massive collection of used cookbooks (and did very brisk business from people trying to replace books they'd lost). They're still there, specializing in new and used cookbooks, but there's also a huge music store in the back room (vinyl and CDs) and they've also even mixed up their own spice blend that they sell bottles of at the front counter as well. They are delightful people and their business deserves to thrive, and their collection of cookbooks will also delight you as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:42 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

The very best pecan waffles are at the Camellia Grille.

There's a food museum in the Riverwalk mall.
posted by brujita at 12:25 AM on November 19, 2011

New Orleans is great for walking. I was there before Katrina, abd am not a serious partier, and really loved it.
posted by theora55 at 4:57 AM on November 19, 2011

OP's husband here. Thanks for the suggestions so far.

What she don't mention is that I actually lived in NO for a year... when I was 3-4. I obviously don't remember much, but I do remember beignets at Cafe du Monde and thin wedges of muffuletta from Central Grocery. So touristy or not, we're definitely doing those :)

Thanks again!
posted by supercres at 7:35 AM on November 19, 2011

New Orleanian here, coming in to second all of Mostly Vowels's recs and add that Loa is indeed great for cocktails and pretty decor. The bartender/owner of that bar (Alan Walter, previously of Iris) is well-known for his creative and very tasty drinks. He's there most nights and all weekend. Friday happy hour is a great time to go.

March events: There are lots of St. Patrick's Day activities in New Orleans, including a big fun parade Uptown that will give you somewhat of an idea what Mardi Gras is like, but with far smaller crowds. There is also a parade in the French Quarter. Both will be on Saturday the 17th. And then Sunday the 18th will be Super Sunday/St. Joseph's Day, which is the best time to see the Mardi Gras Indians apart from Mardi Gras. That's a truly only-in-New Orleans cultural experience, and not to be missed if you can be in town that day.
posted by CheeseLouise at 7:49 AM on November 19, 2011

Response by poster: This question is a bit trickier, but flights seem expensive. Does anyone have any tips for that? We'd definitely like to spend less than $500 total on flights for the two of us, but in the $3-400 range would be magical. Thanks!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:54 AM on November 19, 2011

I went to NO last March (post-Mardi Gras) by myself, specifically looking to have a relaxed time. It was great! You really don't need to take in the party scene at all to have a decent time. One thing I enjoyed was taking the ferry over to Algiers Point and taking the path along the water, as well as exploring the neighbourhood.
posted by greatgefilte at 8:00 AM on November 19, 2011

Since you have some time before your trip, try playing around with Bing's Price Predictor to get a sense of the price patterns. Because of my own recent NO trip, I spent some time looking at various flights to NO, and I don't think I ever saw flights in the $200 or under range. The lowest I saw was ~$250. The other conference attendees I talked to all mentioned how flights to NO were packed, too. So don't leave buying tickets to the last minute, either.
posted by research monkey at 8:06 AM on November 19, 2011

For the flights, is there any way you could fly out of Baltimore instead of PHL? I go to Baltimore a lot and Southwest and AirTran frequently have good sales on direct flights between BWI and MSY.
posted by CheeseLouise at 8:10 AM on November 19, 2011

I've been to NOLA a couple of times, which is not a huge amount of experience. However, I didn't find the part of the French Quarter farther away from Bourbon St to be all that excessive. Some of it is pretty quiet at night, in fact. When we wandered over to the Marigny, there were a *lot* more people out on the street than in the Quarter. I was feeling antisocial that night, so I was actually glad to get back from the officially authentic neighborhood to the officially touristy one. I haven't seen a lot of the city, but I do know that the French Quarter's reputation is not based on the entire French Quarter.

I am not a foodie. But I cease fitting into the clothes I bring within a couple of days of getting to New Orleans no matter where we eat. I have no recommendations, but I will assure you that following anyone else's, no matter who they are or what they say, is going to be AWESOME.
posted by Because at 8:40 AM on November 19, 2011

Research monkey and I visited NO in early October. Here are some of my thoughts.

1. Mostly vowels' recommendations are trustworthy. We always had good food and drink when we trusted her recommendations.

2. We both try to take in a museum or two when we travel but the timing was bad on this trip so I was only able to spend a couple hours alone at the Cabildo Louisiana State Museum on Jackson Square. The exhibit boards were verbose and entertainingly frank about the sordidness and misery of life there in the territory's early history. The museum is roughly chronologically arranged, starting with Indian civilizations near the entrance, ending with the most recent times on the third floor. I only got up to the 1840s before I ran out of time, but it didn't look like there was much beyond that.

3. Pravda on Decatur (a couple doors away from Molly's) is a southern gothic themed bar specializing in vodka and absinthe -- almost two dozen varieties of the latter, many no longer in production. The food looked good, although I didn't get to try on my last trip. It was the quietest, lowest-key spot I saw in NO, and is a good place to chill away from the crowds, when you need something even quieter than the usual grade of quiet bar.

4. Something I never saw mentioned anywhere is that Molly's on the Market has red hot tamales on its menu. This is a southern US style, made with corn meal rather than masa, and cooked in paper rather than leaf. Try it and understand what Robert Johnson was singing about (as a metaphorical device, anyway).

5. Delmonica's happy hour is a can't-miss: World-class pizza at half price. Seriously, some of the best pizza I'd ever eaten. It's another quiet and discreet place, this one considerably more upscale.

6. If you're not into the crowds at Cafe DuMonde, try Cafe Beignet, which has two locations. The one on Royal St. was better and quieter. The Bourbon St. one wasn't great, both in terms of food and atmosphere, although there's an earnest schlockiness to the courtyard that adds some charm. I like the coffee and beignets at Du Monde more, though. They're different and each has its fans, so try both Du Monde and Beignet if you have the time.

7. People in NO will stop and chat you up. That's what they do. It's a little unsettling to northerners (speaking as somebody who's spent his whole life around the Great Lakes and New England). You'll learn to roll with it or else go mad. On the other hand, when you're stuck for directions, this means you can walk up to pretty much anybody and ask and it won't set off their alarms either (unless they just got off the plane from Detroit, too).

In general there is more great food than you can take in with an extended visit. For that matter, there are more places a tourist is required to visit than can be visited in a week. With that in mind, go into this trip relaxed and with an attitude of eating where you want, when you want, and if you don't end up doing something all your friends expected you to do, you can counter with bragging rights to some fantastic thing they'd never heard of.
posted by ardgedee at 8:44 AM on November 19, 2011

NOLA is my favorite place in the whole world! In fact, my Boy and I got married there last year. We're foodie/cocktail types who aren't big on partying. I'm on my way out the door to brunch, so I may stop in later with more, but for now, I second basically everything mostly vowel recommended. Also, here's thefood and drink resources we put together for our wedding guests.
posted by mostlymartha at 1:16 PM on November 19, 2011

Seconding "You must go to the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt." It is one of the most beautiful places I've been in.

And Cafe du Monde isn't that busy in the middle of a weekday. At least, I had no problem getting a really good table, right on the street so I could people-watch, when I was there about a month ago at about 1 pm on a Thursday.
posted by k8lin at 3:46 PM on November 19, 2011

In my experience, the line for tables at Du Monde can go faster than the takeout line. Especially when the takeout line has a clot of people clustered together; it inevitably means they are at complete loggerheads over what to order from the ridiculously limited menu (coffee black, cafe au lait, beignets), and will hold up everybody until they've come to a group consensus on what each individual is ordering.
posted by ardgedee at 7:42 AM on November 20, 2011

Lots of great suggestions, plus there's the other threads on new orleans that are quite good.

A few places I don't think anyone has mentioned:

Columns hotel: Great atmosphere, gorgeous, best bloody mary's I've had.

Willie Mae's Scotch House: great fried chicken. Not touristy.

Honestly, as far as food, you're getting the normal suggestions so far that you would get from a tour guide. Nothing wrong with that, but realize new orleans is a foodie city, and you can go into any establishment and almost be certain to get a great meal.

Two places mentioned that I would avoid:

The gumbo shop: far better food elsewhere.

Felix: use to be okay, gone way down hill the past few years.

We go to NO quite a bit, and I don't think we've gone to Bourbon Street/the Quarter at all in years.

Please ignore this. The quarter is much more than Bourbon Street. There is great architecture, food, pubs, antiques, art that lives in the French Quarter. Unless you've been to the Quarter a lot, you'll be doing yourself a huge disservice avoiding it.
posted by justgary at 12:16 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

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