TCO Guide to New Orleans
Marla Norman, Publisher
“This city…feeds the dreams, stories, music, and food. Really great food.”
— Andrei Codrescu
It’s true. That storm left deep scars. But New Orleans is SO over it. Construction sites and cranes dot the city. New shops, hotels and restaurants open almost daily. Over 1300 restaurants now operate in New Orleans – over 500 more than existed prior to Katrina. And, for a little extra glamor, the City of Saints now produces more films than the City of Angels. Yes! New Orleans is officially the new Hollywood. (Read about film production in Louisiana here.)
Ten years after Katrina, Jackson Square is again filled with tourists, musicians, locals walking their dogs, mimes, and psychics. Wander down Pirate’s Alley, then cross onto Royal. Even the famously haunted house of Madame Lalaurie looks lived in now.
Head down Bourbon to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. The tottery old building has withstood centuries of wars, storms, and literally uncountable nights of revelry. Find a spot at the venerable bar and make a toast to this indomitable city. Long may she reign.
ARNAUD’S RESTAURANT & MARDI GRAS MUSEUM
813 Bienville St
Hopefully you arrived in New Orleans hungry. Food is essential to this city. Since you’re already on Bourbon, slide into Arnaud’s (although reservations are always a good idea.) If the main restaurant is busy, the Bistro is likely available and you can also enjoy the Gumbo Trio play Dixieland standards. In between toe tapping, order oysters: Bienville and Rockefeller. Bienville oysters are an original Arnaud’s dish, named after the restaurant’s location on Bienville St. Oysters Rockefeller were, of course, created by rival restaurant Antoine’s, another leviathan in the Quarter. You should also try the trout meunière and red snapper. For desert have another New Orleans invention: Bananas Foster. Your waiter will sauté the bananas in butter and rum with the requisite fireworks, which are impressive!
Like many of the patriarchs in the Quarter, Arnaud’s has a colorful and rich history. Arnaud Cazenave, a French wine salesman, opened his doors in 1918. Unfortunately, Prohibition laws dried up the country one year later. Not to be deterred, Cazenave was especially creative in circumventing the alcohol-free regulations. He had hidden rooms, secret deliveries, and “special coffee.” Eventually, however, the Feds caught up with him, and he was jailed for a time.
Once Prohibition laws were recinded, Arnaud’s enjoyed great success. Cazenave, who had become local royalty and was known as Count Arnaud, channeled much of his fortune into expansion. He bought up some 13 buildings around his original property until he owned most of the block. As he converted the old buildings into additional dining rooms, visitors found the network of passageways handy for secret rendezvous and quick get-aways. Rumor has it that the old Count used the secret hideaways as much or more than his customers.
A portrait of Cazenave still hangs in the main dining room. Waiters swear that on especially busy nights, Count Arnaud – dressed in in formal attire – always turns up. He stands by the beveled glass windows and observes the diners, smiling contentedly.
The Mardi Gras Museum is also housed at the restaurant. Take the winding corridor and creaky stairs to the displays. Just as you’re wondering if you’ll see the ghost of the old Count himself — he suddenly appears! Or, at least four of the costumes he wore as king during Mardi Gras.
There are also 13 bejeweled gowns worn by Count Arnaud’s daughter, Germaine Cazenave Wells. Germaine was a woman of appetite: for clothing, jewels and – most especially – men. She also evidently loved being queen of Mardi Gras, since she reigned over 22 balls from 1937 to 1968 – an astonishing number – more than any other women in the history of Carnival. The museum is a treasure trove, with more than two dozen lavish costumes in all. The collection houses 70 vintage photos, masks, krewe invitations and party favors.
724 Dumaine St.
The fascinating characters who have inhabited New Orleans is easily one of the city’s more endearing traits. Marie Laveau, for good or ill, is high on the list of iconic figures. Just the fact that, according to many reputable tourist sites, her tomb draws more visitors than Elvis Presley’s grave site, makes her significant.
When you visit, you’ll find a large portrait of Marie Laveau in the entryway. You might also run into curator John Martin with his pet Sam, who happens to be a python — a small guy, but a python nonetheless.
The interior of the museum has several altars and displays of gris gris bags. The bundles contain herbs, roots, and secret ingredients for curing all sorts of ailments. Several signs note that the museum will create “custom gris gris bags.” Prices are negotiable. Also on display are very specific instructions for making voodoo dolls. Happily, the dolls are primarily intended to heal, not to cause a sudden or fatal illness.
Naturally, much of the museum is devoted to the life of Marie Laveau, an entrepreneurial hair dresser, who began conducting exorcisms and rituals behind her house. You’ll find Marie Leveau’s tomb located in St. Louis Cemetery #1 (between 425 Basin Street & 3421 Esplanade Ave.) Candles, poundcake, and flowers are always piled at the base of the tomb. Leveau’s many devotees mark triple X’s on the walls of the tomb as a means of requesting favors from her spirit.
Native Americans and early settlers were the first to strike a bargain at the French Market way back in the late 1700’s. Today the site has evolved into a major shopping attraction for tourists. New Orleans souvenirs from Mardi Gras masks, decorative items with fleur de lis, handmade jewelry and voodoo designer apparel can be found here.
Recently, the market has gone back to its roots. A Farmers Market now offers seasonal vegetables, seafood, cheeses and a terrific range of fresly baked goods. Once you’ve purchased your souvenirs, take time to look through this part of the market as well.
JACKSON SQUARE & ST. LOUIS CATHEDRAL
Back on Jackson Square, you can almost hear the ghosts talking. The St. Louis Cathedral or as it’s formally know – the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France – is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the U.S. The Pontalba Buildings on the opposite side of the square, are also are considered to be some of the oldest continulously-rented apartments in the country. The square is not only the heart of New Orleans, but one of the most important historical sites in the United States.
Take a few minutes to admire the cathedral’s triple steeples – one of New Orleans’ most recognizable landmarks. Pope Paul VI designated the cathedral as a basilica in 1964. Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral in September 1987. Today the parish has over 6,000 members.Visitors may tour the cathedral from 8:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Self-guided brochures are available for a $1.00 donation.
Jackson Square itself was constructed to resemble the Place des Vosges of Paris. Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba built the four-story red-brick buildings at a cost of $300,00 – an unimaginably extravagant sum at the time. Baroness Pontalba, who inherited a sizeable fortune, is best-known for surviving an attack by her greedy father-in-law, who was hoping to inherit her money. Baron de Pontalba shot Micaela four times at close range. Fortunately, the Pontalba Buildings have proved to be just as resillient and enduring as their creator. A perfect metaphor for a city that has also become a symbol for survival.
Looking for great restaurants, jazz venues and hotels? Be sure to see the other articles in this section.