Beads, Beignets, Bourbon Street
I fell in love with New Orleans the first time I stepped foot in the city. The energetic atmosphere, the delicious Cajun food, and the jazz music were all so enticing and I knew that I wanted to return soon. The world had other plans though. Covid and an unexpected hurricane pushed back my travel plans, but this year I was finally able to step foot in the French Quarter once more.
It’s not a trip if something doesn’t go wrong though, right? Storms were brewing the afternoon I was scheduled to fly out. I had a layover in Dallas which I was able to make, but severe weather in New Orleans led to my flight getting canceled. Thankfully, I was rebooked on the first flight out of Dallas. My friend Hailey also had some similar flight headaches, but she finally arrived at the Sheraton Hotel around 1:30 in the morning while I tried to make myself comfortable in the airport waiting for 5:30 to come along.
By the time my flight landed in New Orleans, I had been awake for 24 hours. I chose to take a taxi to the hotel instead of an Uber, which was surprisingly an easy process. Hailey and I decided not to rent a car for the trip, instead choosing to split Ubers when we needed to get around the city which ended up being the cheaper option. By the time I got to the hotel, changed, and put myself together it was time for us to head to the Garden District for a tour.
The tour was ran by a company called French Quarter Phantoms. The bright and cool spring weather made it the perfect day to walk around and view all of the beautiful architecture the Garden District had to offer. Our tour guide stopped by different houses and buildings, noting the history and unique designs of each one. We could see how the style of homes changed over time just by walking down different streets. The guide also pointed out which buildings were owned by celebrities. I was surprised to learn that St. Louis’ own John Goodman has a home in New Orleans.
After the tour, we made our way to Uptown to grab some brunch. We chose to dine at a cute little restaurant called Wakin’ Bakin’. By that point I was starving so I ordered The Superbowl – a hash topped with an abundance of veggies and savory meats. After eating our fill, we took an Uber to The Voodoo Lounge – a small dive bar on the outskirts of Orleans Street that serves cheap drinks. This would become our starting point and ending point every day on this trip. This was also the bar we needed to meet at for our next tour organized by French Quarter Phantoms – the Saints and Sinners tour! If learning about the sex and sin-filled history of New Orleans isn’t your cup of tea, then you will want to skip this one. We ended up getting an unexpected private tour since we were the only two that had signed up. Our tour guide was hilarious, knowledgeable and gave us plenty of bar recommendations apart from the main strip. A nice thing about these tour companies is that they want to make sure you are hydrated and will pause in the middle of the tour and allow you to refill your alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverages. We made a stop at a popular gay bar to get a refill before learning more about New Orleans’ sinister history.
We had some time to kill before our third and final tour of the day so we stumbled into the Rampart Treehouse – a bar known for its pizza, beer, and hand-crafted cocktails. The bar is filled with artwork. The most mesmerizing piece is a magnolia tree in the middle of the bar adorned with hand painted flowers. We happened to arrive during happy hour which is from 3-6 PM Monday-Friday. $5 got me a slice of cheese pizza and a beer. The Rampart Treehouse was right down the road from The Voodoo Lounge which we needed to go to again to check in for the Ghosts & Vampires tour which is praised as French Quarter Phantoms’ most popular tour. Tickets for this tour could be used at the bar to purchase buy one get one free hurricanes. Not one to pass up a deal, I ordered myself two hurricanes and with one in each hand I traversed the dark streets of New Orleans while learning about the spirits and vampires that supposedly haunt the area. With the hurricanes gone to my head, we looked up places for dinner and found a restaurant called the Gumbo Shop. This was one of my favorite dinner stops of the entire trip. The restaurant was packed, but we ended up waiting only a few minutes before being led to a table. Even if the wait was longer, it would have been worth it. I’m a sucker for anything Cajun and spicy, so I ordered the Chicken Andouille Gumbo. They weren’t lying when they said locals rated it as the best gumbo in the city!
The following day, we woke up early and got an Uber to The Voodoo Lounge to check in for our fourth tour of the trip – the French Quarter Tour. Our tour guide dove into the history of Bourbon Street, the French Quarter, and Jackson Square. We also learned about voodoo and how misunderstood the religious practice is today. Halfway through the tour we walked down Pirate’s Alley. If the name didn’t give it away, it’s an area rumored to be frequented by pirates back in the day. At the end of the alley stands a bar with the same name. This bar piqued my interest since there was a peculiar device on the bar top which I learned helps the bartender dilute absinthe. There was a menu listing out different absinthe options patrons could choose from. The two hurricanes from the night before had me feeling some type of way so I decided to pass on absinthe that morning, but it was my goal to drop in and try the spirit sometime before the trip ended.
All that walking had made us hungry, so we went to the Vampire Cafe off of Royal Street which wasn’t far from where the tour had ended. The restaurant plays on its vampire name: crafting “blood type” cocktails, serving vampire-themed dishes, and adorning tables with gold silverware instead of the typical silver utensils. I went with the Bloody Mary and their Alligator Po’boy. This was just what I needed to remedy my hangover. The Bloody Mary was delicious and the Alligator Po’boy was filling and had some surprising heat to it.
We had some time to kill before our fifth and final tour of the trip so we decided to take a slight detour to Abbott’s Frozen Custard. I ordered a cup of the Marvelous Mango which was just the creamy and cool treat I needed to beat the incoming heat. We walked to the tour meet up area which was situated outside of a voodoo shop. We checked in with our guide, perused the shop for a bit, went to the bar next door to grab a cheap (and heavily poured) tequila sunrise and by that point the remaining tourists had gathered. We booked this tour through the Haunted History Tours company. The particular tour we were taking was their French Quarter Ghost & Legends tour which per their website is the most popular tour they manage. While we had taken a tour of the French Quarter the other day, this tour took us to a few different locations and discussed murders, hauntings, and even werewolf legends that the other tour company hadn’t touched on. It was nice to see that the tour companies didn’t rehash the same stories so each tour felt like its own separate experience. Halfway through the tour, I purchased a frozen Voodoo Daiquiri from a hotel bar. Be aware that the frozen drinks are pricier than the well drinks, but they are definitely appealing and satisfying especially on a humid Louisiana day.
Dinner was calling our name by the time the tour ended so we walked around until we stumbled upon Pere Antoine. I ordered the Voodoo Brew cocktail which was served in a tall plastic cup and contained an ample amount of rum. The drink was a little too sweet for my liking, but the highlight of the dinner was the Gumbalaya. My plate was full of chicken and sausage gumbo and in the middle was a generous serving of their jambalaya. Trust me when I say there wasn’t a single morsel left on my plate. It was that good!
Since this was Hailey’s first time in New Orleans she knew she wanted to stop by Café Du Monde to order some of their famous beignets. My stomach was full, but I knew I could make some room for dessert. There is typically a line of people down the sidewalk that can stretch far past the café. The line tends to move fairly quickly though, so don’t let that deter you from getting in line. Once we got our bag of beignets we found a table to sit at to enjoy the tasty treats. After that, we ended the night at the Voodoo Lounge. We had stopped in so often that by that point the bartenders and tour guides recognized us and welcomed us in. They were all fun to chat with and gave us great recommendations for things to do in the city during our stay.
By the third day of the trip we only had one thing left on our itinerary. We first grabbed breakfast at Mena’s Palace – a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant and bar with limited seating. However, we ended up lucking out and a server sat us at a table right when we walked in. I ordered the Shrimp Creole Omelette which sounded delicious but was drowned in tomato sauce. If I were to visit this restaurant again I would try a different omelette or wait a few hours until they served their lunch menu. We took an Uber to the Garden District to cross our last planned stop off of our list – The Garden District Book Shop. Inside, bookcases are filled to the brim with books of varying genres of all shapes and sizes. They even sell first editions and signed copies. If that’s something up your alley I would definitely recommend checking it out.
With nothing else left on our agenda, we stopped by the Voodoo Lounge for some drinks before walking around the French Quarter. We perused the farmers market, stopping to eye the art and trinkets that people were selling. The Saturday sun was beating down on us so to escape from the heat we made a pit stop at Jinx for a drink. Little did we know we would also be present for a burlesque show. Every Saturday and Sunday the bar and grill hosts a mini burlesque show starting at 1:00. Each performance lasts fifteen minutes which gives you a little taste of what their evening burlesque shows contain. I could tell the two burlesque performers that afternoon were having a blast and at times they even got the audience involved. One of the funniest moments was when a husband in the crowd was asked to stand up and he was instructed to mimic the burlesque performer’s movements. Once he learned all of the steps he had to showcase the moves on his own. He was having the time of his life and I can only imagine what other hysterical demonstrations and exciting performances they put on during their main shows.
With my wallet a little bit lighter, we headed to Frenchman Street which one of our tour guides mentioned is the go-to area for live jazz music. I hadn’t ventured to this part of New Orleans the first time I visited the city, so I was excited to walk around and see what the area had to offer. I was not disappointed. We could hear the sound of trumpets, tubas, and saxophones the closer we got to the bars and music joints. We decided to give The Spotted Cat a go. The venue was small and charming. There were already a few groups of people inside, but we were able to find two empty bar stools. While posted up at the bar we ordered cocktails and listened to the jazz band playing. I love live music and I probably could have sat there and listened to different jazz bands play the rest of the day, but the drinks were starting to make us sluggish and a cat nap was in order.
Once we woke up, we were ready to explore the city some more. As we were walking, we couldn’t ignore the smell of cooked seafood coming from the French Market Restaurant & Bar. The eatery advertises fresh, never frozen seafood and dishes made from scratch. When we walked inside we saw tables sharing boats of crawfish. While purchasing crawfish by the pound was tempting, I instead chose to get the Crawfish Étouffée which ended up being deliciously filling. We ended the night at, you guessed it, the Voodoo Lounge! It was packed with people ordering buy one get one hurricanes and checking in for the last tour of the evening. If I had paid more attention, I would have noticed a celebrity in the bar that I (literally) ran into but I didn’t realize who it was until she left with the tour group. After a few more drinks we made our way to the hotel, wanting to get some decent sleep before the long day ahead of us.
Not only was it our fourth and final full day in New Orleans, it was also Easter! The bartenders at the Voodoo Lounge had told us about the three different parades that would be going on that day. Yes, you read that right. Three different parades! We chose to try out a popular brunch spot called the Ruby Slipper Cafe before making our way to Bourbon Street. Be prepared for a long wait though. I recommend joining the waitlist on their website as early as you can. There were several waitresses taking drink orders for those of us waiting outside. I ordered their delicious award-winning Bloody Mary which contained bacon-infused vodka along with several garnishes. We ended up waiting over an hour for a table, but it was well worth it. We were seated at the bar and our order was taken quickly. I ordered another Bloody Mary while I debated on which Benedict I wanted to order since that seemed to be one of the more popular items on their menu. I decided that I couldn’t just choose one though. If you are indecisive like me, you can opt for The Peacemaker which allows you to mix and match two benedicts of your choice. Unable to pass up the seafood benedicts, I ordered the Bayou Shrimp Benedict and the Crawfish & Grits Benedict. This was the best breakfast I had by far. The benedicts were delectable and paired well with the Bloody Mary. If you are in New Orleans and are a fan of eggs benedict, you need to try the Ruby Slipper Cafe if you get the chance.
We had missed the first parade of the day, but had some time to kill before the Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade which honors the late New Orleans entertainer and icon. We walked back to Pirate’s Alley and made our way to the corner bar to purchase some absinthe. Typically it would cost around $20 for a drink, but the bartender had mistakenly poured the wrong absinthe for a previous customer and told me if I wanted that absinthe she could make me the drink for $10. I couldn’t pass up that deal and watched as the bartender diluted my drink. I should note that this bar is cash only so plan accordingly. I had heard that absinthe tastes like black licorice but I was hoping everyone was mistaken. Surprise, they weren’t. It was fun getting the opportunity to try it, but I don’t see myself drinking absinthe in the future.
We knew we wanted to get a balcony view of the parade, so we stopped into Local 718 and made our way upstairs. Luckily, we were able to find a table and we ordered drinks to sip on while the parade got underway. Carriages and floats were decorated in bright colors and people in the parade, along with onlookers, were dressed for the occasion. Of course, there can’t be a parade in New Orleans without beads. Since we were sitting in the corner of the balcony beads weren’t thrown our way. Other objects like toys and even carrots were tossed into the crowd. I walked away with two beads, but I knew I needed to find a closer spot for the next parade if I wanted to get more.
The third and final parade was the gay parade, which was starting at the park located near the Voodoo Lounge. Inside the bar were people dressed in bright, interesting outfits and costumes. It seemed like this parade was going to be the most attended. After slamming some tequila sunrises, I found a perfect spot in front of the sidewalk that allowed me to observe the entire parade. It was also a great place to catch beads. By the time the parade was over, my neck was covered in assorted, colorful beads of various sizes. It was a parade unlike any other I have ever experienced. If you happen to visit New Orleans on Easter weekend I urge you to check out all of the parades!
With the festivities of the day coming to an end, Hailey and I decided to go back to the Gumbo Shop for our last supper. I ordered their Jambalaya and a cocktail. I enjoyed the meal, but it didn’t beat the gumbo dish I had ordered the first night. As we made our way back to the hotel on foot, we stopped in various gift shops, checking out the plethora of souvenirs and shirts. I didn’t want to end the night without purchasing a big frozen drink, so we stopped into Big Easy Daiquiris. They have four locations and lined up at the bar are machines mixing several frozen cocktail flavors with different proofs of alcohol. $13 and a brain freeze later, I was enjoying my last evening cocktail as we walked back to the hotel, not entirely ready or looking forward to packing up my things.
We had some time to kill before our flights so we decided to grab breakfast at Daisy Dukes. They serve your typical breakfast fare but with some Cajun flare. I ordered the Alligator Omelet which came with a biscuit and hash browns as a side. I also ordered a Bloody Mary, but it was pretty plain compared to the other Bloody Marys I had throughout the trip. After saying goodbye to Hailey I took my luggage down to the concierge desk so they could hold on to it until it was time for me to leave. I had spotted a cute little coffee shop on our way to breakfast and I thought that would be the perfect place to sit and relax before I needed to head to the airport. Fourth Wall Coffee & Bar is a cozy cafe with different seating arrangements inside and outside that you can choose from. They also have a table with books that you can read or peruse through during your stay. If it wasn’t windy I would have sat outside, but instead I stayed inside and sipped on my caramel latte while people watching. The time flew by and before I knew it I was heading back to the hotel and in a taxi heading for the airport.
New Orleans is one place I recommend everyone to experience at least once in their lifetime. There’s so much to do which for some people may seem overwhelming, but trust me when I say it isn’t. The only things Hailey and I had booked in advance were the tours we took. We used the Go City app where you can purchase a 1, 2, 3, or 5-day pass which allows you access to different tours, museums, and attractions around the city. We decided to go with the two day pass for our tours which was well worth the money. We even found a coupon code so we only ended up spending $89. The app gives you a QR code which makes scanning at each destination quick and easy. Besides booking tours in advance, I suggest leaving the itinerary at home. Walk around the streets of New Orleans and just take everything in. The music, the food, the people, the culture, the history. You won’t be disappointed.
Until the next adventure ✈️