There is a wonderful song, “My Dawlin’ New Orleans” sung by Lil’ Queenie and the Percolators featured on the soundtrack from the HBO series, “Treme.” The series, based on some truths, chronicled the debacle of Hurricane Katrina and attempts at rebirth. You can purchase the entire series featuring all of the seasons on DVD through Amazon and the soundtracks through iTunes.
My Dawlin New Orleans
My Sprawling Home Town
The Magnolia Melancholy Highway
Softly Set me Down
In Corner Bars
On Street Cars
Celing Fans . . .
New Orleans is the easiest way for Americans to experience a taste of Paris without leaving their home county. Indeed, NOLA is the single most heavily French influenced city in America, followed by Philadelphia. The French influence is readily apparent in the architecture, food, music and street signs, all of which are on full display in the Vieux Carre (French Quarter), a National Historic Landmark.
Since the 1960’s the Vieux Carre has been viewed as a diverse and desirable residential community, where a bank president may live next door to a bartender. The neighborhood was prized for its economic, racial and gender diversity and acceptance.
When a friend moved their 20 years ago, there was already gentrification going on, and residents complained about the increase in the number of high-end condos, hotels and businesses that were displacing residents. Scholars refer to the phenomenon impacting the French Quarter today as “super-gentrification,” which means the movement of even wealthier residents into previously gentrified neighborhoods. According to realtor.com, there are presently 97 homes for sale in the French Quarter with a median sales price of $749,000.
The population of the French Quarter has gone from 11,000 people at its height to just over 3,800 people today. The number of full-time residents is even lower. Rents in the Vieux Carre have been doubling and tripling as of late for both retail and residential. Indeed, many of the service industry professionals and entertainers who moved to the French Quarter to live and work can no longer afford to live there. Some of my friends have moved out of the neighborhood.
In addition to economic gentrification, scholars point to tourism gentrification as another reason for the residential population decline. Tourism gentrification occurs when, for purposes of urban revitalization and to increase the tax base, residents are displaced by hotels, casinos, T-shirt and souvenir shops, restaurants and bars.
If one is looking for the silver lining in tourism gentrification, there are a variety of lodging choices and a plethora of restaurants and bars in The Big Easy. In a city known both for its elegance and its decadence, expect to eat. A lot. Heavy, rich foods. Don’t worry. You can burn off the calories walking around all day. On this trip, I visited some of the icons, including Brennan’s, Commander’s Palace, Antoine’s and Galatoire’s. Everything at every establishment was scrumptious. I also paid visits to some of my favorites, including Café Amelie on Rue Royal, where I dined al fresco in the courtyard feeling very much like I was actually in Paris.
Brennan’s is worth a visit because the establishment recently re-opened after a $20 million renovation. We had the obligatory Bananas Foster table side, as this is where it was invented in the 1950’s when the restaurant didn’t want to waste over-ripened bananas. While there, be sure to check out the bird cage chandeliers above the bar and the various array of oyster serving plates decorating the walls.
Commander’s Palace has been around since 1880 and has launched the remarkable careers of a string of talented chefs, including Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme. We had a private room, as there were 14 of us celebrating the 50th birthday of a friend from Aruba making her first-time visit to NOLA. Of course we gorged on praline sundaes and bread pudding soufflé.
Antoine’s holds the distinction of being the country’s oldest family run restaurant. Visit for lunch, when the three-course menu only costs as much as the year, currently $20.16. They also feature 25 cent cocktails.
Avoid all the Hoo-Haw at Galatoire’s by eating next door at Galatoire’s 33 Bar & Steak. The bar area had no wait, and I had the most delicious crab cake of my entire life. It was a meal in itself with a baked bread crumb topping and a warm remoulade underneath. It’s not so much a crab cake as a delectable serving of jumbo blue lump crab. For $15 this might be the best deal on Bourbon Street!
I have been visiting the Crescent City for 20 years now, and each time I discover new treasures. This year, friends and I paid a visit to Preservation Hall. Preservation Hall was established in 1961 to honor one of America’s truest art forms – Traditional New Orleans Jazz. Operating as a music venue, a touring band, and a non-profit organization, Preservation Hall continues its mission today as a cornerstone of New Orleans music and culture. You can purchase “Big Shot” tickets in advance online for $45 each, which allows you to avoid the tremendously long lines that form for the three nightly shows at 8, 9 and 10. You also are seated in the front row, up close and personal with the entertainers.
Just down the street from Preservation Hall, at the corner of St. Peter and Bourbon is the Maison Bourbon, a club dedicated to the preservation of jazz and featuring tremendously talented live musicians. There is no cover charge but a one drink per person minimum per set. This works out to be much less expensive than Preservation Hall and less crowded.
While my most recent visit was over the holiday season, there’s really no bad time of year to visit New Orleans, so long as you can stand the “air that you wear” in the summer humidity. Most locals would not advise to visit for Fat Tuesday, mostly because Mardi Gras is a season, not a day. There are parade schedules and krewes that involve thousands of dollars with elaborate costumes and floats during the Carnival Season. Some of the best parades do not take place on Fat Tuesday, so check the schedule. Also, Fat Tuesday fluctuates from year to year based on Easter, so plan accordingly. Easter, incidentally, is also known for grand parades. One of my favorite times to visit is the spring, which offers mild temperatures and two hugely popular festivals: The French Quarter Fest and the Jazz Fest.
Do not fret, for no matter when you visit the City Beneath the Sea, you will undoubtedly experience a parade or two, and perhaps a festival, for it seems that every time someone sneezes, there’s an obligatory celebration to mark the occasion. There is even a parade department at the Police Station, and you only need three people for a parade permit. Just sayin’. Laissez les bons temps rouler and lay your burdens down at the Foot of Canal!