Thursday, March 30, 2017

That Voodoo That You Do: The 10 Best Things I Did in New Orleans


I went to New Orleans! I had a great time! I Instagrammed about it incessantly!

While most of my good pics have already shown up on IG, I wanted to take a sec to share a little but more about some of my favorite parts of the trip. While in New Orleans, we...

1. Stayed in a super-trendy hotel

Our home base for the weekend was the Moxy, a Marriott-owned hotel between the French Quarter & the business district. When we walked into the hotel lobby, we were struck by the lack of registration desk; instead, all we saw was a bar! Turned out they were one & the same, & when we checked in (yes, at the bar), we were also given a "welcome cocktail." Now that's some Southern hospitality, y'all. 


2. Ate beignets

This wasn't high on Mike's list of priorities, but having been to New Orleans before, I knew this was right at the top of mine. In the past, I'd only eaten them from the famed Cafe DuMonde, but this time around, we went the Cafe Beignet route. We still had to wait, but for far less time than we would've at Cafe DuMonde... & for beignets that were just as delicious. We ate them in a little garden patio next to a stray cat sunning itself in a flowerbed.  


3. Learned all about old medical stuff

My friends made fun of me for the fact that I couldn't stop, wouldn't stop, when it came to talking about the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. Mike & I loved it! This museum was two floors in a smallish space with a gorgeous secret garden out back (dedicated to Walgreens, lol). It's jam-packed with evidence of & information about early medicines, superstitious cures, & even an old-timey birthing room complete with four-poster bed.  


4. Listened to live music on Frenchmen Street

Frenchmen is known for its jazz, but truth be told, we didn't end up listening to much of it. Instead, we found a couple chill spots that had low-key music & smaller crowds that were a little bit more our speed. We also went during the daytime, which kept things from getting too raucous. Let me tell you, drinking Abita Strawberry Lager while taking in live music in an open-air restaurant is pretty much the perfect way to spend a sunny day. 


5. Drank at the oldest bar in America

Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar, built between 1722 & 1732, is said to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the U.S. (though a Rhode Island bar claims the same title). It's small, a little dirty, & lit at night only by candles, but its ope-air structure makes it a perfect place to hang out on a sunny day. We grabbed Hurricanes from the bar, befriended a traveling Australian dude in a Space Jam jersey, & settled in for a few hours of people-watching.  


6. Ate a lot of shrimp

Again, this was more me than Mike, but, man, I love me some fresh shrimp, & I never quite trust shrimp available in Ohio unless it's from some nice restaurant - which usually means it's expensive, too. In New Orleans, fresh gulf shrimp is everywhere, prepared in every way. I ordered shrimp & grits, coconut shrimp, a fried shrimp po'boy... basically New Orleans turned me into Bubba Gump, & a very happy one, at that.


7. Looked into a little bit of voodoo

The first time I was in New Orleans, I visited the Voodoo Museum but didn't pay to enter the exhibits, just wandered around the creepy little gift shop out front. This time, I paid the entrance fee, & as Mike predicted, regretted it almost immediately. Though there are some informative plaques & other info behind the (literal) curtain, the exhibits are essentially just voodoo shrines that visitors are encouraged to build upon by adding their own offerings. I confess that, as unimpressed as I was, I did add a $1 bill to the mix. Hey, just in case, right? 


8. Dined at majorly impressive restaurants

We started our visit with a Thursday-night dinner at Israeli-themed Shaya, 2016 James Beard award-winner for Best New Restaurant in the U.S. The food was, as expected, amazing, but the lamb ragu hummus & the babaganoush were especially delicious. On Saturday morning, we met friends for lunch at Toups South, owned by three-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef in the South Isaac Toups, also a former Top Chef contestant. I ordered (surprise!) - shrimp, this time abed ham-braised peanuts & pumpkin mash. Weird but tasty!



9. Learned all about Southern food

Conveniently attached to Toups South is the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, which is split up into state-based exhibits to teach visitors about the history of food & drink in each geographic region - like The Shed in Mississippi, Smith Island Cakes in Maryland, & Popeye's right there in Louisiana. It was so weird to learn about food traditions right here in the U.S. that might as well be foreign to me, as a northerner! Also inside the SoFAB, as its known, are the Museum of the American Cocktail’s New Orleans collection and La Galerie d’Absinthe. Lots to see!


10. Experienced a second line

We were in town for the wedding of my dear friend Jill, who was marrying a fellow Tulane grad, Michael. The "second line" is a New Orleans tradition of a brass band parade that plays after the wedding ceremony; the band itself is called the first line or the main line, & the marchers who follow them are the second line, sort of like a jazz Conga. The second line began as soon as the bride & groom walked down the aisle together as a newly married couple. They each got a tiny parasol, & all guests got a hashtagged handkerchief to wave as we followed the band in a parade through the venue.


Having a beautiful, joyful wedding to attend was the perfect excuse to get away to New Orleans for a long week. Mike & I had a great time, & I know I end every travel post this way, but we're literally already planning our next trip back. On day one of our visit, we texted two friends to ask if they'd want to return with us sometime soon!

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