Whether it’s your first time to New Orleans or your thirtieth, you might be looking for something a little different to do than stick to the French Quarter this Tales of the Cocktail. Not to say that you couldn’t spend your entire time in the Quarter and do something different every day, but there’s a whole city out there! Obviously, you’ll want to get in as many seminars and free cocktails as possible, but when you have a bit of down time, here are a few suggestions from a girl who has spent her formative drinking years exploring New Orleans.
First of all, yes, the food in New Orleans can be amazing. You should be eating too, since something needs to be in your stomach to deal with all that alcohol. On the map, I have pointed out all sorts of places, from the more traditional New Orleans-y style of food to the high-end “New American” restaurants that might hew close to today’s trends but turn out really amazing food. If you’re up for an adventure on the other side of the Mississippi River, you simply must try one of the many Vietnamese restaurants that populate the West Bank. Of course there are all the standard restaurants like Galatoire’s and Antoine’s and Arnaud’s in the Quarter, but those are already covered in every other tourist guide. I’ll let you peruse those sorts of things at your own discretion.
As for drinking, there’s also plenty of that to do here. You’ve probably heard that you can drink on the streets in New Orleans. That’s true. Just stick to cans and to-go cups, and don’t get caught taking a pint glass out of a bar—they don’t appreciate that. If there’s not a stack of plastic cups by the door, just ask the bartenders for one (or grab one yourself, they’re usually quite accessible). The streetcars don’t let you on with any drinks, and cabbies don’t take too kindly to them either; but if you’re walking, it’s all good. There are so many bars in this city; I can only point you to a few of my favorites. Don’t expect every bar to serve complicated cocktails, but you’ve probably had enough of those anyway! For a cheat sheet covering more than my preferences on the map, definitely bookmark the Gambit’s super helpful Best Bars of 2012 here.
If you can sneak away on Friday afternoon, you should head to the NOLA Brewery on 7th and Tchoupitoulas. Free brewery tours and beer at 2 PM. NOLA is available in a lot of bars around town, but some other beers to try while in New Orleans include all the Abitas, especially the Restoration Pale Ale, and LA 31 Bierre Pale.
One of New Orleans’ charms is the refined art of drinking cheap drinks in special places. I’ve marked quite a few on the map, including Ms. Mae’s – that college stand-by is still serving ridiculously cheap drinks all day every day, although they have raised their well price from $1 to $2.
As for music, the city is also, obviously, full of live music. Bourbon Street usually has at least one brass band playing outside (usually right at Canal), but otherwise stay away from Bourbon if you’re looking for anything close to an authentic experience. Frenchman Street is usually a good bet, with live bands at most bars on the stretch between Esplanade and Royal. Just saunter along and see what sounds good! If you’re willing to travel a little more, Tipitina’s Uptown is a great place to catch music, especially during the summer on Fridays when they offer free shows. Pre-game at Mae’s or 45 Tchoup, or in the Rouse’s parking lot. Le Bon Temps is also a great place for cheap drinks and free music, and its right up the street. Beyond that, you can check the WWOZ Livewire Calendar for most of the city’s music schedule.
And here’s a surprise addition: outdoor activities! Although it can be ridiculously hot and sticky, there are other things to do outside besides drinking and dancing. Check out Audubon Park uptown for a peaceful place to exercise or relax, the Fly for a great view of the Mississippi River, City Park for museums, sculpture, games and exploring, and the Jean Lafitte Preserve for a little adventure in the swamp. Lake Pontchartrain has a lot of waterfront parks and spots to watch the water, but if you want to get a little more active, you can try and get yourself on a sailboat for Wednesday Night Racing through the New Orleans Yacht Club. If you get too hot, stop by the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, which also houses the Museum of the American Cocktail. You’ll learn about the history of all the foods and drinks you’ve been consuming, and you’ll really appreciate the air conditioning!
Getting around can be a little complicated. If you rent a car, that’s great, but it may not always be the best way to transport yourself when you’re going to a drinking convention. New Orleans public transportation isn’t always the most reliable or efficient, but it’s definitely cheap. You need $1.25 (exact change) to ride the busses and streetcars. Check the maps and not always accurate schedules here. To get to the Uptown places on the map, the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar is your best bet. It also offers you a little sight-seeing tour of all the gorgeous old mansions and houses on the Avenue. To get downtown to the Bywater/Marigny, there are only buses and they’re not always on time. Taking cabs is usually pretty reliable (United Cab’s number is 504-522-9771 – they’re one of the bigger companies) and not too expensive, but most don’t have an on-board credit card system. Bikes are a really useful and practical way to get around since the city’s pretty flat, but just keep an eye out for stupid drivers and narrow/non-existent bike lanes. There are a few bike rental companies, including Joy Bike Rentals, Bicycle Michaels, and Bike Nola.
And that’s my quick and dirty version of New Orleans. I wish everyone a simply splendid time at this year’s Tales. I hope you discover new drinks and new friends to drink them with.
*Notes on the map, due to Google’s weird icons:
- The theater icon I used for music venues
- There wasn’t a beer icon, so the martini glass represents all bars
- The people hiking means you can walk around outside? I guess