New Orleans Trip Report, June 2018

I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one. — John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

Day Two

Today was essentially Eating Day, with meals at two of the Brennan family’s famous restaurants, sandwiched with a bit of wandering around on my own. I like both eating and being on my own, so this was a good day.

This was also the day before I left for the wedding site, so encroaching nerves meant that said meals were a bit heavy on the booze.

I started the day where days in New Orleans are meant to be started:

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Breakfast at Brennan’s is one of those things that’s all touristy, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s that darn good. Top notch service, top notch food and booze at breakfast. Can’t beat that.

I won’t go too much into my three-course, three-cocktail breakfast (though you should check out my dining report), but let’s just say I was feeling pretty good when I rolled back out into the Louisiana heat.

My destination?

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I am not a frilly girl by nature, but I had a wedding to attend, and I needed to spruce up my nails. I don’t know how I ended up choosing Salon D Nola (or, specifically, the nail side of the business, Salon D Nola Too) on Burgundy Street, but it was an awesome choice.

Very chic, but full of Southern Hospitality…so, very NOLA.

My nail artist even talked me into leaning away from my plain, boring beige nails, with what she called a “party nail”: one coordinating, sparkly nail on each hand.

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That’s about as fancy as I get, folks.

Afterwards, I  headed back to the room because it was hella hot. I spent as much time as I could on the balcony (interspersed with cool downs in the air conditioning), immersing myself in New Orleans culture.

Or not:

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Eventually, it was time to get ready for dinner. I left a bit early to do some shopping on Royal, mostly for the pralines I have to carry home with me from each trip. I also found myself in one of dozens of shops full of hot sauce and Louisiana souvenirs, and found this little guy:

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He’s a voodoo doll! Isn’t he the cutest?! Somehow I let B talk me out of him, and I still regret it…

It was finally time for dinner at Mr. B’s Bistro. I got there right at opening, but had to wait at the bar forever … where I entertained myself with their Orange Julius (no relation to your local mall).

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When I did sit down, I almost left because of the crap-ass table they stuck me at. So glad I didn’t. Mostly because of these:

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I am not even a huge seafood fan, but these Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Grits and Red Eye Gravy is the stuff of dreams.

I even found a recipe, and may attempt it myself. Or I will just go back…

After dinner and a bit more shopping, I landed back on the balcony in time to watch a Second Line go right underneath.

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Definitely the right way to end an all-too-short New Orleans break.

Read about Day One.

 

New Orleans Trip Report, June 2018

There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better. — Bob Dylan

I don’t quite know how we got here, but my daughter – who was just born yesterday – got married.

I suppose it happens to the best of us.

How do you cope with watching your baby girl walk down the aisle and feeling yourself turn into an old person at the same time? You go to New Orleans, of course!

Day One

The only thing I remember about the flight out from San Francisco is the flight attendants fussing over where to put my Mother of the Bride (!) dress. So, I guess it must have been fine.

One thing that was not fine was the damn, oppressive, sticky heat that caused my hair to cling to my scalp the second I walked off the plane. When I go “back home,” I always spend my time on the trip out thinking that maybe I should move back.

And then I get off the plane and remember why that won’t happen.

Still, as a teacher, B had no choice but a summer wedding, so I soldiered on. Things got much better when I walked into my room at the Royal Sonesta.

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On my way to my room, I ran into one of the bellmen or doormen (not sure, exactly), who pointed to my cane and asked if I was in a skiing accident. I laughed and said no, then for some reason I confessed I needed it since cancer treatment.

I should have known, that in the South, that’s a good way to get fussed over. He loudly said that was something to celebrate and asked for my room number. He insisted on getting my bags personally, and when he brought them up, he had a bottle of champagne.

He told me he was proud of me, and then told me about his girlfriend, who was sadly lost to the disease. We both cried a little and hugged and he told me he’d pray for me.

It was good to be home.

I spent a few minutes photographing the room and seeing the sights from the balcony.

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But it was still early afternoon, so I decided to start my trip with some New Orleans beignets.

With my pain levels and the humidity, I knew I didn’t want to limp several blocks to Jackson Square for Cafe du Monde (plus, I hate the joint). Fortunately, when I asked a man downstairs, he turned and pointed at the answer: Cafe Beignet, right out the doors.

Bourbon Street is not my favorite street in the world, I ain’t gonna lie to you. I guess my first time I might have been impressed (I was in my early 20s and hadn’t seen much of the world yet), but now all I see are beggars, grifters, kids way too young banging on drums way too loudly in hopes of a buck, and an overwhelming smell of pee.

Fortunately, years of working in downtown San Francisco have made me immune, and I pushed my way through the sea of humanity, refusing to make eye contact with anyone who asked me where I got my shoes.*

Okay, Cafe Beignet isn’t right across the street, but close enough. Entering it is like entering another world from Bourbon Street. You pass under this arch, past the statues of jazz legends, and you’re somewhere else altogether. Somewhere a lot quieter and not so crazy.

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It’s all stone floors and green cast iron furniture. There’s a little covered area decorated with lights and vines, and there were live jazz players there every time I walked by.

I walked straight back and down a couple of steps to the ordering area. It was super laid back and not at all crowded. I placed my order at one end of the counter, and by the time I was at the other end, my three beignets and iced chicory coffee were waiting for me.

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Now, I understand how this works, with all the powdered sugar. And yet I still wore black and of course I coughed just as I raised the first beignet to my lips, disappearing briefly in a powdered sugar fog.

As B’s stepmother said later: “Aww. You had a tourist moment!”

I made my way back to the room to change out of my spotted clothes, and spent a bit of time on the patio, watching the crowds go by on Conti. I took a shower with the most delicious smelling mango and coconut bath products I’ve ever used, then dressed in my finest duds and headed to my dinner at Arnaud’s, stopping at the adjacent French 75 bar for the eponymous cocktail.

There, I fell in love with this chair. I will find this chair one day, and I will marry it.

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You can read about my dinner here, but suffice it to say that my first visit to this restaurant will not be my last. Absolutely amazing meal.

Look, I’m not saying that I went back to the hotel, did some people watching and headed to bed at 8pm. But I’m not saying I didn’t.

I will say I had one of the best nights of sleep I’d had in ages, even with the eternal party that is Bourbon Street right around the corner.

Read about Day Two.

*This is a very common con job in New Orleans (though it’s becoming less so as people spread the word). Someone jolly will come up in the street and jokingly say, “I bet I know where you got your shoes!” If you say ‘Where?’ he says: “On your feet.” Then he becomes much less jolly and demands payment, since you ‘lost the bet.’ Don’t get sucked in; you can say that you’re local or tell him your shoes are on your feet, but I think it’s best to ignore them.

New Orleans Second Line

Jazz grew up in a thousand places, but it was born in New Orleans. — Nick Larocca

On my recent stay at the Royal Sonesta in New Orleans, this second line passed right under my balcony on Conti Street, making its way to Bourbon.

You know, just a Tuesday in the Big Easy…

And yes, I admit it: I was less than steady with the camera work. It may or may not have something to do with a Sazerac.

Royal Sonesta New Orleans

America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland. — Tennessee Williams

I love New Orleans, and since my daughter lives in the area, I have a built in excuse to visit the city. To see her, I mean.

Of course.

Anyway, I’ve been searching for a home base: a hotel that’s in the French Quarter, feels safe, and is also a lovely place.

That search ended when I entered the Royal Sonesta hotel.

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Nestled between Bienville and Conti streets, the hotel faces Bourbon Street, giving it one of the most sought-after addresses in the city.

The Royal Sonesta is nothing like the loud, raucous world right outside the front door, however; it’s elegant, refined, cool and quiet, with a beautiful and spacious lobby and a lush courtyard.

One of the best parts of this hotel is that many rooms open onto balconies. Looking for the all-night party vibe? Get a room overlooking Bourbon Street. Want something a bit more sedate? Try a balcony along one of the side streets or one that looks over the interior courtyard.

I chose a side-street balcony above Conti street and could not have been happier with my choice.

How’s this for classic New Orleans?

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First of all, despite being within eyeshot of Bourbon Street, the side street-facing room and balcony were remarkably quiet and relaxing. 

The balconies are also gorgeous, as you can see, with lots of iron filigree and a white painted roof. There’s not much furniture, just the green plastic chairs you see here, which are comfortable enough for lounging in the Louisiana heat.

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Now one thing about the balconies: You’re likely going to share them with your neighbors. There are some rooms with private balconies, but I believe most balconies are shared every two rooms or so. I was a bit nervous about this, but after a brief hello, I never really even saw my neighbors out there and I didn’t hear them at all.

I also felt very safe, partly because the doors have heavy locks. Still, if this makes you uneasy, you might try a non-balcony room. Which is fine, because…

This is the best hotel room I’ve ever been in. Not even kidding.

The decor, the comfy bed, the quiet…it was just all around perfect. And while I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it was also dark and the air conditioning could go pretty low, which is exactly how I like it. I had the best sleep of my life in this room.

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They also had the nicest coco-mango scented shampoo, conditioner and bath gel. I wanted to eat it. (I didn’t.) You can also buy it on Amazon.

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Now, all of that said, there are a few reasons this might not end up being your ‘best hotel room’ ever, the first of which I mentioned above: It’s pretty dark.

Another reason is that these rooms are small.

See the photo above? That’s pretty much the size of the room. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration…but not by much. Truth is, this is an older hotel (celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019) and rooms were smaller when it was built.

Now, this was fine by me. I’m used to small hotel rooms in the classic, older San Francisco hotels, and I was alone. If you have a family or expect more space, you should plan accordingly.

However, if you choose another hotel, you won’t get to see sights like this going by right below you:

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A few more things to note…

While I didn’t eat there personally this time, the Royal Sonesta has a very highly-regarded restaurant: Restaurant R’evolution. They not only have classic New Orleans dishes (like their gumbo “three ways” – with roasted quail, andouille and oysters), but classy fare such as high-end steaks, fine cheeses and their “caviar staircase.” They also serve a jazz brunch on weekends.

I’m definitely planning on a reservation for my next trip: They had me at caviar staircase.

In addition to R’evolution, the hotel also boasts Desire Oyster Bar, which opens onto Bourbon. (They serve oysters. FYI.) The Jazz Playhouse is also a great place to knock a few drinks back and listen to some smooth jazz.

I highly recommend the Royal Sonesta. It’s New Orleans at its finest.

Royal Sonesta New Orleans
300 Bourbon Street | 504-586-0300