Visiting New Orleans:
A Traveler's Perspective
The familiar tourist attractions in New Orleans including Jackson Square are open, spiffed up, and welcoming visitors once again.*
by Vivian Holley
Can you still have fun in the French Quarter? Along with all who love New Orleans and have made regular visits to soak up the perpetual party, wondrous meals and spirit-lifting music, I had wondered how it would be, post-Katrina. I thought it might feel uncomfortable, even depressing, to be there.
I was wrong. It feels good–and yes, fun–to be back on the evocative old streets.
True, the crime rate is a continuing problem, and huge challenges remain for residents who were hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. Many have not moved back, which leaves some hotels and restaurants short of help and pressed to maintain high standards of service. But there’s no mistaking the welcome.
I returned to New Orleans in late January 2007 – a year and a half past the dark days of August 2005 when Katrina wreaked her havoc. And I found the city in considerably better shape than I anticipated. In the familiar haunts of the French Quarter and other neighborhoods lucky enough to be on higher ground, you would never know a storm passed this way if not for the notably spiffed-up properties and attractions.
Tourists are now out and about in the French Quarter, as here viewing sidewalk artwork.*
Hotel Development and Upgrades
Indeed, the Crescent City is full of surprises. Not the least of them is a gleaming new 26-floor downtown hotel, optimistically launched last September. At the corner of Poydras and Fulton streets, Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel (504-533-6000 or www.harrahs.com), 228 Poydras St., is handy to the French Quarter as well as the Warehouse District-turned-Arts District with its up-and-running galleries and museums.
The new Harrah's New Orleans Hotel is convenient to the French Quarter and linked to the Harrah's Casino.*
The hotel is linked to Harrah’s Casino (504-533-6000 or www.harrahs.com), 8 Canal St., by a tunnel beneath Poydras Street. When I was there, the casino was wall-to-wall with visitors eager to try their luck at the 2,100 slots, 92 table games and 23-table poker room. Every table was occupied in the Casino’s Besh Steakhouse (504-533-6000 or www.harrahs.com), 8 Canal St., home of savory beef fare from noted Louisiana chef John Besh.
Within the hotel is the hot new Riche (504-533-6117 or www.harrahs.com) – a fine-dining French brasserie created by celebrity chef Todd English. Adjacent to Riche, tucked inside an 1852 building, is a sizzling new jazz club called 528 by Todd English. Both are prime aspects of Harrah’s new and burgeoning Fulton Street promenade that borders the hotel. The restaurant and jazz club are connected and can be entered from the hotel lobby or from the Fulton Street promenade.
Among key properties back in business is the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans (800-241-3333 or www.ritzcarlton.com), 921 Canal St., re-opened in December 2006 and showing off a $100 million renovation. Due this spring is an expanded spa.
The re-born Ritz’s new restaurant, Melange (504-524-1331 or www.ritzcarlton.com) – in a singular switch from its predecessor, Victor’s – is spotlighting specialties from some 20 of the city’s best-known dining venues. The backdrop: live jazz.
The less-damaged Windsor Court (800-262-2662 or www.windsorcourthotel.com), 30 Gravier St., re-opened in November 2005, continues to unveil fresh offerings such as the new Club Lounge that debuted early this year. The former Grill Room, famed for both its menu and wine list, is now the New Orleans Grill. Also new for the elegant restaurant–who’d have thought?–is a no-tie policy.
Most of the downtown hotels are on the open-doors list, including two W properties, two Wyndhams, multiple Marriotts, the Monteleone (504-523-3341 or www.hotelmonteleone.com), 214 Royal St.; Omni Royal Orleans (504-529-5333 or www.omniroyalorleans.com), 621 St. Louis St.; Royal Sonesta (504-586-0300 or www.sonesta.com), 300 Bourbon St.; and Holiday Inn Downtown Superdome (504-581-1600 or www.hi-neworleans.com), 330 Loyola Ave.
By the end of 2006, the Louisiana Restaurant Association counted some 700 restaurants relaunched downtown and in the French Quarter, Warehouse District and Garden District/Uptown. Among perennial favorites:
Plenty of Fun Diversions
Beignets and savory chicory coffee are back in the Big Easy; yes, you can get your fix at Cafe Du Monde.*
There’s much to put smiles on the faces of the faithful. You can ride the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar and hear jazz masters at Preservation Hall (504-522-2841), 726 St. Peter St., scatter powdered sugar at Café Du Monde (504-581-2914 or www.cafedumonde.com), 800 Decatur St., or tap your toes at Tipitina’s (504-566-7095 or wwwtipitinas.com), 233 N. Peters St.
The Cabildo, site of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase, reopened way back on Oct. 29, 2005 (as many of the city's attractions did, just months after Katrina) and offers tours daily.
The Cabildo, one of New Orleans' most famous historic buildings, reopened in 2005.*
You might also check out fancy floats at Mardi Gras World (504-361-7821 or www.mardigrasworld.com), 233 Newton St., and take a carriage through the quarter.
You can scour the major malls, browse for high-end antiques on Royal Street, and prowl eclectic little shops along miles of Magazine Street (866-679-4764 or www.magazinestreet.com). At the bustling-again riverfront, you can cruise the Mississippi on a paddlewheeler.
Three words are heard often in New Orleans these days: “better than ever.” And there’s no question that the city feels appealingly fresh, from its clean-swept streets to its spruced-up facades and newly painted interiors. For both hosts and visitors, it’s good to be back.
Breakfast at Brennan's Again
The building at 417 Royal Street records a fascinating past. In 1795, Don Vincente Rillieux–great-grandfather of French artist Edgar Degas–built the two-story structure that is home to Brennan’s Restaurant (504-525-9711 or www.brennansneworleans.com), 417 Royal St.
Breakfast at Brennan's is an institution, and now the restaurant is once again servin up its famed and "flamed" Bananas Foster!*
Katrina slammed the vintage establishment with winds and rain, smashing windows and taking out power. The restaurant re-opened last June, each of its 12 dining rooms displaying a handsome makeover.
No question that you can get a great dinner there. But Breakfast at Brennan’s is the stuff of legend. Decades of hungry travelers have congregated indoors or in the magnolia-shaded patio to order the likes of a sazerac or brandy milk punch from the “eye opener” menu.
It’s followed by a feast that might start with spicy turtle soup, move on to eggs in endless variations, and a signature dish like Grillades and Grits. De rigueur for dessert is flaming Bananas Foster–born right here at Brennan’s.
For More Information
New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau (504-566-5011 or www.neworleanscvb.com), 2029 St. Charles Ave.
New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (504-524-4784 or www.neworleansonline.com), 365 Canal St.
Vivian Holley is travel editor for Southern Seasons magazine, contributing editor for Recommend magazine, and an award-winning freelance travel writer/editor specializing in upscale travel including cruising. She is a longtime member of the Society of American Travel Writers, the Southeast Tourism Society, and the Atlanta Press Club.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and shown courtesy of Harrah's New Orleans and Brennan's of New Orleans. All rights reserved. Please do not link to or copy these photos. Thank you.