I will admit I’m lucky. I’ve had the same best friends for twenty years plus, and their friendship is a true blessing. One of them lives in New York City and the other in New Orleans. With my life in San Miguel and Austin, the rotation to see one another never disappoints. This summer, we descended upon New Orleans, and it was everything I hoped it would be and more.
Being from Texas, New Orleans is just a car ride away, but I’ve talked to many people in San Miguel who have never been to this magical city. An eclectic hybrid of African-American, French, and Spanish influences, New Orleans has a beat all its own. It’s Southern, so folks have manners, dammit. And it’s bohemian, the birthplace of Jazz. West African culture entwined with slave folk songs and European classical music to produce a wholly new, and uniquely American, art form in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This rich diversity continues to permeate every aspect of the New Orleans experience, a city teaming with great art, great restaurants, and great music.
We were super lucky to have the most amazing hostess be our guide for this experience. (Thank you, Mona)! Here are my notes from the trip. Enjoy!
Arrive at Chez Mona in Uptown*
Late Dinner at Justine
This James Beard Award finalist and 2016 winner for Best Chef in the South, is located in a renovated historic building with crazy artwork and hints of neon in the lighting and décor. It combines the sophistication of a Parisian brasserie with the offbeat sensibility of the French Quarter, as one is greeted by a mural of a woman riding a tiger. Book late on Fridays and Saturdays, and you’ll be immersed in the full experience of the space, with show girls and performance artists making the rounds while you dine.
Drag brunch at The Country Club
Located in the up and coming Bywater District, the historic house is flawlessly decorated in the Southern tradition with hints of whimsy and irreverence. With only two seatings on Saturday, reservations must be made about six months in advance. If you’re willing to duke it out for a seat at the bar, arrive a little before 1:00pm, just before the start of the second seating.
Go for the truffle macaroni and cheese and bottomless mimosas. (They’ll even send you on your way with a roadie if you ask for it)! Be sure to hit the ATM inside the bar when you arrive so you can properly tip the performers, who are dressed to the nines and lip synch to ALL the greats… Mariah, Whitney, and Xtina.
If you’re feeling hot (literally and figuratively) after all that deliciousness, you can head to the pool for a totally separate, but equally fun, party in the pool area. With waiters and a DJ, it’s a deal for $15, but it can be very crowded.
Beignets & Coffee at Café Du Monde
This world-famous café is a New Orleans institution. Hop in line out front and grab a table when one becomes available. A hostess is there to seat large groups, but for tables of two to four, just grab a seat yourselves. Their beignets are delicious and absolutely worth the wait.
Stroll Through Jackson Square
When you’re ready to walk off some of the fatness, jaunt across the street for a stroll through this historic park in the French Quarter. It is one of the most highly photographed spaces in the entire state of Louisiana and was originally designed by the Spanish in 1721. Once called Plaza d’Armas, it was renamed in 1856 to honor Andrew Jackson after the War of 1812. Local artists paint in the square and sell paintings along the iron fence.
Home to Chill & Get Dressed
Getting dressed up to go out was, and still is, a sport for the three of us. This was also a good time to grab some tums after all that rich food. You might as well start wearing a Spanx bodysuit from this point forward.
Small Bites & Cocktails at Bar MariLou
With delicious Mediterranean apertifs and craft cocktails, Bar MariLou is the perfect place for a low key, glamorous start to the evening. Located in the Maison de La Luz Hotel in the Warehouse District, the space is high on design. The interior was modeled after an imaginary muse, a Southern born Iris Apfel, and is absolutely stunning and swanky.
Rüfüs Du Sol at the Joy Theater
Our friend Jessica has ALWAYS been the one who scopes out the best concerts wherever we go, and in true Jessica fashion, she hit the nail on the head with Rüfüs Du Sol at the Joy Theater. Located within walking distance of Bar MariLou, the super intimate venue was on-point with a second story balcony overlooking the stage, next to a full bar and a bathroom. It felt a lot like a smaller version of the Moody Theater in Austin where ACL Live is taped. If there’s a good show playing there when you visit, totally go.
Tour of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Located across the street from Commander’s Palace in the Garden District is the beautiful and eerie Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Notable for the architectural significance of its tombs and mausoleums, the cemetery has been the site of many famous videos and films including Interview with the Vampire, which is said to have inspired Anne Rice when she was writing her novel. Active since 1833, the cemetery contains 1,100 family tombs and 7,000 individuals.
Brunch at Commander’s Palace
Commander’s Palace is just on another level. A New Orleans landmark since 1893, the restaurant has been run by the Brennnan family since the 1970’s. It was once run by Ella Brennan, America’s iconic female restauranteur whose life is the subject of a documentary called Commanding the Table. Credited with the invention of “Haute Creole” cuisine, Commander’s Palace is the winner of seven James Beard Awards and the former home of many famous chefs including Emeril Legasse.
Request seating in the upstairs Garden Room for a more intimate dining experience and a beautiful view of the gardens below. Custom carpets in the Garden Room depict the actual flowers in the Commander’s Palace gardens. For an extra special treat, request a flaming “celebration dessert” at least two days in advance of your reservation. And don’t forget to partake in the second line! Grab that napkin and follow in line behind the band.
Home to Digest & Rest
Peel off those Spanx and take a breather.
Dinner & Wine To-Go at Whole Foods
When you want something easy on the stomach and healthy, Whole Foods is always a great take-out option. Sushi, salads, and wine. Winning!
Breakfast at Home
Bacon. Eggs. Coffee. Pajamas.
Magazine Street for the Day
You definitely need a car for this. We started at the Ashely Longshore art gallery and finished with post-lunch shopping at the other end of Magazine Street.
Known for her wit and humor, Ashely Longshore is often recognized as this generation’s feminist version of Andy Warhol. Her commentary on fame, rich trophy wives, and the global financial system is simultaneously hilarious and tragic. Ring the bell outside for entrance to the gallery. Signed copies of her book are available for $22 US if you don’t want to shell out $20,000 for one of her paintings.
Head to down the way for a peak into the interior design world of tastemaker and influencer Rivers Spencer, whose Southern aesthetic is nationally recognized by House Beautiful and One Kings Lane. The space is full of beautiful clothes for sale as well as furniture, coffee table books, and jewelry.
On the same side of the street and up a little further is Katie Koch’s design showroom. Primarily known for her custom drapes business, she has a gorgeous showroom with plenty of vintage and contemporary furniture for sale, including authentic Beni Ouarain rugs, chandeliers, sofas and nick knacks.
Finish up this end of Magazine with a trip to the uber luxurious boutique, Pilot & Powell. Shoes, bags, accessories, things you totally don’t need, but want… This is the spot. With labels like Giambattista Valli, Marni, and Proenza Schouler.
Lunch at Tukey & the Wolf
This was the sleeper. What you would imagine is just a sandwich shop, is anything but just that. I was advised to order the collard greens sandwich. Yes, collard greens. On bread. This sandwich was so insanely delicious, I’ll never be able to fully enjoy a Ruben ever again. With a deviled egg & fried chicken skin appetizer and a sweet tea, this was my favorite meal of the entire trip.
Peony children’s store is an absolute delight for any mom (or grandmother) of young kids. With gorgeous smocked dresses, onsies, and toys, you can easily spend a fortune here. I found the cutest paper dolls and circus animal game for the plane ride home with Bea.
Our final stop was vintage shopping at Saint Claude Social Club. For the party girl in all of us, fun and colorful frocks sit alongside funky jewelry, bags, and hats all at very reasonable price points.
Home to Rest & Dress (& Maybe Take More Tums)
Dinner at Peche
Peche is a local staple for delicious sea food in an upscale, casual atmosphere. Winner of two James Beard Awards, Best New Restaurant in America and Best Chef in the South, the food DID NOT DISAPPOINT. Feeling weary after so much to eat this trip, I could have easily stayed in, but I’m glad I didn’t. The fried brussels sprouts were out of this world.
Doughnuts at Home
Cinnamon, glazed, you know the drill.
Lunch at Satsuma Café
We packed up all our stuff to go home and were ready for a lunch on the lighter (and healthier side) before heading out. The food was great, and the atmosphere welcoming and casual. I had a Quinoa Scramble that was utterly delicious. If you’re a tofu fan, it could also be made with tofu. Count on freshly made food with organic ingredients.
Garden District Historic Homes Tour
I was really hoping to fit in a walking tour of the historic homes in the Garden District, but there just wasn’t time. A drive was great though. The enormous Southern-style mansions are just breathtaking. You feel that history is alive and well.
My friend Maggie owns the Henry Howard Hotel in the Garden District with her husband. They sell adorable walking tour maps of the area with a full historical explanation of the sites on the map. A keepsake all their own, the maps cost $16 and are illustrated beautifully by a local illustrator.
Start at the hotel with a cocktail in their gorgeous Parlor Room. Located one block from the Mardi Gras parade route on the oak tree-lined St. Charles Avenue, the tour will take you through to best preserved Southern mansions in the country.
Coffee at French Truck Coffee
Another New Orleans staple, this was the perfect ending to our perfect trip. Order the NOLA Iced Coffee and hit the road. The crushed ice in all their drinks is Sonic-like and totally delicious!
Back to MSY via Uber and then home!
*Chez Mona is the home of my friend. Not some fancy hotel. But it is fancy… Just you can’t stay there unless you know her, you know? That would be weird.
Some of the things we wanted to do, but just couldn’t squeeze in…
Shopping at Victoria and Jean Therapy on Magazine
Cole Pratt Gallery
Anna Koeferl private studio tour
Raw Republic Juice Bar
St. Ross Market
Walk at City Park
Taking the kids to Storyland & Carousel Gardens
Touring the collector galleries on Julia Street