By Maxx Grossman
A Mother-Daughter Trip
When choosing a location for a mother-daughter trip we had three core criteria: warm climate, good food and live music. What better place for all three than New Orleans! Over our jam packed 5-day trip, the Big Easy undoubtedly settled itself among our top trips. It surprised and delighted us at every turn, gifting us with memories we won’t soon forget!
For our trip, we decided to stay out of the fray and clamor of the French Quarter in the quieter and charming Garden District which I cannot recommend enough. Developed in the early 19th century, the Garden District is one of the best-preserved collections of historic Southern mansions in the United States. Walking through this area, it is easy to picture yourself stepping into a different time with large, leafy oak trees shading streets lined with grand Southern homes. Through the middle of the street runs a jaunty trolley which can take you to Bourbon Street in 15 minutes for only $1.50 (or $3 for an unlimited day pass). Nestled in this southern charm, is a small boutique hotel called The Chloe. Housed in one of the Garden District’s iconic mansions, the Chloe blends old world charm with a vibrant and eclectic modern style. Its dark interior is adorned with colorful décor that creates an elevated yet cozy feel. The Chloe also hosts an excellent modern Creole restaurant by Chef Todd Pulsinelli that celebrates its southern roots with creative cocktails and treats like a wild mushroom French dip sandwich. It also has the best French Fries I have had in recent memory. However, the shining feature of the Chloe, and what sold us on the stay in the first place, is the beautiful salt-water pool and comfortable back patio. The Chloe and its relaxing poolside served as an excellent home base and reprieve during our busy New Orleans adventure.
The first day we struck out to the French Quarter to walk Bourbon Street. The interior of most buildings on Bourbon Street host bars, fast food and industrial sized operations for making frozen drinks and hurricanes. The exteriors boast bright Caribbean colors and Spanish balconies with complex ironwork that are hallmarks of 18th and 19th century architecture for which the French Quarter is known. For lunch we found ourselves at the Acme Oyster House for po-boys, hush puppies and grilled oysters. We took two hurricanes to go (there are no open container laws in New Orleans – take advantage!) and walked down to Jackson Square – a picturesque, European feeling park in the shadow of the famed St Louis Cathedral. We beelined through the park, across the street to Café du Monde. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Café du Monde is famous for their chicory coffee and beignets. And boy do those beignets live up to their hype! Each serving comes with several fluffy pastries warm, light and dusted copiously with powdered sugar. In a state of food coma bliss, my mother and I made our way back to the trolley ensuring we stopped at Faulkner House Books on the way back to the hotel.
We decided to take advantage of the sunshine and walk around the Garden District. We strolled down Prytania street ogling at the grandeur of each home and reading the detailed historical plaques dotted around the neighborhood. Be warned, the sidewalks in the Garden District look like they have lived through multiple earthquakes or nuclear wars (or both), so I recommend sensible shoes and a keen eye on the ground for this walk. The must-see highlights include the Briggs-Staubs House, George Washington Cable House, the Women Opera Guild and Colonel Short’s Villa. After our walk, we rested our weary feet by the Chloe’s sunny poolside and prepared for the night ahead.
We started our evening at the St. Vincent Hotel, a former orphanage run by nuns, which has been elegantly converted to a mixed art deco style hotel. At one of St Vincent’s two bars, we ordered a Pimm’s cup, a traditional sweet Southern cocktail, and a specialty Bergamotto Martini. From St. Vincent, we headed to Bacchanal Wine and Spirits, a wine shop and outdoor music venue in Bywater. Arriving at Bacchanal you feel like you’ve stumbled upon a local’s spot. The backyard gives a congenial feel of a neighborhood barbeque with excellent live jazz and even better wine and cheese. After watching mouth-watering cheese plates drift by for an hour or so, my mother and I ended our night at Shaya, a Mediterranean restaurant on Magazine Street known for their silky hummus and pillow soft pita.
The highlight of our third day in town was a long walk down Magazine Street – a six-mile stretch of quirky shops, thrift stores, antiques and art galleries. We enjoyed grabbing a quick pastry at La Boulangerie and exploring Century Girl Vintage and Trashy Diva Clothing Boutique. For nighttime entertainment, we headed to the groovy Oak Street area to eat at Jacques-Imos, an eclectic and lively dive bar with excellent cornbread and southern bites. Afterward, we headed next door to the famed Maple Leaf Bar. Maple Leaf has been in operation since 1974 and boasts live music 7 days a week from a myriad of talented acts ranging from local legends and up and comers to Grammy award winning artists. The space is bare bones, the focus here is the music.
After a night of hushpuppies, cornbread and music, we opted for a leisurely morning. We started our day with late brunch at the Country Club, located in Bywater. The Country Club is an expansive white colonnade building that offers daily access to a pool in their lush backyard as well as an energetic Drag Brunch in their restaurant during the weekends. While this was not my favorite meal of the trip, I would do it again in a heartbeat as the drag queens put on an excellent performance that had the whole restaurant up and dancing.
As our time in New Orleans ended, we opted for one final festive night on the town. We dined at Compere Lapin an elevated Euro-Caribbean take on New Orleans classics by the fantastic chef Nina Compton. Each dish we ordered was thoughtfully composed and mouthwateringly delicious. This food, along with the kind and engaging staff, made this the best meal of the trip. After eating our fill, we headed to Snug Harbor a historic jazz venue on Frenchman Street. If you like live music, Frenchman Street is a must visit. The street is lined, bar after bar, with live bands playing jazz, blues, and Motown. The music spills into the road with musical acts setting up outside bars, in the street, or for one performer – in the bed of a parked truck. Snug Harbor is a great place to start your night if you are looking for a sit-down jazz show. Don’t be surprised if famed music legends jump on stage to join in for a song or two – we were blessed to see Martha Reeves perform when we visited. After our show at Snug Harbor, we popped across the street to the nighttime artist market before exploring other great venues on Frenchman like The Spotted Cat, Café Negril and Bamboula’s Music.
For our final day in New Orleans, we took in the flora and fauna of Louisiana with a Swamp tour of the Bayou. There are a several outfitters who offer tours of the swamp. We did ours through Cajun Encounters. The Bayou is a 45-minute ride outside the city which Cajun Encounters offers a bus ride to and from. We were absolutely delighted with the tour. Riding on a flat bottom boat, we met plenty of alligators, wild pigs, egrets and other local birds. The guide was knowledgeable, and the swamp boasts beautiful scenery unlike anything you’ll see here in Fairfield County. It is worth the trip out of the city.
Once back in New Orleans, we packed up, said our goodbyes to The Chloe and rolled out to the airport. We made sure to stop at Napoleon House in the French Quarter on our way to grab two vegetarian Muffuletta sandwiches for the plane to ensure there was no southern food stone left unturned.
Overall, I cannot recommend a vacation to New Orleans enough. It feels like taking an international trip without needing to pull out your passport. The Big Easy is like a world unto its own with an intricate history and rich culture proudly on display. And if the food and exceptional music don’t win you over – the friendly people and easy living will!