At Brennan’s, the frothy pink exterior denotes the fanciful, bold interiors that await.
The chargrilled oysters at Sac-a-Lait are sublimely drowned in a jalapeno-bacon garlic butter
The Ace Hotel’s lobby bar, adjacent to the Three Keys music venue, acts as a French art deco watering hole for tourists and locals alike.
Josephine Estelle, the osteria in the Ace Hotel, looks as good as its food tastes.
Hear New Orleans jazz at Preservation Hall, an intimate venue that’s been in the French Quarter since 1961
It’s what our waiter says one night when we admit it’s our first time in the city. “Welcome home, as I always say.” And you almost wish it were true. Entering New Orleans, you feel like you need a passport. With a delectable mix of French, Spanish, African and Catholic cultures, it doesn’t seem like any other city in America. And, yet, after a one-hour plane ride, many Atlantans will find the Louisiana city eatable, hospitable and easily relatable.
The Make-You-Wanna-Move-There Eatery
It begins like this: a seat next to a window foggy with New Orleans weather and a look at the cocktail menu organized from tamest to strongest. Then your waiter at Sac-a-Lait, located in the Warehouse District, will recommend you order from each of the three menu sections: Fish, Hunt and Farm. The dishes, again, arrive in order of lightest to heaviest, a small mercy in this city. In creating this exquisitely crafted restaurant, chefs Cody and Samantha Carroll oversee every detail—from the handcrushed oyster shell bar to the Cajun and Creole cuisine in the kitchen—to make it feel like home. Once you’ve returned to Atlanta (my condolences), you’ll still be thinking about the chargrilled oysters with jalapeno-bacon garlic butter served with French bread. The fried alligator and mirliton seasoned with honey powder, white remoulade and pickled mustard seeds will disappear so quickly you’ll reckon it must be voodoo. The Cajun crawfish pie with Tabasco honey is pure sin.
God is in the Details
Upon checking into the Ace Hotel New Orleans (rooms from $139 per night, suites from $809 per night, @aceneworleans), you enter an onyx-and-emerald-draped hipster oasis right on Carondelet in the Warehouse District. The fully stocked Smeg refrigerators are a nice touch, though not as nice as the feel of the hotel’s robes, which guests can be found lounging in even in public spaces. You’ll want to snap a pic out front backed by the lush greenery, in the linen-clad elevators and in the artfully designed Stumptown Coffee Roasters off the lobby. The lobby bar, surrounded by a West Elm catalogue of eclectic furniture, is definitely Insta-worthy, as are the drinks the hip bartenders sling behind it. By the time you make it to dinner at Josephine Estelle, you’ll want to have a charger on hand. With a palm leaf motif, buttery olive green leather banquets and a string of romantically lit bulbs, you’ll be content to simply sit in the critically acclaimed resto—but don’t. The osteria’s pasta-driven menu is worth a go or two, complemented by a delightful waitstaff. And if your phone is dead after dinner, simply pop into the vintage photo booth outside the elevator bank for an old-school ’gram.
Take a Walk
Once there, Atlantans might find many New Orleans streets familiar: magnolias dot the trees; the pigeons are as bold as our squirrels; the pedestrians are bolder. Only one key difference: You can actually walk the city. And, trust us, you’re going to want to walk. Turn around any corner or peek into any doorway to find that every route is a scenic route. Whether it’s the oak trees and the mansions of the Garden District, the gorgeous facades of the French Quarter or the perpetual party on Bourbon Street, your eyes will never be tired—even if your feet are. A to-go cocktail perfectly complements the Gulf air that clings to you in a magnolia- and bourbon-laden perfume. Open carry is not only allowed, but expected in this city (I have a sneaking suspicion the Mississippi River has a significant alcohol content). Stop by Cafe du Monde (@cafedumonde)—the line moves fairly quickly—for the famous fried-and-sugared beignets before stocking up on voodoo kits and gris-gris bags to take some of the magic of the city with you. If you want to forgo blisters, hop on one of the rickety streetcars rambling through, and you’ll glide right to your destination. It’s called The Big Easy for a reason.
Brunch with a Side of Jazz
At some point you start to get spoiled on the live music that keeps New Orleans moving. There are the awe-inspiring street performers, the Louisiana-tinged voices that call to you from down the street and, of course, the impressive numbers you can enjoy over brunch. At the colorfully chic Commander’s Palace (@commanderspalace), you can dive into the decadent fare—like the famous zesty turtle soup—while being serenaded by a live jazz ensemble. Plus, the best thing ever: The vodka for your bloody mary is served tableside from the block of ice into which it’s frozen. Afterward, take a languid stroll through the Garden District, or walk through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 right across the street where a genial local (who may or may not be a ghost; who’s to say?) will give you an insider tour of the moss-eaten tombs.
A Blast From the Past
There’s something brazenly honest about a city that buries its skeletons above ground; it’s a city that refuses to forget the past. In fact, it celebrates it. At Preservation Hall (@preservationhall), established in 1961, expect to hear music as it was meant to be heard— intimate, acoustic and celebratory. The BYOB venue is one room, sans air-conditioning, where you might end up kneeling, but will definitely end up dancing. By the time the band marches you around the room to “The Saints,” you’ll wonder why Friday nights aren’t always like this anymore. When the evening instills the jazz bug in you, you can venue-hop down Frenchmen Street, the musical epicenter of New Orleans. Local favorites like The Spotted Cat Music Club, Apple Barrel and Blue Nile, among others, capture the jazzy joie de vivre you won’t find anywhere else.
Pop, or Sever, a Bottle
You’ll go to Brennan’s to take a picture in front of the Millennial Pink facade, but on Fridays, head to The Roost Bar, which hosts a Champagne sabering in the courtyard. Yes, a bottle of Champagne will be opened with a saber by a dashing man in a tuxedo who will then fill a flute for you with said bottle. (Yes, this is your one chance to live a Mariah Carey music video. Take it.) The pink-and-green umbrellaed courtyard is lovely, but so is the intimate avian-themed bar inside where every detail is delicately executed. It’s the perfect place to contemplate the beautiful anomaly that is New Orleans.
Places of purposefulness like Brennan’s exist alongside the funhouse of Bourbon Street. The city as a whole seems illusory; blame it on the voodoo. It has the revelry of Las Vegas with the charm of Paris. It’s the South uncomplicated, where the past and the present reside in harmony, parading together in a second line. It’s a place Atlantans will find foreign yet familiar. Where the hospitality—from a local in a cemetery to your waiter that evening to a man with a Champagne bottle—is unmatched and distinctly Southern. “Welcome home,” they’ll say. But when the banjo player strikes up a rendition of “Georgia on My Mind” as you sip Champagne in a cozy pink room, you’ll feel like you never left.