A weekend exploration of New Orleans rich culture and cuisine
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m addicted to luxury—lush accommodations, mouthwatering food, and opulent experiences— yes, please! That’s how I like to travel so when the opportunity to visit New Orleans for a long weekend popped up, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. It had been a long, hot summer and I needed one last getaway before fall settled in for the long haul. This was my very first trip to NOLA, and I wanted a full experience; plus, I was overdue for some fun in the Big Easy.
Where to Stay
During my visit, I stayed at the historic NOPSI Hotel and was blown away by the accommodations provided. From the moment I set foot in the grand lobby, with its vaulted ceilings and stone terrazzo flooring, the staff was super friendly, courteous and conscientious. NOPSI, which stands for New Orleans Public Service Inc., is in the former headquarters of the city’s power and transportation company. The hotel is a historically rich and iconic building in the middle of the Central Business District right on the corner of Baronne Street and Union Street that was renovated with elegance and charm in mind. With 217 guestrooms, 76 luxury suites and a host of meeting spaces, NOPSI has the necessary accoutrements to fit a variety of needs for those traveling on vacation and for business. The inviting hotel houses all the modern conveniences and amenities that the modern travel desires and expects—gorgeous décor, convenient location and amazing customer service. I was in heaven from the moment I walked in my superbly decorated luxury King suite. Did I forget to mention that the bathroom was like walking into a spa…and that bed, goodness!
Where to Eat (and Drink!)
There are so many incredible places to enjoy a meal in New Orleans, but if you are staying at the NOPSI Hotel, you won’t have to travel far. The hotel is home to Public Service, a sophisticated casual dining restaurant that pays homage to the spirit of the former New Orleans Public Service Inc. Public Service is the neighborhood gathering spot for locals and hotel guests alike. Executive Chef Dustin Brien’s Gulf Coast inspired contemporary menu is prepared in an open-display kitchen that includes a modern raw bar and an open -flame rotisserie. Because I’m enamored by all things vintage, I was happy that the restaurant’s classic two-story glass façade, exposed brick, and beautiful custom-built craft bar appeals to that aesthetic.
For me, brunching is a sport. And no one does an iconic jazz brunch better than Commander’s Palace. Located in the middle of the Garden District, and according to the restaurant’s website, it’s been a New Orleans landmark since 1893. For me, Commander’s Palace was like walking into a piece of history. Not only was the food amazing, but the white glove service made me feel like I was transported to a different era. This was southern hospitality at its best. My favorite part—being serenaded at our table by a jazz trio. And they took requests!
Another option for a tasty midday meal is Galatoire’s right on Bourbon Street. It’s an upscale party that is always jumping. Founded in 1905 by Jean Galatoire, the restaurateur brought all the traditions and recipes from his village of Pardies, France to create Galatoire’s. Years later, the same ambiance, grace and jovial culinary experience are still there. Just remember, there is a dress code so ladies and gentlemen, be sure to dress accordingly.
More of a dinner person? A great place for an intimate dining experience is Balise (especially if you are feeling sassy). It’s in a renovated 19th century Creole townhouse and offers traditional NOLA cuisine with a creative modern twist. Balise Executive Chef Justin Devillier has been named a James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: South (2012-2015), was the James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: South in 2016 and was also awarded “Chef of the Year” by New Orleans Magazine in 2014. Simply put, the food and cocktails are worth it. Please put this restaurant on your to-do list while in New Orleans.
Where to Play
New Orleans is infamously known for The French Quarter and all the trappings available on Bourbon Street; however, I highly recommend taking in the sights and sounds of the city a bit differently. I adore art and who knew that New Orleans is becoming a hub and powerhouse for contemporary art. I took a walking tour of the Arts District of New Orleans (ADNO), and it was simply beautiful. Gorgeous artwork from local, national and international adorns the galleries in the district. It’s a great way to spend a leisurely Saturday afternoon. Pro tip: wear comfortable shoes and have a hearty breakfast at Willa Jean in the South Market District, then walk over to the galleries while taking in all the architecture and culture along the way.
Also, if you love a good cocktail and are a spirits aficionado, you must take Drink Lab’s Classic New Orleans Cocktails Class. The highlight for me was learning how to make an authentic Hurricane (with some cocktail history thrown in for good measure. I’m going to be a hit at my next soiree). Drink Lab founder and master bartender Daniel Victory was an engaging instructor and made the hands-on experience very special for all of us.
When I go on vacation (even a mini one), I enjoy checking out the scene at my own hotel. A good hotel bar can make or break a trip sometimes. Above the Grid, which is NOPSI Hotel’s rooftop pool and bar, did not disappoint. The view of NOLA’s skyline was worth it, that along with the beautiful crowd, live entertainment and cocktails at one of the private cabana tables truly made me feel like a VIP. Definitely no complaints here. Likewise, I also indulged at NOPSI’s lobby bar and patio underCURRENT. I encourage everyone staying at NOPSI to take the time for a drink at underCURRENT, you’ll feel like to walk into a 1920’s elegant cocktail party in the French Quarter. Perfect place to be casual and cute while seeing and being seen on the “scene.”
There was so much more I could tell you about: sightseeing in the Garden District, experiencing the reverent charm of Lafayette Cemetery, watching the street performers and shopping on Frenchman Street or ogling the sights on Bourbon Street, but you really need to experience it for yourself. Be sure to pick up the next edition of the Carolina STYLE Travel book, dropping in 2018, and I’ll give you an even more intimate day by day look at how to experience New Orleans for the first time, and in luxury.