These are the only 4 things I tell my friends to do when visiting New Orleans
I recently ran into a friend in New Orleans, who was celebrating her honeymoon. It was her first time in the Big Easy, so naturally everyone she knew gave her a laundry list of suggestions/things to see/do/eat/where to get black-out drunk. After I ran into her, I e-mailed her four things to do, and she wrote back in all caps: THANK YOU FOR THIS VERY NOT OVERWHELMING LIST!
New Orleans is a city that excites travelers when they're here, and I've certainly made "must see" suggestions. I've given the best points of interest in stories I've written, based on the magazine's demographic, like the best new hotel bars to grab a cocktail for Conde Nast Traveler, what hipsters are doing these days for New York Post and what to see in the emerging Bywater District for American Way.
Every traveler will see the French Quarter, Frenchmen Street, Bywater, Garden District, St. Charles Ave, eat at an Emeril restaurant, see a tarot card reader, etc. It's a given. it's what everyone does when they visit. So these are my four "can't miss" suggestions I tell my friends. I don't care what else they do because they will have an amazing time either way, but these four things are basically my musts for a real NOLA experience, things you won't necessarily have on your radar but should.
1. MIMI'S IN THE MARIGNY. Mimi's is a low-key dive bar that's great for pre-game or ending up at 3 AM. It's a low-key, very-chill spot packed with a diverse group of locals, and it's the only bar in the Marigny that has a top-level balcony. This is a total local's bar, and it's great for people watching on the patio. I also think it's in a prime location. From here, you can walk to Frenchmen Street (the local's "Bourbon Street" packed with jazz clubs and bars) then into the French Quarter (or, vice versa if you want to end up at Mimi's). Either way, this is the go-to for locals, and everyone is crazy friendly in NOLA.
2. Pontchartrain Hotel. Historic attractions abound in New Orleans, and most visitors will have the majority of famous places on their list. It's why I like to steer them toward Pontchartrain. It's a historic hotel that reopened last year, and NOBODY knows about it. Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire here, the Saints were signed in the bar and a number of cool cats stayed here back in the day (like Frank Sinatra and Rita Hayworth). Three reasons to come:
Parlor Bar. Great craft cocktails in one of the most visually engaging, old-meets-new parlor bars that feels like a timewarp.
Caribbean Room. Celebrity chef John Besh helms this restaurant, and not a lot of people know about it. It's one of the best meals I've had in New Orleans. It's on par with the fine-dining restaurants (Commander's Palace, Arnaud's, etc) but it's not stuffy and it's very intimate (there's no greater than 20 tables). In fact, jackets are required for men but if you don't have a jacket, they loan you a stylish Billy Reid dinner jacket.
The rooftop. The indoor/outdoor rooftop bar is a hidden gem for locals. It also has the best view of New Orleans' skyline. This is not debatable.
3. Cari Roy, psychic. Even if you're a non-believer, seeing a psychic or tarot card reader is common in New Orleans. Trust me: you have no idea how many people ask me for referrals. I feel like the motherlode are in the Quarter, and you'll definitely see them in Jackson Square. I love how this goes with New Orleans' spiritual vibe, but not all the psychic/tarot readers are legit. So I recommend Cari Roy. She's a well known psychic who I've had the pleasure to interview for many stories, and I've gotten readings from her. She predicted I would move to LA before I even found out I had to move there. She's also lived in New Orleans the past 25 years, so she's a legit local, too.
4. Coop's Place/Decatur Street. The food scene makes New Orleans, and every visitor will more or less know which restaurants they'll want to try. The one I always recommend is Coop's Place. It's a hole-in-the-way dive bar on Decatur Street (in the French Quarter) that just happens to serve great Southern food. It's a total experience, from decor to the people working there. Every time I go, I feel like I'm on the set of True Blood or whatever. I also don't think Decatur Street gets any love. There's so many great spots here (Cane + Table, Trinity, etc).
1. The best po-boy is at Verti Mart, an unassuming counter deli on Royal Street, all the way in the back. Go like Travel + Leisure and get All That Jazz.
2. The best spot for jazz is Bacchanal. It's a wine bar with huge outdoor patio in the Bywater. Cool cats hang here and it's tourist free.
3. Best view of French Quarter is actually inside the New Orleans Passport Center at Canal Place. Nobody knows this. The views from the 20th floor are insanity.
4. The best pool is at the Country Club. Not all hotels have pools, so. Pay $10, see a total scene of locals day drinking. I can't tell you how many people who visit said they wish they had a few hours to chill at the pool because it's so hot, so. Here it is.