I went to New Orleans at the end of March and stayed at The Columns Hotel in the Garden District. My grandmother was the manager in the 1950s. It was originally a private mansion built in the 1880s and the current owners have retained the original character. The place served as the site for the movie, Pretty Baby. There is a well known bar with live music on many nights and a large crowd of local people every night. They spill out to the front porch and adjacent rooms. You climb a winding staircase to the rooms with a circular stain glass skylight at the top that I remember from visits to my grandmother. A deep blue and green mural of lakes and woods covers the stairwell wall leading to the top floor and classical busts are on every landing. The staff was very helpful in planning stuff to do and where the good music was playing. I wrote bit in anticipation but here is some of what I actually did.
When I first arrived, I ate lunch outside at Commander’s Place in the Garden District (1403 Washington St. (504) 899-8221), a long time favorite with classic New Orleans Creole cooking. It is pricy at night but a little better at lunch. Then I took a long walk through the surrounding Garden District. Wondering into one large home open for tours, I was held captive by some well meaning, but talkative ladies who explained every detail of every family painting and piece of furniture. After forever, we had not progressed beyond the front hall and this was a big house. Soon, I noticed another person sneaking away from the tour to explore on their own. Seeing they were not reprimanded, I followed suit only to be temporally trapped by another tour guide on the second floor. I finally escaped back out to the warm day and a coffee at a Po Boy sandwich place on Magazine Street.
Tuesday there was a dinner at Galatorie’s, an old style Creole that has been around forever (1905). Even though it is in the Quarter, locals still continue to go. This meal was not my best there and I hope they are not coasting now. It is located at 209 Bourbon Street (504) 525-2021. Friday lunch at Herbstaint reaffirmed my faith in cooking in New Orleans. Tomato and shrimp bisque and frog’s legs with a mild hint of Creole seasonings were wonderful. It is located at 701 St. Charles in the warehouse district. (504-524-4114).
The best setting for food was out at the West End on Lake Pontchartrain at The Dock, 1926 West End Park, 504-284-3625). Wednesday, I sat on the deck overlooking the lake and had a large pile of crawfish with Abita Amber. They have live music some nights and bars placed all around inside, outside, and on the roof top decks. It is near the long burned out Brunning’s where we went many nights in the 1950s for crabs and watched the sunset on the lake. At that time there was a drag queen bar, the My O My Club, next door. It is now a fast food place.
This lunch followed a great morning at the Audubon Zoo. The animals are in large natural setting and the many different types of monkeys and apes put on a good show. They have a swamp area with Cajun houses, boats, and alligators. The lunch place serves Cajun food and there is a hall for music.
On Thursday I drove over to the Mississippi coast to get to the nearest beach, a little over an hour away. Ocean Springs was billed as an artistic town. It was fine but I liked Bay St. Louis better, with many funky shops. Perhaps, this was also because the only sun I got occurred while I was there. It rained a lot so I could only take pictures of the beaches. In the Gulfport and Biloxi area, monster gambling casinos have grown up that seem to attract large crowds. One is shaped like a pirate ship from outer space.
I spent a lot of time walking around Magazine Street with its up and down market shops and had a coconut snow ball at Ms. Tee Eva’s, (4430 Magazine) alerted to its status as the premier snow ball place by the great Harmony St. Charles blog. I also walked around my old neighborhood at the Riverbend in Uptown. Our small apartment has now been consumed by the real estate office next door. A mandatory stop in the Quarter was the New Orleans School of Cooking’s Louisiana General Store at 524 St. Louis Street. There I filled a box with New Orleans cooking supplies to be shipped home such as Remoulade sauce. I was pleased to find it waiting for me when I returned to Cambridge.
I cover my music experiences tomorrow.