NEW ORLEANS THROUGH THE YEARS
New Orleans is either a city that you love, or you don’t. I happen to love it – so, so, so much.
Back in college I took a history of jazz course with a noted jazz musician, and that introduced me to New Orleans jazz. I’d spend hours upon hours in the music lab listening to all the New Orleans jazz greats: Kid Ory, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Buddy Bolden, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Papa Celestin, Eddie Lang, Earl Hines, Lester Young, Fats Domino, Wynton Marsalis, Dr. John, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, to name a few. I was hooked. And I wanted to go – so, so, so bad. It didn’t hurt that I was also kind of obsessed with Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire series.
Finally, in 2005 for our anniversary we cashed in some points and got free flights from SFO to MSY and the dream was realized. Oh, did I mention this was also during Mardi Gras? Yeah, our introduction to New Orleans was pre-Katrina party town. What made the trip even more spectacular was that my friend Heather was also coincidentally heading down to Nola for a conference. You can’t even imagine how that email conversation went and how damn excited we both were when we realized this was the first time we’d get to see each other since we both left Pittsburgh.
During that trip, I fell in love. The music. The food. The architecture. The soul. So you can imagine my heartbreak as I watched New Orleans sink under the weight of Katrina. Places I knew and loved were under water. I wanted desperately to go back, but it was never the right time, or the right scenario. Then, in 2011 we decided to spend Thanksgiving in New Orleans and I got to fall in love with the city all over again.
We next visited Nola on a quick trip over Thanksgiving 2011. We revisited some of our favorite haunts and discovered new ones. For this trip we took an overnight redeye via Houston, and arrived in New Orleans around 8:30 a.m., which is somewhat problematic if you’re staying at a hotel with a 4 p.m. checkin. The focus of this trip was definitely food. While there we ate again at Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s, and Restaurant August. Once again, Commander’s Palace was a terrific meal, and while the food itself at Galatoire’s was tasty, the service was terrible. We had Thanksgiving dinner at August, so I don’t feel entirely comfortable rating it as good or bad as I don’t know that our meal was indicative of the type of cuisine they put out on a regular basis. I liked everything we ate, but I didn’t love it.
For this trip we stayed at Place D’Armes and while our room had an excellent view, the room itself was musty and smelled pretty bad. The bed was hard and the linens were old, tired, and scratchy. I don’t know that I’d stay there again. You can read my full TripAdvisor review here.
We returned to New Orleans in January 2014 to celebrate our 18th dativersary with our friends Tom and Sarah. Alan has actually known Sarah longer than he’s known me, and we’ve been friends with T & S since before I graduated from college. While it had been many years since we’d last seen them as a couple, Alan periodically attends Gen-Con with Tom. In fact, at the 2013 event they were talking about throwing together a trip to Las Vegas where we could meet up. I’m hit or miss with Las Vegas, and if I’m going to take time off from work, I’m going to go somewhere I really want to be. We sent an email to T & S asking them what they thought of going to New Orleans in January and within a week or so everything was booked.
As with our two previous trips we ate at Commander’s Palace, but in terms of food for the rest of the trip we kept it pretty low key. Other favorite meals included our anniversary lunch at The Court of Two Sisters, po-boys at Mother’s, oysters at Acme Oyster Company, and general creole food at Coop’s Place. I’d recommend all of them if you’re down that way. We weren’t able to make it to Central Grocery for muffalatta, unfortunately – just another excuse to return.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to mention the fact that New Orleans is not a city without it’s problems – some very major problems. There is a lot of corruption – both police and government – and because of that the people tend to have very definite ideas toward authority. Crime is out of control, and it can be dangerous to venture down the wrong street at the wrong time, even in the tourist areas like Frenchman Street and the French Quarter. Racism is still the norm, and there is a huge need for better education in the schools, but the city simply doesn’t have the resources. BUT, everyone we’ve ever encountered there has been pretty darn terrific. If you’re interested in gaining a better understanding of some of the issues facing residents of New Orleans, I strongly recommend you watch David Simon’s HBO series Treme. Yes, it’s fiction, but it does an excellent job of staying close to the reality of the situation, and the people of New Orleans are generally very supportive of the city he showed on the show.