We belong to a supper club (Chat ‘n’ Chew) in which several couples from the Raleigh area go out to dinner. It is a great way for us to try new restaurants, get pushed out of our comfort zone to try new cuisines and to explore restaurants outside of Durham, where we live. Through various friendships in this group, a group trip was the next step. While there is so much to do in New Orleans‘ partying in the French Quarter is a great adult trip.
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We spent Memorial Day Weekend 2016 in the French Quarter of New Orleans. We didn’t plan this trip since we were going as part of a group. At times our group numbered over seventeen — so making reservations for dinner or activities for such a large number limited the options of where we could go, especially during a holiday weekend.
We were unable to go to or spend substantial time at some of the popular places like Pat O’Briens, Brennans or Jacques Imo’s. If you plan a trip to New Orleans, try some of these well-known restaurants.
Lodging in the French Quarter
The majority of our group stayed at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. Located on St. Charles Street, this hotel is in the center of the French Quarter. It is just a few blocks walk to Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, and other well-known spots. We didn’t eat any meals at the hotel – although I only saw a breakfast buffet offered here. This is New Orleans, known for its food, and we had a few places we really wanted to try.
Believe it or not, I enjoyed the saltwater pool in the inner courtyard. The staff cleaned the area frequently and restocked the fresh drinking water. The front desk sent a bartender outside and he kept our drinks flowing. It was a nice way to cool off and relax.
This hotel didn’t fit our usual budget criteria for The Common Traveler but the location was fabulous and after all, we went to New Orleans to party with friends!
Eating in the French Quarter
Fortunately, we were with a group of people who knew the French Quarter and knew where to take us. We arrived shortly after noon on Friday and we were starving. This list does not show everywhere we stopped for food but these places stood out.
Our first lunch was at Napoleon House. If I had done my research ahead of time, I would have picked this spot as a “must visit.” I loved the old world feel carried throughout by the decor. We were lucky enough to sit in the inside courtyard. Napoleon House is well known for two things: their muffulettas and Pimm’s Cup. A muffuletta is a sandwich served on a sesame-crusted Italian round bread that has a variety of deli meats and cheese and a tangy olive salad dressing. The sandwich is served warm. I had my muffuletta in the form of a salad but the intensity of all the flavors was still there. Pimm’s Cup is a gin-based drink with lemonade and 7-Up. I did not try the drink because I just don’t like most beverages made with hard liquor.
We ate our first breakfast at Cafe Pontalba. This Cafe is directly on Jackson Square. You can people watch and hear all the activities going on in Jackson Square through the large open windows. The menu features creole cuisine. This is a casual restaurant, perfect for those touring the area. We sat at a window on our second visit. Yes, it was good enough that we came back! The service was fast and unfussy, which means that even when there is a line, it moves quickly. Their omelets were absolutely divine. We did not eat lunch or dinner here but they have an extensive menu and good reviews.
We also ate breakfast at Stanley. This place is well known for their breakfast and brunch options, which they serve all day. There is always a long line of people waiting to get in. I had the Eggs Stanley – like eggs Benedict but with fried oysters. Although the food was good, the price was a little high for breakfast. This casual establishment was more upscale than Cafe Pontalba. I’m not sure if we just didn’t appreciate what everyone else seemed to enjoy or whether it is just overrated.
Because of the size of our group, finding a restaurant that could accommodate us proved difficult at times. We lucked out with a late lunch at Evangeline. They had a nice selection of craft beers. We ate fried alligator and fried oysters. Most of us had some version of the poor boy or burger. The adult grilled cheese was good. Our poor waitress assigned numbers to each couple so that we could keep the tabs separate – no easy task! It was a mess when it came time to pay. We probably should have had two waiters. A smaller group would have a great experience here.
Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar
We made dinner reservations for our large group at Superior Seafood. The restaurant is conveniently located at a streetcar stop at the corner of St. Charles and Napoleon Avenues. We probably attacked the bread baskets a little too eagerly. There was not a single complaint from anyone about the quality of their food. The food was fresh and the servings were just the right size so you felt like you had enough without feeling overstuffed. Someone had something from each section of the menu – pastas, steak and fresh catch. You know it is a good meal when everyone offers a taste to their dining companions! This was another great selection.
Orleans Grapevine Wine Bar & Bistro
Eating at the Orleans Grapevine was an impromptu decision because we were hungry and it was across the street from our hotel. A few people in our group wanted to go try wine flights during happy hour. I don’t drink wine but I was happy to go with them. Why? Because they have a bacon happy hour! Bacon strips are placed in front of you while you’re enjoying your happy hour drink. Win! We realized that they had a fairly extensive menu so we ordered from their Petit Fare (tapas style). Everything was delicious: Shrimp Remoulade, Angus Medallions, Saffron Mussels, and Crab Cakes. This turned into a good decision. Their ratings show that others really like it as well.
Drinking in the French Quarter
We went to New Orleans to party. I am a drinking lightweight but others in our group were professionals! The nature of a partying trip is that you move from location to location depending on the crowds and what everyone feels like doing or seeing. The list below does not include all the places where we drank but reflects some of the more unique places we enjoyed.
Tropical Isle Original
Our first stop after dropping off our suitcases was to the original location of Tropical Isle – home of the hand grenade. They have registered their claim that the hand grenade is the most powerful drink as well as some of their other drink names. Because of their location at the corner of Bourbon and Orleans Streets, this is the perfect place for groups to meet up. If you come here, you really need to order the Shark Attack, which is tastier than the hand grenade and involves quite a show!
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar is a quintessential historic bar. The setting is rustic and recreates what it must have been like when the pirate Lafitte opened a blacksmith shop as a cover for his illegal enterprise. The tables are old barrels. The floor is dirt. Because it is a historic building, the ceiling is pretty low, not a problem for me since I’m only 5’3″, but you’ve been warned if you’re tall! My disappointment with this place was that they were out of just about anything you would want to order. I don’t know if they didn’t plan appropriately for a super busy holiday weekend or if one of their normal deliveries didn’t make it. They lost some business to neighboring bars because of their lack of options. So yes, this place is worth going to and seeing, and hopefully, they are fully stocked when you go.
Pirates Alley Cafe
The Pirates Alley Cafe is located just off Le Vieux Carre. While it is a full bar, the unique draw for this place is absinthe. Pouring and serving the absinthe is part of the experience. A sugar cube is placed on a slotted spoon. The absinthe flows slowly out of the spigot and dissolves the cube. Absinthe is 110 proof – so a little goes a long way. I tasted it but something in the drink numbed my tongue and I was not a fan. This little place has a cult following.
Spirits on Bourbon
Every bar on Bourbon Street competes with each other for your drinking dollars. Each features a drink. Several offer live music. Dueling piano bars are pretty unique, but three of them were within a two block radius. So how is a place supposed to stand out? Spirits on Bourbon have their own signature drink – The Resurrection – which you can buy in a light up glass. Their kitsch is a barber chair. Some unsuspecting patron gets thrown on the chair which is then leaned back. A waitress shakes her boobs in their face and they pour a shot into their mouth. I cared more for the dueling pianos! I did not realize when we went to Spirits that it had been featured on Bar Rescue in 2013. Based on the crowd size that night, the rescue worked. The expensive drinks disappointed, and I saw food returned to the kitchen. But dueling pianos win every time.
The Columns Hotel is in the Garden District of New Orleans. This beautiful historic place is a popular wedding location. A wedding party was in full swing when we arrived. The swanky bar has real bartenders who mix just about any fancy drink you can imagine. Their appetizers, like baked brie or bread pudding, were classic. This would be a very romantic hotel to try someday. We had a drink here before deciding that we needed some real food.
Touring the French Quarter
We couldn’t go to New Orleans and not do a few touristy things. At least we didn’t drink the entire time!
Cafe du Monde
I was not about to miss the Cafe du Monde experience. Everyone takes an iconic photo of their beignets. The lines are insane. If you are impatient (like me), time your visit properly. The original location on Decatur Street is open 24 hours a day, giving you lots of options. Getting a table is like being at the food court – look for a group leaving and run for it! I could not figure out a way to eat beignets without making a mess. Pack some wipes for your visit so you don’t have to walk around messy and sticky. Keep in mind that the coffee has chicory in it – purists may not like it!
We spent a lot of time on or near Jackson Square. Artists display and sell their artwork. Performers of all types, from musicians to mimes, show their craft. It is a unique experience. Something different was happening no matter what time we were there.
New Orleans’ cemeteries are famous. We chose the Voodoo Bone Lady cemetery tour. Compared to some of the other guides, she was more passionate and lively in her presentation. Remember the weather when you plan your tour – there are no refunds due to rain. During the first hour of our tour, it poured and lightning struck close by. It just added to the excitement! We bought cheap ponchos that ripped and I wish I was better prepared. A night ghost tour was something I really wanted to do but all the tours were completely booked by the time we made a decision. Plan accordingly if this is something you want to do.
New Orleans’ streetcar system is the oldest continuously running streetcar system in the world. New Orleans kept the old world charm of this mode of transportation. A ticket is only $1.25 (you can pay as you get on) and you can ride through some of the most interesting and historic sites in New Orleans. We rode a streetcar to the Garden District but I wish that we explored it a little more. If you’ve got the time, don’t miss out like I did.
Spending a weekend in the French Quarter
Spending a weekend in New Orleans’ French Quarter is a good time. I don’t recommend spending time in the French Quarter with children. Bourbon Street is well known for its bars. You will see plenty of drunks and people engaged in risqué behavior. The stench of garbage, urine, and vomit doesn’t disappear even after the rain and it gets worse if it is hot and humid. But it is absolutely something to see and experience at least once. If you visit New Orleans with children, consider staying in another area of the city.
Please let me know if I missed some great places to consider next time!
Looking to read more about New Orleans? Click here:
- Great foods you should try while visiting New Orleans
- Best souvenirs to bring back from New Orleans
- Great reasons to visit New Orleans
A huge thank you to my friend Ashley who took most of these pictures and allowed me to use them. You’re a wonderful friend and the next drink is on me!
Annick, The Common Traveler