Vivian's Corner
U.S. Areas, Cities, States
Foreign Cities
Foreign Countries
Adventure & Sports
About Us
Yearly Index
Contact Us
New Orleans

Good Times Roll in the Big Easy

Visitors arrive in New Orleans with notions of what to expect--a year-round carnival atmosphere, robust food, soulful music, decorative cast iron balconies in the French Quarter, paddle-wheelers on the Mississippi, remnants of plantation life and the practice of voodoo. But even the tourist whose head is filled with a roll of snapshots of the Big Easy will soon discover unexpected vignettes in this most magical of places.

For example, the cemeteries known by the locals as Cities of the Dead. Because belowground burial is impossible due to the region's high water table, tombs resembling windowless houses were erected for aboveground interment. As much a source of fascination as any anomalies, tour buses are frequently seen decamping to allow the curious to examine the vaults close hand.

Or the statuary, which is almost an integral part of the cityscape. More of the famous seem to be honored in stone, marble or bronze--Jeanne D'Arc, Winston Churchill, Andrew Jackson, Martin Luther King, Louis Armstrong--than in other towns of comparable size. Then there are sculptures of the lesser known that also engage the attention--an old man, a leading citizen Marcus Woldenberg, and a young lad, his grandson, seated on a park bench at the riverfront. The sculptor created two figures who are very much alive and whose pleasure in their relationship is so evident that it is like a metaphor for the city. A quote on the work states that Woldenberg left a legacy of caring and of confidence in New Orleans. Would that he could speak he would no doubt address the onlooker about the history, people, arch-itecture, neigh-borhoods and cuisine.
Musicians, New Orleans; credit: Riverview Photography
Isn't it fortunate that N'awlins has no closing law? Since everything is open day and night, tourists can cram a great deal of activity into a short stay. For an overview begin with an organized city tour. Although there are several companies, Gray Line offered hotel pickups, which is why we chose it. As the bus traveled a loop through several districts, the guide wove amusing anecdotes into his talk on the Floating City's colorful history.

Some two and one-half centuries ago, the French Quarter was all that there was of the Crescent City. Founded by the explorer Pierre le Moyne, sieur de Bienville, it was a lonely outpost in an expanse of marsh and swamp. The descendants of the French and Spanish early settlers were cosmopolitan, city-dwelling Creoles; Cajuns who immigrated from Nova Scotia lived in the country. African and Caribbean peoples settled here, too, adding their own cultural traditions, particularly the rituals of voodoo, to the spicy hodgepodge heritage. Late-arriving "Americans" who came after the Louisiana Purchase built their fine antebellum mansions in the Garden District. "There is the real Tara," said our guide as he pointed out Anne Rice's home.

After you complete your bus trip you will want to explore the city more thoroughly on foot, by street car and using the hop-on and hop-off trolley tour. Go for a long and leisurely stroll through the Vieux Carré crisscrossing streets with names like Iberville, Dauphine and Chartres. Board the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, the world's oldest operating line covering 13.13 miles through the Garden District and Uptown and taking about an hour and a half. Buy a ticket for the narrated trolley tour making ten stops at historic homes and districts, museums and restaurants.

Musicians named the city "The Big Easy" because they came into town for short stays, earned money quickly and returned when their wallets were empty. The sounds of those musicians fill the restaurants, bars and clubs. Excitement, color and entertainment fill the streets. And N'awlins is an easy city to have a romance with.


At the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum see the portrait of famed voodoo queen Marie Laveau as well as altars, folk remedies, charms, sacred objects, artifacts, figurines and all the paraphernalia of this ancient, secretive religion.

New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, 724 Dumaine Street. Tel. 504-523-7685. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 8. p.m.

One of the best aquariums in the U.S. is the Aquarium of the Americas with more than 10,000 specimens of marine life living in five distinctive habitats. Walk on a pathway through the treetops in the Amazon rain forest, a stunning re-creation of a tropical woodland. Spend time in the Changing Exhibits Gallery where the interactive displays are replaced yearly.

Aquarium of the Americas, Riverwalk and Canal Place. Tel. 800-774-7394, 504-581-4629. Open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

More than 1,800 animals live in natural habitats at the Audubon Park and Zoological Garden. Elevated walkways and paved paths allow visitors to roam through these environments.

Audubon Zoological Garden, 6500 Magazine Street. Tel. 504-861-2537. Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Located in the uptown area, the zoo can be reached by the St. Charles Streetcar or on a riverboat cruise, which leaves from outside the Aquarium.

Housed in a neoclassic building, the New Orleans Museum of Art has a permanent collection of works from the pre-Christian era to the present and includes the largest group of Colonial Latin American paintings and sculptures in the country.

New Orleans Museum of Art, 1 Collins Diboll Circle, City Park. Tel. 504-488-2631. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. One of the stops on the trolley tour.

Oak Alley Plantation, built in 1839, was one of the few plantation homes spared in the Civil War. A striking Greek Revival mansion surrounded by 28 Doric columns, it stands at the end of a quarter-mile alley lined with live oaks planted in the 1700s.

Oak Alley Plantation, 3645 Highway 18, Vacherie, LA 70090. Tel. 800-44ALLEY, 504-265-2151. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Accessible by car or tour bus.

Longue Vue House and Gardens is a historic city estate and a horticulturist's delight. Patterned after an English country house, it dates only to 1939, but captures the grandeur of an earlier era.

Longue Vue House and Gardens, 7 Bamboo Road. Tel. 504-488-5488. Open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4:15 p.m. One of the stops on the trolley tour.

The surroundings are spartan and no drinks are sold here, but if you are a jazz aficionado or want to hear just one band, Preservation Hall is the place to tune in. Music begins at 8:30 p.m. with the last of the half-hour sets starting at 11:30. Admission is only $4.00 and once you gain entrance you can stay the evening. If you're lucky, you'll find a seat on a wooden bench. If not, you'll have to sit on the floor or stand. But, oh that music! An elderly vocalist could barely rise from his chair and had to be assisted by two musicians, but when he began to sing, both he and the other music makers produced the sweetest sounds in town.

Preservation Hall, 726 St. Peter Street. Tel. 504-522-2238 (day), 504-523-8939 (night).

The Dukes of Dixieland, a talented five-piece combo, played non-stop during a two-hour Steamboat Natchez dinner cruise. Accepting requests from the lively crowd who kept the dance floor full, there was only one song "Moscow Nights" that was unfamiliar to them. The scenery wasn't much, industrial equipment and the like, but there was no need to be on deck. Surprisingly the food, which is usually not palatable on river cruises, was more than adequate. In fact, some of the dishes like the chicken and spinach souffle were quite good.

Steamboat Natchez Dinner/Jazz Cruise, Toulouse Street Wharf at JAX Brewery. Tel. 800-233-BOAT, 504-586-8777. Every night except December 1 to February 10 when the schedule is limited. Reservations suggested.


If the French Quarter is where you go when you want to eat, drink and be merry, Windsor Court Hotel is where you go when you want to sleep. Located in the Central Business District, one block west of the old section, it is quiet and super luxurious. Under the direction of James Sherwood, a dedicated Anglophile, chairman of Orient-Express Hotels and owner of the property since 1991, it has also become oh so very British. The rose-granite exterior--the building dates from 1974--is modern and the hotel's ties to England are established at the entrance. An imposing statue of St. George, the patron saint of Great Britain, stands in the courtyard near the front door.
Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street, French Quarter, New Orleans; credit: Ron Calamia
An $8 million Anglo-centric art collection--paintings by English artists and by royal family favorites depicting Windsor Castle and the monarchy's life there--decks the halls and includes works by Gainsborough, Reynolds and Van Dyck. In the second floor atrium, styled like an English club, a large model of the castle rests on a table in the center of the room. Most impressive among the oils is one on view in the lobby of King Charles II and his court.

A member of the British royalty, Princess Anne, was guest of honor at the gala opening. Tea in the salon is a proper English one with waitresses dressed in Victorian outfits. Amid the elegance, service is thoughtful, without being stuffy. Concierges remember your name and inquire whether the directions that they gave you to a restaurant were satisfactory. Bellhops smile and ask if you are enjoying your stay.

Most of the rooms are suites, filled with light from bay windows and balcony doors. Some look out on the Mississippi. Bathrooms are marble and have separate dressing rooms. The well-equipped gym, 65-foot rose-tinted pool and large Jacuzzi are as impressive as the rest of hotel.

Those who share Sherwood's admiration of Great Britain and are planning their millennium celebration, but can't make it to the Prime Meridian in Greenwich on the Thames might consider the "Windsor Court Hotel 2000" package. The partying begins on Friday night with a time capsule burial ceremony. Contact the hotel for more details.

Windsor Court Hotel, 300 Gravier Street, New Orleans, LA 70130. Tel. 800-262-2662, 504-523-6000. Regular rates start at $190. www.windsorcourthotel.com


In a city known for great food, being rated #1 by the Zagat Survey for American and Continental food, hotel dining, service and decor is quite a coup. In 1997 the Grill Room at the Windsor Court Hotel received that honor. Jazz at brunch being the rage in New Orleans, the hotel serves up a fine trio to provide background music in sumptuous surroundings. Patrons ponder the choices for a long time before deciding what to order. The menu is extensive, varied and everything sounded mouth-watering. To name a few of the offerings--spicy turtle soup, apple and pecan crepes, pork tenderloin, duck proscuitto, crab cakes and eggs Windsor.

Grill Room, Windsor Court Hotel, 300 Gravier Street. Tel. 800-262-2662, 504-523-6000. Brunch is moderately priced. www.windsorcourthotel.com/web/onor/onor_c4a1_grill_room.jsp

The smell of fresh bread and pastries emanating from la Madeleine will entice you into this simple and very Parisian French bakery and cafe. A delightful place for breakfast or an afternoon repast, service is partly cafeteria-style. Cooked-to-order items like omelets and French toast are brought to the table. Patrons pick up the delicious Danish, brioche, scones, muffins and coffee cake at the counter.

la Madeline, 547 St. Ann Street. Tel. 504-568-0073. Open all day. Lunch and dinner menus. Inexpensive.

Arnaud's has been a New Orleans tradition since the day it was opened some 80 years ago by a French bon vivant and self-anointed aristocrat Leon Cazenave, alias "Count Arnaud". At his death, it was in disrepair until a knight in shining armor, Archie Casbarian, bought and restored it to the splendor that a high-ceilinged 1918 restaurant should possess--chandeliers, a floor of patterned tile and leaded glass windows. The renowned food is Creole and the specialties include shrimp Arnaud, smoked pompano, veal tournedos Chantal, pommes soufflé and oysters Bienville, created by the count. A more casual restaurant, Remoulade, with a Bourbon Street address is next door and under the same ownership. Arnaud's even has a museum where the costumes worn by the Cazenave family during Mardi Gras are on display.

Arnaud's 813 Bienville Street. Tel. 504-523-0611. Open daily for dinner; lunch, Monday to Friday; Sunday brunch. Moderately expensive. www.arnauds.com

Bravo to the food critic and reviewer of the cookbook "Breakfast at Brennan's" who called some of the recipes in the book mastodon food and said the practice of serving butter, whole eggs, cream and alcohol for breakfast belonged in the brontosaur `50s. Do people still eat like that? Apparently many do for Brennan's is packed every day from 8 a.m. on and it is not only because the ambiance is engaging or the service is polite. Those early morning diners scarf down a lot of dishes that should have passed into oblivion along with beef Wellington and jello molds. Two that were invented here are big sellers--bananas Foster made with butter, sugar, rum, liqueur and ice cream; and eggs Hussard composed of poached eggs, Holland rusks, Canadian bacon and Hollandaise and Marchand de Vin sauces.

Brennan's, 417 Rue Royale. Tel. 504-525-9713. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Very expensive. www.brennansneworleans.com

The Bistro at Maison de Ville is a restaurant that justifies New Orleans's repu-tation as a dining capital of the world. Housed in a small and posh hotel dating from the 1700s, the dining room, seating only 40, has a chic look that is quintessential Parisian bistro and the atmosphere of a local eatery where the owner knows every patron. Pinch hitting for the proprietor is the maitre d', a warm, gregarious Belgian native, and behind him is a talented chef who wants your dining experience to be special.

The evening meal began with an irresistible tapenade and every dish that followed stood up to the strong start--fried oysters with polenta croutons, goat cheese and spinach salad; quail ravioli in sage broth with fried sage leaves; smoked duck breast; salmon on large grain couscous; veal osso buco; and glorious desserts. Not a faulty flavor among any of those dishes. The Bistro at Maison de Ville, 727 Rue Toulouse. Tel. 504-528-9206. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Sunday brunch. Expensive. www.maisondeville.com/dining/index.html

Tujague's is a restaurant to skip. It gets lots of publicity and is crowded with customers searching out a Creole meal in the French Quarter. There was almost nothing we ate that deserved a passing mark. Shrimp were soggy and the remoulade sauce that accompanied them was spicy, but tasteless. Roux, the basis of gumbo, is supposed to trap and release the flavors, but the one served here tasted only of flour. The banana bread pudding was too sweet and had the consistency of mush. Only one dish got our approval, the juicy, tender and very garlicky chicken bonnne femme. The unpretentious surroundings do not compensate for the poor kitchen.

Tujague's, 823 Decatur Street. Tel. 504-525-8676. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive. www.tujaguesrestaurant.com

The chef/owner of Andrew Jaeger's House of Seafood, the epon-ymous restaurant, says fusion cooking is nothing new and that it's been a New Orleans specialty for 200 years, incorporating Spanish, French, African and Caribbean cooking styles. His Cajun and Creole renditions of seafood show those influences. Some of the entrees are sampler plates. You can order an assortment of several different kinds of very fresh fish and seafood. They come poached, baked, blackened, deep-fried and pan-seared. The crab cakes and the pastas topped with seafood, of course, are recommended. A group playing jazz and blues is featured nightly in this casual dining spot.

Andrew Jaeger's House of Seafood, 622 Conti Street. Tel. 504-522-4964. Open daily, dinner. Moderate. www.andrewjaegers.com

Summer 1998