Top Ten Places For An Authentic Experience In The Crescent City

by Olga Ivanidi

Big Easy, Crescent City... New Orleans has as many names as it has faces. Romantic and lofty by day, decadent and buoyant by night, crazy during Mardi Gras season, and always filled with blues and jazz tunes during numerous festivals. New Orleans is a pearl in the south of the US that is a must see.

Carnival time in Uptown New Orleans.
Carnival time in Uptown New Orleans. Photo by Eileen Loh

Without a doubt, this city can be defined by three words: art, music, and food (with lots of drinks, of course!). Here are the top ten places to go to get a 'real N’awlins' experience' of these three components:

1. You may not have enough time to see all of the art galleries on Royal Street; however, you simply have to visit 'Gallery Burguieres'. Cute animal pictures by locally raised artist Ally Burguieres won’t leave you indifferent. But the main reason you should come is to buy a hand-made Wish Dog statuette. Write your wish on paper, stick it in your Wish Dog's head, and light your wish on fire. Wish Dog will blow smoke out its mouth and make your wish come true. It’s a combination of voodoo and art that can only happen in New Orleans.

2. Spend hours in a multistory treasure chest of literature - Beckham's Book Shop in the French Quarter. Rare, antique, and second-hand jewels adorn the wall-to-wall, floor to floor ceiling shelves. Check out the local history/locally set fiction stand at the front of the store.

3. If you like quality and things of beauty that pertain to writing (the old-fashioned way), Papier Plume on Royal Street is the place to go. Pick a journal or a quill while chatting with the French owner and write down your observations of your visit to Big Easy (the old-fashioned way).

4. Bourbon Street will always be there… Instead, go to Frenchmen Street in the 7th Ward to listen to music like the locals do. In The Spotted Cat bar with a 6-foot-by-6-foot stage, you'll be treated to absolutely amazing jazz and blues.

5. Swing by the Tipitina’s on Napoleon Ave. This venerable music club hosts a Cajun Fais-Do-Do (a fancy word for a dance). The Fais-Do-Do usually features the excellent Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band, and if Bruce is on tour, another worthy group always takes his place. These shows are wildly popular among local Cajun dancers, making Tipitina’s an ideal spot to see the real thing on the dance floor (and perhaps have a waltz or two yourself).

6. Jacques-Imo Cafe in Uptown is a perfect place to fill your stomach with heavenly Cajun food. Start your meal with homemade cornbread with garlic and fried grits, order shrimp etouffee for the main course, and finish up with an alligator cheesecake! Beware; the food there is usually so fresh, the cheesecake may even bite!

7. A legend, an institution, immortal… Antoine’s restaurant in French Quarter has been serving classic French - Creole cuisine for almost hundred and seventy years now. Dine in the endless private dining rooms named after Mardi Gras krewes, the secret societies responsible for the parades. Mardi Gras royalty will stare at you quietly from the walls. Let third generation waiters with old-fashioned manners serve you half a pound of a local jumbo crab meat right off a flat top grill with a piece of curled parsley or gumbo Creole (Louisiana gumbo with blue crabs, oysters, and gulf shrimp).

8. Take a streetcar all the way down Canal Street to Morning Call in City Park. Enjoy the famous New Orleans beignets buried in a snowy mountain of powdered sugar and steamy café au lait minus the wait and crowds at Café du Monde. Besides it’s a great way to see the Garden District. Stroll afterwards through the City Park filled with majestic live oaks dripping in Spanish moss.

9. Your trip won’t be complete without a visit to Lake Ponchatrain and the Crab Shack. Eat all things crab: crab balls, crab cakes, crab dip, crab gumbo, and shrimp straight out of the Lake. Afterwards listen to locals telling stories of a humongous fish they caught earlier in the day and watch the boats go by.

10. Take a free ferry from the French Quarter across the Mississippi River to Algiers Point. Have a drink and a round of pool at the Old Point Bar, which you may have seen in any number of movies shot there.

Sure enough, there are many popular yet deserving spots, but by and large these ten places will help you to avoid cheesy tourist traps. Enjoy your time in the Big Easy!