Doing It All in New Orleans
Trying to fit all my favorites into 36 hours meant multiple meals
New Orleans is one of the finest cities for food and drink in the U.S. According to a 2020 article, the city is home to about 1,500 restaurants.
With 36 hours in New Orleans, I set off to eat in as many places as I could. That, of course, meant multiple stops a meal, in what I like to call “progressive dining”.
Here’s the rundown of where to stay, eat and drink on a one-night 36-hour New Orleans binge:
Where to Stay
The Brakeman Hotel is a newish boutique hotel housed in a former railway station. The Brakeman doesn’t have a hotel bar or restaurant (though there is a cafe that offers coffee and snacks), but it does have something no other hotel does: a direct view from my room onto St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 — the oldest still-operational cemetery in New Orleans, and the resting place of New Orleans’ voodoo queen Marie Laveau (Nicholas Cage also has a pyramid-shaped tomb, though he’s not dead yet). Once open to the public, the only way to access this historical site is to book a tour ($25). The 45-minute tour is absolutely worth it but bring an umbrella or purchase a rain poncho for three bucks at the hotel gift shop. 15 minutes into the tour, the heavens came down, drowning myself and all the other attendees just as we got to Nicholas Cage’s empty pyramid.
Where to Eat and Drink
For over 70 years, people have flocked to this carousel-shaped bar that actually revolves. The hotel, itself, is considered one of America’s great Literary hotels, with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and William Faulkner staying there. It can be safely assumed that all three imbibed at this circus-themed lounge. The Carousel bar makes the classics like Sazaracs, Grasshoppers, and French 75s. Pair yours with an order of oysters Rockefeller and be sure to chat up the people next to you — people come from around the world to imbibe at this classic bar.
Located near the French Market, Coop’s is a total dive bar that makes some of the best red beans and rice in the French quarter. The first time I ever went, I had some reservations, which were completely washed away when I noticed a cat sitting at a table. Seriously…the cat was sitting on a chair like a proper little gentleman, while someone was feeding him pieces of sausage. Once I saw that, I knew the food had to be good. And it is. Try the rabbit jambalaya, the gumbo, and (of course) the red beans and rice. Coop’s has a full bar, but pair your meal with a cold Abita.
People will argue until the end of time about who makes the best fried chicken. Those people haven’t been to Willie Mae’s. Ms. Willie Mae Seaton has been frying chicken since the 1950s, winning a James Beard award in the process. The chicken is crisp and seasoned on the outside, hopelessly moist on the inside, and as good as can be. The lines are long, the wait is brutal on a humid Louisiana evening, but it’s all worth it once you bite into that first piece of golden chicken. Pair your fried chicken (you dare not order anything else) with Willie Mae’s fried okra and mac and cheese.
Here’s the deal. You want to say you’ve been to Bourbon Street (but you really don’t want to be there). So get a dozen oysters at Old NOLA Cookery, grab a beer to go, walk a few blocks, then head to the next destination. Despite its Bourbon Street address, Old NOLA’s shuckers are some of the best and the Gulf oysters are gigantic and fresh.
Conveniently located between Bourbon and Royal, Copper Monkey is another dive that makes amazing local fare including gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp creole, and etouffee. The Copper Monkey’s kitchen is open late, so it’s perfect for a last stop to soak up some alcohol.
Step back in time at this restaurant and bar located in a vintage 1812 NOLA house. The then-mayor of New Orleans offered Napoleon a place of refuge there back in 1821. Napoleon never showed up, but the name stuck. Napoleon House has one of the finest muffulettas in New Orleans. The signature round of bread is stuffed with ham, Genoa salami, pastrami, Swiss, provolone, and housemade Italian olive salad. It’s served warm and might be the best sandwich ever created. Napolean House also serves locally sourced alligator sausage, boudin, and shrimp po’boys. Make sure to order Napolean’s own version of a classic Pimm’s Cup.
One of New Orleans’ grand dames, Antoine’s has been family-run since 1840. The restaurant is a formal affair, with a lovely Sunday Jazz brunch, but if you don’t have time for a sit-down dinner, head over to the adjacent Hermes Bar for happy hour, served daily from 4 to 6 p.m. (including weekends). The bar will likely be filled with a local after-work crowd on weekdays. A refreshing St. Germain cocktail costs only $8 (as are cocktails, wine, and beer), and for six bucks you can choose from Louisiana andouille sausage, shrimp remoulade, cochon crisps (pork rinds), or cheese puffs.