“Soul is waterproof” is the motto now in post-Katrina New Orleans. Though much devastation remains, the Crescent City is still a vibrant tourist draw, with the raucous charm of the French Quarter, the top-notch music and food to be found everywhere, and even the opportunity to do good. No wonder Brad Pitt moved here; everywhere else, he’s a tabloid target, but at home in the French Quarter, he’s just another doting dad enjoying the local hospitality while doing his part to rebuild the city.
WHERE TO STAY
Enjoy old-school British-style luxury, including a full-blown afternoon tea, at the posh Windsor Court Hotel. Visitors to the century-old Le Pavillon Hotel rave about its palatial décor, its rooftop pool, and its complimentary late-night snacks in the lobby: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cocoa. The venerable Hotel Monteleone boasts newly renovated rooms, a revolving carousel bar, and a location convenient to Royal Street’s high-end shopping and other French Quarter attractions.
WHERE TO EAT
As its name suggests, Cochon is a pork palace, but it offers a gourmet Cajun spin on all kinds of meats, from rabbit to alligator. GW Fins is generally acclaimed as the best seafood restaurant in New Orleans, and perhaps in America. Diners at the Creole/Cajun fixture Brigtsen’s can’t get enough of the butternut shrimp bisque. And such famous restaurants as Commander’s Palace and Emeril’s remain reliable mainstays. (Yes, Emeril Lagasse himself stops in from time to time, presumably to kick it up a notch.)
If you want to eat like a local, pick up an overstuffed sandwich at Johnny’s Po-Boys. Spend a lazy afternoon sampling wine and cheese from the extensive cellars at Bacchanal. Drink a Pimm’s Cup cocktail at Napoleon House. And no New Orleans trip is complete without a visit to Café Du Monde for chicory and beignets; the café serves up the square, powdered-sugar-dusted donuts 24 hours a day.
WHAT TO DO
Of course, you’ll want to wander the French Quarter, stroll the Garden District, and browse Magazine Street, the long shopping stretch of boutiques and antiques. But for foodies, the must attraction is the one-day cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking, where you can learn to make jambalaya, gumbo, and other local specialties.
Even if it’s not Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest season, it’s always festival time in New Orleans. This summer, the annual Tales of the Cocktail festival (July 8-12) brings together the world’s top bartenders for a celebration of mixology. The Satchmo Summerfest (July 30-August 2) celebrates the life of jazz pioneer Louis Armstrong with concerts.
HOW TO HELP
Rebuilding homes in Katrina-ravaged neighborhoods has become a popular tourist activity. You can plan your trip around your altruistic activities by contacting Habitat for Humanity or Relief Spark, which makes sure you have comfortable lodging and delicious food from local eateries as part of its “voluntourism” packages.