It’s synonymous with New Orleans. With its potent Sazeracs, gut-busting gumbos, and those sweet, sweet beignets from Cafe Du Monde, it’s a city ripe with potentially bad decisions.
The real sin is to stick around the French Quarter and get drunk off of neon grain alcohol, dodging beads on Bourbon Street and avoiding “bro-dawgs” hopped up on Hand Grenades. Ain’t nobody got time for that. The pros know to set up base camp at a “B&B,” bar-and-breakfast outside the Quarter. The Royal Street Inn and R Bar in the Marigny is where the locals drink, play pool, and feast on Friday Happy Hour crawfish boils. Instead of mints, they leave drink tokens on your pillow.
Head out to Louis Armstrong Park. Right across the street is Bar Tonique, a craft cocktail bar disguised as a charming neighborhood dive. Sure, they’ve got housemade tonics, syrups and over 30 specialty cocktails. But this joint is unpretentious. They have $5 daily specials and won’t put up with douchey behavior. A couple of frat boys who came in asking for Lemon Drops were promptly spun around and handed to-go cups.
Speaking of to-go cups, grab a beverage and hop on the St. Charles Line Street Car in the Business District. Make sure to check out views of the gorgeous mansions in the Garden District along the way. This is the cheapest and most picturesque way to get to Oak Street, where you’ll find the kick-ass Jacques-Imo’s. They do old-school Nawlins’ food like savory alligator cheesecake and Creole jambalaya. Ask for the off-menu “Godzilla,” a giant batter-fried soft shell crab perched atop crispy fried green tomatoes and drizzled with a housemade Creole sauce.
Jacques-Imo’s doesn’t take reservations, so leave your number and walk two doors down to the famous Maple Leaf Bar to order drinks while you wait. It might be quiet while you’re there, but come back after dinner and you’ll see why the Maple Leaf is one of the best music joints in the city.
On a Sunday morning, take a cab to Parkway Bakery and Tavern. Grab a Surf and Turf Po’ boy, a bottle of Abita, and watch the Saints game. On the way back, slip your cab driver $20 and ask her take you to today’s “second line” parade.
A “second line” parade is a roaming party experience that’s uniquely New Orleans. It’s like a scene straight out of HBO’s Treme, a full brass band blasting swinging jazz into the air. Paraders dress in elaborate costumes while drinking and dancing down the street and people will sell you booze and barbecue from the back of their trucks. Everything is awesome.
On the way to the airport, don’t forget to stop by Central Grocery and pick up a couple of muffulettas. This Holy Grail of an Italian sandwich is filled with layers of beautiful meats and cheeses. All the usual suspects are here: capicola, salami, mortadella, pepperoni, ham, plus slices of Swiss and provolone cheese. What makes it unearthly though, is the olive spread and the large, round, sesame-dotted fluffy bread that hugs all the goodness inside. Grab two because they travel well and let’s face it, gluttony is forever.
There are tourists and there are travelers in New Orleans. Be neither. The best thing is to be a local. Get out into the city and take the party beyond Bourbon Street. That’s the one best bad decision everyone should make.