[QUICK ESCAPE]

In New Orleans, Learning the Art of Indulgence

Celebrate the city's food, art, culture and history like a native
New Orleans and I go way back. As a cub reporter new to southern Louisiana, this lovely city—Nola to her friends—threw open her shutters and invited me in. Amid hidden courtyards and ornate balconies, I learned the art of indulgence, that parties can coalesce out of thin air, and that it’s almost never worth it to sweat the small stuff. Hopscotching the country in the years that followed, those lessons never faded—and I never stopped returning. Naturally, when I found out my slightly crazy pal was turning 300 this year, I decided to celebrate her food, culture, and history in ways only New Orleans can.
Catahoula Hotel

Sleep

The Catahoula Hotel brings a boutique vibe to a French Quarter–adjacent neighborhood dominated by skyscrapers. Each of the 35 rooms in the 200-year-old restored Creole town house features luxe touches such as rainfall showers, furniture made of local cypress, and exposed brick walls. Check out the rooftop bar for tropical vibes and the bunk room, a four-twin guest room perfect for friends traveling together. Rates from $139. (504) 603-2442; catahoulahotel.com.

New Orleans Restaurants

Photographs clockwise from left: The Franklin and its Hive Mind cocktail, and the four-inch-tall pork chop served at Toups' Meatery.

Eat

I find the Nola food scene more vibrant than ever. There’s a collective “whoa!” as a monolithic, 4-inch-tall pork chop appears on our table. “Sorry,” the waiter quips. “We had to bring you a small one.” Toups’ Meatery revels in house-made hog’s head cheese, melting curls of pork belly “cracklins,” and smoky pastrami cured under the eye of James Beard Award–nominated Isaac Toups. (504) 252-4999; toupsmeatery.com.

Compère Lapin, a Caribbean-Nola fusion restaurant, dishes such as conch croquettes and curried goat play on the two regions’ common Creole heritage. “Compère Lapin is compelling and original,” says Ian McNulty, food writer for the New Orleans Advocate. “Different from the standard Creole playbook.” (504) 599-2119; comperelapin.com.

Snacks: For something more casual, I climb the steps of a colorful walk-up window at Fry and Pie in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood and catch the aroma of hand-cut fries cooking. The husband-wife team behind the all-patio dining spot draws on two decades of culinary experience and world travels to concoct poutines (a Canadian dish of french fries traditionally covered with brown gravy and cheese curds) such as the Thai Fighter with spicy peanut sauce and pickled bean sprouts. (504) 295-7021; fryandpie.com.

Night cap: Using an atomizer, Holly Brown, general manager of The Franklin spritzes isolated liquid beeswax molecules into my cocktail glass, and I think of my favorite New Orleans–set book, Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume. A sip of The Franklin’s Hive Mind (inset) melds bourbon, citrus, and a bee-pollen rim, making the drink as magical as the story’s elusive fragrance. (504) 267-0640; thefranklinnola.com.

The Spot Cat jazz club in New Orleans

Do

Around the open, neon-lighted doorways of Frenchmen Street, more than 20 jazz venues—including clubs, restaurants, and bars—pulse with music seven nights a week. In the happy chaos of a Thursday night, I still find my old favorite: the Spotted Cat Music Club (above). Inside, the high-tempo, high-talent Jumbo Shrimp Jazz Band strums, plucks, and trumpets away as swing dancers cycle around a cramped dance floor in captivating pairs. One-drink minimum nightly with a $5 cover charge on Fridays and Saturdays; cash only. spottedcatmusicclub.com.

Visiting the National WWII Museum is a deep dive into the experiences of those who lived through the conflict—or didn’t. Treading past rubble piled in the corners of a gallery dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge, I emerge into an eerily silent faux forest complete with simulated snow similar to what soldiers might have faced. I actually shiver. I scan a handwritten letter from Louisiana attorney W. Davis Cotton, who “… is praying war won’t be needed.” A reproduction Higgins Boat honors the landing craft so crucial in the Normandy invasion and its manufacturer, New Orleans–based Higgins Industries. Adult admission, $27. (504) 528-1944; nationalww2museum.org.

JaciBlue Store in New Orleans

Shop

Imbibing the city’s signature joie de vivre, I browse boutiques selling everything from statement-piece necklaces to whimsical umbrellas along a four-block stretch of Lower Magazine Street. “This area has changed exponentially in the last few years. It’s very hip; there’s new life,” says Jaclyn McCabe, who opened the fashion-forward size-12-and-up clothier Jaci Blue (above) in 2016. (504) 603-2929; jaciblue.com.

Getting around

Nola streetcars offer a convenient, affordable ($1.25 fares) way to get around. tinyurl.com/2elzrh.

Photographs by Kerry Maloney for Westways,  the magazine for members of the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Your AAA travel agent can provide trip-planning information. Visit an Auto Club branch, call (800) 814-7471, or go to AAA.com/explore. Free New Orleans Vicinity maps are available at an Auto Club branch. More info about New Orleans is at (504) 566-5003 or neworleansonline.com.