The Big Easy, Briefly
Where we’re at: I’m recapping my summer of 2018, which included this brief trip to New Orleans in July. In other news: I’m speaking at TravelCon 2020 in New Orleans! Use SPEAKER50 to get $50 off.
New Orleans has become a familiar old friend, a statement I feel incredibly privileged to make. How lucky was I, to be making my fourth trip to one of the most unique, soul-filled cities in the USA?
New Orleans was at the tippy top of Ian’s America bucket list for quite a long time, and so when one of his best friends from Canada planned his bachelor party there, Ian immediately booked a ticket from Thailand. He wanted to really get a, erm, sober look at the place as well (there’s no way to put that delicately, eh?) so he extended the trip post-stag festivities, and the two of us made plans to meet and wander around the city for a few days together, the first stop on what was meant to be an epic summer tour of the states.
Some of you already know the trip was cut very short, to the point that I wondered if I’d have anything significant to really share in this blog post.
But, our hosts in New Orleans were unfailingly kind and understanding during a difficult time for me, and that has to count for something, right? So I wanted to share what we got up to, however briefly.
What a welcome! Okay, so technically the balloons at the airport weren’t exclusively for us, the bubbles and banana foster cake awaiting us at Le Meridien New Orleans certainly were. Talk about Southern hospitality.
Our windows boasted beautiful views over the Mississippi River, over which I watched the sunrise both nights we spent in this room spacious enough to double as a New York City apartment.
These days, I forgo hotel toiletries 90% of the time and use my own eco-friendly versions in order to reduce waste. The 10% of the time I don’t is because I’m indulging — this was one of those times! Malin + Goetz is such a pampering brand, and went so well with the perfect steamy shower and the cloud-like bed.
It was like whoever designed this hotel knew that you’d need to really unwind and recharge after all the debauchery that is a typical New Orleans trip.
I am sad to report that due to the urgency with which we whirled out of New Orleans, we didn’t have time to lounge by the hotel’s rooftop pool (which is an incredibly clever use of tight urban spaces) or use it’s winking little fitness center (seriously, there was a hand-lettered sign inside that said, “sparkle, don’t sweat!”)
But both, I muse as I write this, sound like excellent reasons to return someday. Little makes me happier than sun and sweat.
We’ll also need to swoop back to try out the two onsite restaurants, Marche, which serves breakfast, and Longitude 90, open for all meals.
What we soaked up from truly our first glance at Le Meridien New Orleans, however, was the incredible art and design. This hotel really shows an incredibly commitment to highlighting the local cultural scene, from hiring a local artist for the iconic mural on the patio (surely one of the most ‘grammable spots in New Orleans) to the brand’s Unlock Art program, which in this iteration, allows guests complimentary access to the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art and New Orleans Museum of Art simply by presenting their hotel keycard.
Finally, it’s dog friendly. Honestly, what more is there to say than that.
So, how did we spend our tiny sliver of time in New Orleans? Ian had been there all weekend hitting up the tourist hotspots, and after a few trips, I’d certainly ticked off several of the iconic activities.
And so we went a little offbeat.
We were wiped the night I arrived, and so we simply walked over from the hotel to Auction House Market, one of the hip food halls that we desperately hope never go out of style. I love that you can go with a group and everyone can eat whatever their heart desires, yet everyone comes together to eat under one roof (and in my case, that means I can fly under the radar a bit while eating dessert for dinner. Gotta do what you gotta do — especially when there are artisanal macaroons on the menu.
The next day, we headed out to Magazine Street to check out some of the galleries I’d long had on my wishlist, from Ashley Longshore to Alex Beard. And we found them tragically closed due to the July 4th holiday — a little planning face palm moment on my part.
Most of the restaurants in this area were dark, too — but on the upside, we felt like we had the colorful streets to ourselves.
So we gave in and went where we knew there’d be be crowds — somewhere alcohol was being sold. I’d briefly visited Country Club on a previous trip to New Orleans, and vowed to come back and see it someday in full swing. Well, friends, the crowds were out in force for this splashy summer event. Mission accomplished.
Whether it’s a popping off pool party or a laid-back afternoon where you have the place to yourself, this place truly is one of my favorite little finds in the Big Easy.
We decided to make the most of our waning hours in the city with dinner at Bywater American Bistro, one of Ian’s top picks for the trip.
Faced with a long wait at the door, we walked to the nearby Studio Be to fulfill one step of my gallery-hopping dream for the trip. For making it to just one art institution, we really stumbled into a moving one. The sprawling warehouses that make up Studio Be are home to the works of BMike, an artist who shares the black experience in New Orleans through powerful, confronting works.
County Club, Bywater American Bistro and Studio Be are all within easy walking distance of each other in New Orlean’s bohemian Bywater neighborhood. If you’re looking for areas to explore in addition to Bourbon Street, the Bywater should certainly make your short-list.
We made our way back towards our hotel and walked hand in hand towards the riverfront. You’d think to get front row seats to Fourth of July fireworks, you’d need to set up somewhere around noon, but we had no trouble finding somewhere to sit down on the riverbank. (Which surprised me zero after my similar experience watching the fireworks on New Years Eve in New Orleans, several years back.)
My heart swelled as the fireworks burst over the river. There were mere hours until my flight. It wasn’t the trip I’d planned, and my mind was hundreds of miles away. But I knew New Orleans would understand.
And as I packed my bags in the darkness and waited for that first morning light, I knew she knew I’d be back, too.
New Orleans, you’ve got me as a fan — and friend — for life.
‘Till next time, New Orleans…
Many thanks to Le Meridien New Orleans and New Orleans & Company for hosting me, and even more so for being so incredible when my trip took an unexpected turn — and for telling me to not even worry about ever writing this post. Your kindness was and is heartwarming.
I’ve been dying to check out BMike’s work since it centers around Tennessee! The I AM A MAN art is all over Memphis.
You will forever be the mural queen in my mind 🙂 I hope someday I can show you the ones around Albany!
Speaking of hotel bathrooms, they are pretty awesome, aren’t they? Sometimes, I come across nice ones and thought – Man, I’d stay there. Have you seen The Williamsburg Hotel in Brooklyn? Might be your type. The turquoise bathroom tiles and fittings are so industrial chic.
I’ve been in the public areas of the hotel but not the rooms. I’d love to someday though!
Wow – you are showing a quite glam side of New Orleans. Nice to see it.
I always saw the grungy side of N.O. although I loved every minute there.
Ha, I’ve seen the grungy side too 😉 Love them both.
I like how you tell us about your experiences. You really inspire people to travel more! New Orleans looks like a dream town!
Thanks for reading Lucian!
Now that I FINALLY got to cross New Orleans off my bucket list this summer, I’m even more excited to read anything NOLA-related, no matter how brief. This is definitely swankier than we got up to, though I do wish in retrospect we had just booked a hotel rather than an Airbnb. We loved our place, but we didn’t cook there nearly as much as we originally intended – rookie mistake. Studio Be looks phenomenal, and if I ever manage to make my way back, I will absolutely be headed there.
Yeah that’s tough. I definitely try to consider how much I will actually use the amenities of an Airbnb before I book. In a city as delicious as New Orleans, it’s tempting not to eat out every meal!