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I consider New Year’s Eve to be a pretty take-it-or-leave-it holiday, but in the last few years my December 31st game has been tight. In fact, I really didn’t think anything could top the fiery celebrations of the previous year in Baños, Ecuador, and I didn’t plan to try. I’d just stay in New York and do something low key, and fly out the next week when flights returned to reasonable level, I thought.
And then my sister invited me to New Orleans, and my best friend announced she was Louisiana-bound. And as it turned out, New Year’s Eve would be the cherry on top of an altogether unbeatable trip.
Things started out pretty darn strong. For Christmas, my spa-loving sister had gifted us massages at The Ritz! Well, technically, she gifted us massages as a much cheaper spa, and her lovely boyfriend Oliver cancelled those reservations and rebooked us at The Ritz, making the difference his own generous gift. (Actually, The Ritz has a 20% weekday massage discount for Louisiana residents that they were so kind as to honor even on a holiday. Huzzah, Ritz spa!)
We arrived early to take advantage of the sauna, steam room, and pool — and, despite what our sporty outfits might portray, not the gym.
The massages were absolutely fabulous, and the genius of my sister’s plan was revealed when we returned to the plush ladies lounge to start primping. We were downtown, we had free valet parking, and there were complimentary glasses of champagne in our hands. It was the perfect kick off to any New Year’s Eve.
Properly beautified, we sauntered across the street to Domenica, the acclaimed pizza restaurant inside The Waldorf. There, we were joined by Zoe, Emma, and Oliver for our collective last meal of 2014.
Like The Ritz, Dominica honored their standard happy hour of half price pizzas and drinks from 2-5pm. We couldn’t have asked for a better evening — the food was perfect, our waiter was amused by our antics, and we enthusiastically recapped and ranked our highlights and lowlights of the closing year, and our hopes and plans for the upcoming one.
Somehow — and I’m a little fuzzy on the details here, which I’m going to blame on the mojito special — I ended up telling our waiter that we had all met through a Meetup group for people whose birthdays fell on December 31st, and thus it was currently all of our birthdays.
We doubled over when he delivered a complimentary birthday dessert with a wink — but Zoe had the last laugh when she left him her number on the receipt, unbeknownst to the rest of us (and yup, he called.)
At this point, our nights split off in two directions. Olivia and Oliver headed off to a swank house party in the suburbs — the perfect thing for two New Orleans residents to do, while Emma and Zoe and I headed off to Bourbon Street — the perfect thing for three bumbling New Orleans tourists to do.
Despite being several days into their trip, it was Zoe and Emma’s first time walking down the infamous road — and what a night to be introduced to New Orleans’ most debaucherous drag.
Thrilled not to be tied to a club or party with a ridiculous entrance fee, we mostly roamed the streets people-gawking, and occasionally dipping into roadside stalls to refill on the most ridiculous drinks we could find. Eventually we needed a break from the body slamming of the streets and ducked into Sing Sing, which was being serenaded by a soul-filled live band. It was the perfect Bourbon Street find, despite the debacle at the bar.
In an only-in-New-Orleans moment, I was served, sloppily, by a middle-aged bartender who was so drunk her supervisor had to step in for her to complete the transaction. Sober Bartender returned my card saying it was blocked, which I later learned was because Drunk Bartender had swiped it eleven times. I handed over a new card to Sober Bartender, which I’d regret later when I realized I was charged on two separate credit cards, launching a months-long dispute between my credit card companies in the bar.
But all that was in the future. In the moment, we laughed off Drunk Bartender’s antics and cheers-ed to live music, good friends, and drinkin’ straight from mini-champagne bottles.
At one point, I went to take a picture with my iPhone and realized it was almost midnight. “Where do we want to be for the start of 2015?!,” I asked frantically. Emma reminded us that there were fireworks in Jackson Square, though Zoe and I were skeptical we’d be able to get anywhere near it.
We quickly agreed — what the hell, let’s give it a shot. And it was with surprising ease that we made our way to the Square, pushed our way to the riverfront, and were standing with front row views as fireworks erupted over the Mississippi.
One word of constructive criticism, NOLA — a countdown would have been nice. But that aside, it was a magical moment. The huge, awe-inspiring show was complemented by smaller colorful bursts going off as far as the eye could see across the river. It was a great feeling of community — tonight, everyone was celebrating.
Swept away by the crowd as the last firework fell, we noted a distinct drop in temperature, and sought refuge (and snacks) in a bodega while we planned our next move.
Bourbon Street seemed too hectic to return to, and so we pointed ourselves in the direction of Bourbon’s cool, hipster, skinny-jean wearing older sister Frenchman’s Street, where we sought more live music and good vibes. And we found them.
Inevitably though, our dying batteries and the dropping temperatures (we’d packed for the mid-seventies of just a few days prior, and were unprepared when things took an unexpected turn for the low forties) caught up with us, and we found ourselves yawning and shivering with increasing frequency. But that was just fine — the day had been perfect. We were satisfied to call it a night.
But there was one more stop in store for us. In my zombie-like state, I was focused on food, and rather than navigate the group home, I led us towards Café du Monde, where earlier, the post-firework lines had snaked around the block.
At this point it was rounding 2:30am and we were greeted by a radiant smile and a warm welcome from the man behind the takeaway counter. “Sir, I am so sorry you have to work right now!,” Emma said, mind wandering to the late hour, the chaotic crowds and the cold. “Oh ma’am,” he laughed but looked his voice was full of sincerity as he promised, “I just say… thank God we able to work.” He nodded, quietly confident, and handed us our beignets.
Something clicked, and I just felt completely overwhelmed by emotion. That, I thought, is the positive and grateful attitude I want to bring with me into 2015. Damn. It was the most beautiful interaction to end the night on.
(So was the interaction of those beignets with my mouth, but that kind of goes without saying.)
thankfully Zoe never outgrew disposable cameras
The next morning we woke up feeling surprisingly fresh and set off to explore the French Quarter. It was a gray day and most businesses were closed, but there was plenty to keep us amused.
As Olivia had been unable to add us to her own long-standing brunch reservation (seriously people, make ’em early for the holidays in New Orleans), we found ourselves gravitating to the classic Court of Two Sisters jazz brunch.
I admit I was skeptical — it seemed suspiciously like a tourist trap, and I almost never feel like I get my money’s worth out of a buffet (I’m more of an eat-ten-meals-a-day than eat-one-big-one kind of girl).
And yup — it was touristy, especially on this day when the place was packed with Sugar Bowl fans. But it was also unexpectedly delicious, and I got to try several Southern specialties that I’d never wanted to risk ordering a whole meal of. Plus, I got to sit outside in an airy courtyard. With two sisters. At Two Sisters!
It was perfect.
Eventually, we reunited with Olivia and Oliver for some post-brunch fireside cocktails at Bar Tonique, recommended by longtime reader Becky. It was the perfect cozy spot to wind down, but we howled with laughter when my sister admitted she’d only come under duress, and we looked up the scathing Yelp review she’d left after her last visit.
And after a much-needed nap, we ended our New Year festivities the same way we do Christmas — a movie. I adored the fancy dine-in Theaters at Canal Place, and will absolutely be returning on future trips to New Orleans.
I could not have asked for a better way ring in 2015.