New Orleans, Louisiana
Story and Photos by Corinna Lothar
Gras, the French Quarter, the Garden District, the streetcar (now a
bus) to Desire, the jazz clubs, the beignets at the Café du Monde
and breakfast at Brennans come to mind when you think of New Orleans.
But thats not all there is to this unique American city, filled
with treasures both culinary and cultural.
Named for Philippe II, Duc dOrleans, who was regent
of France during the childhood of Louis XV, New Orleans was founded
on a crescent shaped bend in the Mississippi River at the beginning
of the 18th century.
In the beginning, the city was a settlement of wooden
shacks, inhabited by rough and tough men. To accommodate the ruffians,
many of whom were ex-convicts, France sent prostitutes and female prison
inmates to join the male settlers. Later casket girls came
from Paris, each selected for housewifely skills and given a small chest
of things she would need to start her new life. The Ursuline Sisters
founded a convent in the new city in 1727 and wayward girls were shipped
to the convent. In Puccinis opera, Manon Lescaut,
the heroine is deported from Paris to Louisiana as a loose woman. She
dies in the desert near New Orleans.
St. Louis Cathedral
King Louis XV ceded much of Louisiana to his Spanish
cousin, Carlos II, partly to avoid having it fall into British hands
at the end of the Seven Years War, also known as the French and
Indian War. After three quarters of the city burned in 1788 and in 1794,
the city was rebuilt in Spanish style of bricks, firewalls, iron balconies
and courtyards, replacing the simple wooden French buildings. The city
was returned to French rule in 1800 at a time when about half of the
8,000 inhabitants were Creoles of French descent and about a quarter
Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana tract, which
extended north from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada and west from the Mississippi
River to the Rockies, from Napoleon in 1803 for fifteen million dollars.
The Haitian rebellion against France of 1804 brought an influx of Haitians
to New Orleans, bringing with them their traditions.
After Andrew Jackson, with the aid of pirate Jean Lafitte,
defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the
War of 1812, New Orleans prospered until the Civil War brought Gen.
Benjamin Butler and his draconian rule during the occupation of the
city by Union troops. In a fit of anger, he issued his infamous order
No. 9 declaring the women of New Orleans would be treated as women
of the town, plying their trade. He is still known in New Orleans
as Beast Butler.
By the end of the century, however, the city was again
flourishing and it became a center for artists, writers and musicians.
Part of what made the city attractive to tourists was its flesh trade.
New Orleans red-light district of bordellos and jazz clubs became
known as Storyville when Councilman Sidney Story got an ordinance passed
that restricted prostitution to a red-light district just outside the
The city became famous for its music and its Creole
heritage. The term Creole derives from the Spanish criolla,
a name given to people of European descent who were born in French or
Spanish colonies in the New World.
New Orleans restaurants are well known for their
classic Creole cooking, which reflects the waves of European immigration
combined with Native American, Caribbean and African influences emphasizing
butter, cream, tomatoes and a light roux made with butter and fresh
French Quarter - Gumbo sign
Friday lunch at Galatoires
with its splendid pommes soufflés (air puffed potatoes) with
béarnaise sauce; Sunday brunch at
Brennans with eggs Benedict and champagne; rich, earthy gumbo
(and fresh oysters) at the Acme
Oyster House; the Palace Cafés
delectable crabmeat cheesecake; muffulletas at the Central Grocery or
traditional red beans and rice at Dooky Chase all are wonderful
examples of some of the Crescent Citys best.
But in recent years, New Orleans, like the rest of the
country, has offered visitors and residents some new American cooking.
Chef-restaurateur John Besh creates world-class sophisticated dishes
at his restaurant, August. Together with chef Alon Shaya, Besh recently
opened Domenica, an
Italian trattoria, in the dramatically restored Roosevelt Hotel. At
Domenica, Chef Alon makes the best pizza I have ever tasted and
the pizza, along with beer and wine by the glass, are half-price every
day from 3 to 6 p.m. The
Roosevelt is a must for nostalgia seekers. The block long lobby
has been restored to its original golden splendor, including a replica
of Huey Longs De-duct Box, which contained a percentage
of each state employees monthly wages. After Longs death,
the original, thought to have been hidden by the Kingfish
somewhere in the hotel, was never found.
In the Roosevelts Sazerac Bar, the Art Deco-style
murals by artist Paul Ninas can be admired as the Sazerac cocktail and
Ramos gin fizz are served once again; and in the Blue Room, where from
the 1930s to the 1960s some of the best-known names in entertainment
and big bands held forth, the hotel will again host live entertainment.
chef owner Donald Link reverts to his familys Cajun roots and
honors the mighty pig with such dishes as deep fried hog head cheese
and pickled pork tongue, but he also features ham hocks, Louisiana pork
roast, pork ribs and fried alligator for those who prefer something
that tastes vaguely like chicken but isnt chicken.
du Monde continues to be a magnet for tourists in search of coffee
and beignets at all hours of the day and night. But the beignets we
tasted were doughy and the coffee lukewarm. For the real thing, the
way it used to be, visit the Morning
Call in the Metairie suburb, about half-way between the city and
the airport. Like Café du Monde, the only items served are beignets
and coffee, but the former are fresh, crisp, and delicious, made almost
to order, while the café-au-lait is hot and freshly made. The
atmosphere of the French Quarter may be missing, but when the Morning
Call moved out of the Quarter several years ago, it took all its furnishings,
counters, mirrors and lights along. Inside its pure nostalgia.
Morning Call- rolling out the beignet dough
After the devastation of Katrina, the streetcars have
come back. They run along Canal Street from the river north to the cemeteries,
and a ride is a pleasant way to see the city. The same is even more
delightful on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, which goes southwest
through the Garden District with its many gorgeous Victorian houses.
Its the New Orleans of the movies.
Canal Street streetcar
The Riverfront Streetcar line follows a bend in the
Mississippi from the eastern end of the French Quarter down to the cruise
terminal and convention center. At the end of the line is the Riverwalk
Marketplace where the Southern
Food & Beverage Museum is located. Inside the museum is the
of the American Cocktail.
SoFAB as the Museum of Southern Food is called, is dedicated
to the discovery and understanding of the food and drink of the South.
There are interesting permanent and temporary exhibits relating to the
history of Southern cooking and entertaining. The museum shop offers
some charming folk art paintings for sale.
The Museum of the American Cocktail is a delightful
mix of everything connected with the American cocktail, from ingredients
to appropriate glassware. There are books and prints relating to the
cocktail, as well as tools, gadgets, memorabilia and photographs that
bring to life the 200 year history of the cocktail. The museum offers
mixology presentations on the first Monday of each month.
Entrance to the Museum of American Cocktail
No one knows where the cocktail was invented.
Its name probably derives from the many colors in a roosters tail
representing the diverse ingredients that are combined to make a cocktail.
The word was first used in The Farmers Cabinet on
April 28, 1803, and first defined as a stimulating liquor composed
of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters in the May 13,
1806 edition of Balance and Columbian Repository.
The Sazerac is considered the official cocktail of New
Orleans. Its made of sugar, bitters, Sazerac rye whiskey and herbsaint.
Herbsaint originally was marketed as absinthe, renamed herbsaint when
the U.S. government banned absinthe as having detrimental effects on
people who drank it.
New Orleans doesnt lack traditional museums, such
as the New
Orleans Museum of Art in City Park or the Ogden
Museum of Southern Art in the Warehouse District, which showcases
photography, sculpture and folk art as well as more traditional 19th
century regional art. In its Ogden After Hours programs, the museum
offers the community music and story telling every Thursday from 6 to
The Warehouse District is home to the Contemporary Arts
Center, the Louisiana Childrens Museum and the Civil War Museum
as well. Perhaps New Orleans most exciting museum is the National
World War II Museum, formerly the National D-Day Museum, opened
on June 6, 2000, to the day 56 years after the Allies stormed Hitlers
Atlantic Wall in Normandy. Many of the exhibits are centered on personal
stories. The museum has an extensive collection of World War II artifacts,
including a replica of one of the Higgins boats, designed and built
by Andrew Higgins in New Orleans. These boats, produced by the thousands,
were the landing craft in both the Atlantic and Pacific theatres.
On Wednesdays at noon, the Victory Belles, a vocal trio
who take visitors on a nostalgic journey through World War II era musical
numbers perform in the Stage
Door Canteen in the museum. On Friday and Saturday evenings, and
Sunday matinees, Let Freedom Swing is the show, with eight
singers and dancers performing World War II classic numbers. New Orleans
chef John Besh is responsible for the pre-show dinner and brunch.
Insectarium display sign
Nature Institute includes the Aquarium, located adjacent to the
French Quarter, the Zoo in uptown New Orleans and the Insectarium in
the old U.S. Custom House on Canal Street. The Insectarium is fascinating
for adults as well as children. There, a visitor will find free-flight
butterflies, a Louisiana swamp where local insects and plants thrive,
an underground gallery of huge bugs and all manner of creepy crawlies
New Orleans, like Paris, is a city where cemeteries
draw tourists and other visitors. Because the city is prone to flooding,
the graves are above ground and burials are in little houses of
the dead. Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau is buried in the cemetery
on Rampart Street, just above the French Quarter. A small voodoo museum
is located in the French Quarter.
A visit to New Orleans should include a trip to the
plantations lining the river some 50 miles outside the city. Houmas
House, the Sugar Palace, is one of the oldest and loveliest,
dating back to the 1770s. The present mansion was built in the 1820s
by Wade Hampton, the largest sugar producer in Louisiana and the largest
slave holder in the South. John Burnside purchased the house in 1858.
He became the largest sugar planter in America; his 300,000 acres made
him the sugar prince of Louisiana.
Today, the house and gardens are an oasis of beauty.
The 23-room house has a large collection of antique furnishing and paintings,
as well as objects from the 19th century. The collection incudes a Civil
War era submarine. But it is the gardens which truly delight with their
wealth of flowers, magnificent old oak trees and fountains. Its
a lovely place for lunch, a party or a wedding.
Houmas House Civil War submarine
The devastation wrought by Katrina is slowing giving
way to rebuilding and resettling in Lakeview and even in the 9th Ward.
The Garden District and the French Quarter were not damaged by the flooding.
So, if you want to walk down Bourbon Street with a Sazerac in hand,
or wander along the river munching a poboy sandwich, or sit on
a bench in Jackson Square listening to some strolling musicians, or
ponder the sacrifices made by the GIs of World War II, or browse through
the shops on Magazine Street, think NOLA. Dont forget the many
festivals celebrated throughout the year from Mardi Gras in winter,
to the Tennessee Williams literary festival in spring, the jazz and
food festivals in summer and the William Faulkner festival coming up
in fall. Youre sure to have a good time, any time.