“Beignet, done that.” — Four Days in New Orleans
My husband Scott and I have birthdays within one month of each other, and after a few years of fumbling to procure the perfect birthday gift, we got frank. Our tiny New York apartment had no counter space for a juicer, and had about as much luck buying each other clothes as your great aunt does in knitting you a particularly chic holiday sweater. So, we made a promise to never again waste our money on birthday or Christmas things. Instead, we’d spend our money on a joint vacation and give ourselves an escape that we could enjoy together.
When choosing our birthday destination this year, we had three criteria: 1) A place that was close enough to NYC that we could make a long weekend out of it; 2) A place we’d never visited (or in my case, had only visited as a child); and 3) A place that was gay friendly. After putting a poll out to my followers, New Orleans revealed itself as the most popular choice. I started scrounging Instagram and YouTube, and with the help of internet friends Matt and Beau of @ProbablyThis, we put together an itinerary for a four-day getaway to the Big Easy.
Don’t ever say that social media marketing is bull, because the majority of hotels I’ve stayed at are chosen because I first saw them on Instagram. I’d been following Henry Howard Hotel for a few months before booking our travel. Their feed was a collection of shots of the historic hotel mixed with lifestyle photos of Southern elegance. Nestled in the quiet and historic Garden District, it also seemed like the perfect antidote to the shenanigans of the French Quarter.
The building itself dates back to 1867 and was built by the eponymous star-chitect Henry Howard. (We learned much more about him on our self-guided walking tour of the Garden District, which was available as a print-out from the concierge).
Upon our near midnight arrival, we were greeted by the friendly night staff and showed to our room featuring a gorgeous four-poster king bed. Though the bed looked awfully inviting, we had some “good times to roll,” so instead, we chugged a Red Bull and hailed an Uber to Bourbon Street.
Before you judge us, let me go on record by saying that Scott and I have had our fair share of low-impact vacations, spent lounging on the beach or browsing local bookstores, or wandering the quiet streets of European cities. This, dear reader, was not one of those vacations. Bourbon Street at midnight — our very first glimpse of the city — was a near perfect preview of the kind of debauchery that was in store for us.
While the rowdy French Quarter is, understandably, some peoples’ personal hellscape, to Scott and I, it was actually a blast. We stopped at the first shop that we saw was selling alcoholic Slurpees (admittedly, not difficult to locate) and ordered the biggest frozen hurricanes they sold. NoLa famously has no open-container laws, and despite my four years at a state school, I still get a rush from carrying a drink in public. We had a long list of LGBT bars in the “fruit loop” of the French Quarter, and we began making our way down the list. Our favorite (and thrice visited) was Good Friends Bar. Situated just a block from Bourbon Street, Good Friends felt like a dream neighborhood hang, a place where you could sit on the balcony sipping strong drinks as early-2000s nostalgia bops blasted from indoors. It wasn’t until our final trip that we were told to order “The Separator,” their signature drink — a delicious alcoholic Frosty topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Its name, I can only guess, comes from its ability to separate you from both your sobriety and your goal weight. After a few drinks and a not-particularly-memorable bowl of 3 a.m. gumbo and po’boy, we snuggled back into our cushy bed at the Henry Howard.
The next morning, we woke up, surprisingly, not hungover. (Likely due to the obsessive chugging of water the night before). Henry Howard Hotel is conveniently only a block from the main streetcar line and we ambled across the street with only one thing on the mind — beignets. Yes, I know visiting Café du Monde is touristy and “New Orleans basic,” but it was the main thing I remembered from my trip as a kid. The line wasn’t terribly long for a Saturday morning and we ordered two heaping portions of beignets and accompanying frozen lattes. The sweet and greasy beignets were just as good as I remembered, and the lattes were our new favorite discovery (we would stop by two more times during the trip to fuel up).
We wandered through nearby Jackson Square and the French Market where vendors hawked local fare and handmade gifts. A tip from YouTube led us to J’s Seafood Dock for a deep-fried softshell crab, which we happily split for lunch. By 2 p.m. we decided it was time to start drinking again, naturally, so we stopped by Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, the oldest bar in New Orleans, for their famous “purple drink.” It’s the only frozen cocktail that locals actually drink and despite being loaded with Jack Daniels and Everclear, the alcohol was barely detectable. Trouble.
If we could recommend only one thing from this trip, it would be our next stop — the Nola Drag Walking Tour, given by local historian and drag queen Quinn Laroux. This was unequivocally our favorite moment of the trip. While walking tours are a dime a dozen in the French Quarter, Quinn, a local drag queen, ditches mainstream lore for a deeper dive into the history of women, queer people and people of color in the city. Her stories were fascinating and informative and shed a light on sex work, organized crime, voodoo swindling and a lot of historical pettiness. Seriously, check her out. Not only did she commit to day drag in 90-degree heat, but queen had a bibliography!
After getting seriously lost on the streetcar home, (do not trust GoogleMaps with streetcar directions!) we showered and headed to the Warehouse District to have dinner at Cochon, a popular restaurant specializing in butchered meats in the Cajun style. We skipped the traditional entrees and instead ordered a swath of appetizers to share. I still have dreams about wood-fired oysters with chili garlic butter. Be sure to ask for extra bread to soak up the butter.
After dinner, we made a pitstop at Café Du Monde to grab some more frozen lattes, natch, and walked over to the Marigny neighborhood for some live music. We popped our heads into a handful of bars along the famed Frenchman Street where some of the city’s most popular jazz musicians perform nightly. We then hoofed it back to the French Quarter to catch a drag show at Bourbon Pub Parade, a popular gay bar with a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street. The show was a blast and we even ran into friends from Instagram (one all the way from Amsterdam!). After the show we all skipped across the street to Oz and danced to pop music early into the morning hours.
The next morning we weren’t quite so lucky to dodge our hangovers, but luckily, I’d made reservations at the elegant and low-key spot The Country Club, an LGBT-owned restaurant and pool club in the Bywater neighborhood. We were tipped off to make a reservation well in advance — I think I booked it three months prior — and we were so glad we did. We had a tasty brunch of chicken and waffles complete with mimosas and “to-gosas” which we carried to their gorgeous pool in the backyard. This pool was truly a sight for our weary New Yorker eyes. A place like this could only exist in a city like New Orleans, and was the perfect oasis after twin nights of partying. The crowd was mostly young, about 50-50 gay and straight, many showing off their muscled bodies in tiny swimsuits. We caught a few zzz’s by the pool in between sips of frozen piña coladas. We even made a few friends — it really is true, New Orleans is one of the friendliest cities in America!
After luxuriating the afternoon away at The Country Club, we explored the hipster neighborhood of Bywater with its colorful street art and taffy painted houses before making our way over to Bacchanal Wine, another backyard utopia. Bacchanal consists of a wine and cheese store with a giant backyard that is host to all kinds of live music acts. Basically, you buy a bottle of wine and pick out a few meats and cheeses and they prepare it all for you to enjoy while you kick back at a picnic table and listen to some local music. While popular with locals, it still felt like we were in on a bit of a secret. I wonder how long until this place becomes completely overrun with tourists (like us).
We finished the evening with a late-night dinner at Coquette, an innovative Southern restaurant in the Garden District. We were both in agreement that this was our favorite meal of the trip! The food was outstanding and the ambiance quiet and romantic. Staring across the table, Scott and I seemed to fall even more in love with each other (and also with their famous smoked catfish dip).
On our final full day in New Orleans, we decided to take the aforementioned walking tour of the historic Garden District, but not before swinging by District Donuts for a sugary breakfast.
The walking tour took us past the famous mansions of the neighborhood, many designed by Henry Howard, and through the Lafayette Cemetery were we visited some spooky above-ground graves.
For lunch we stopped by Turkey and the Wolf, a kitschy sandwich shop that was very busy even for a Monday afternoon, and with good reason — their sandwiches and lunch cocktails were delicious! Before leaving, we wanted to catch up with our Instagram friends Matt and Beau, two New Orleans lifestyle bloggers (and the inspiration for so many of our recommendations). We met them for afternoon daiquiris at the charming Cane and Table in the French Quarter. They were complete sweethearts and it was so nice to see that they were as adorable and friendly in person as they are online. Do yourself a favor and check out their blog, ProbablyThis.
Our final meal was at Cochon Butcher, the sandwich store connected to Cochon where we’d had dinner at a few nights prior. After sampling po’boys, gumbo, jambalaya and beignets, the last iconic New Orleans food we had to check off our list was the muffaleta, a grilled Italian sandwich which we inhaled within minutes of it hitting the table. We considered hitting up the Fruit Loop for goodbye nightcaps, but after three days of essentially nonstop drinking, we settled for a more appropriate vice — Café du Monde for one more powdery plate of beignets.