“I’m coming to visit!” Four words that every New Orleanian knows well. My heart jumps at the thought of seeing an old friend from college and I instantly start planning all the great New Orleans-y places to take them: poboy shops, dive bars, snowball stands, music halls, the works. In two seconds I have planned a week-long itinerary in my head for two old friends to catch up, eat great food, and have “one to many” at the local drinking establishments that alone call for their own itinerary.
Only a second later my thought process comes to an immediate halt. The four words that sent me into this tizzy are followed by the dreaded phrase…”and we are going out on Bourbon Street!” Cringe! I can’t stomach another friend or visitor dragging me out on Bourbon Street. Why is this the ONLY place that anyone wants to go when they come to New Orleans?!
Abandoned Bourbon (copyright PGA 2009)
Somewhere along the way, let’s guesstimate about 30 years ago, New Orleans lost its way. A once vibrant city, lost its economic footing and clung tightly to the only thing it could…tourism. Bourbon Street took the biggest hit of them all with this shift. The street itself wasn’t always a neon pit of despair or a tourist mecca for bachelor parties of topless women and bottomless drinks. Bourbon Street used to have cultural elements to the “risky” behavior: burlesque shows not strip clubs, expertly crafted drinks not the popular “drunk in a cup” hand grenades. Somewhere in the process of creating destination drunk, Bourbon Street lost its culture and as a result the locals have attempted to keep themselves an arm length away from this tourist trap.
Bourbon Street New Orleans (George Zimbel)
The real New Orleans is not about neon and Mardi Gras beads, but about good food, good people, and good drink. I beg of anyone visiting New Orleans not to judge us on the Bourbon Street “culture” (or lack of culture I should say) for most of the bar patrons on the street are not local and the atmosphere is not authentic. Bourbon Street has become what America wants it to be, a destination drinkers paradise. If you have the opportunity, explore the rest of what the city has to offer. With all the noise and neon of Bourbon street who can enjoy any of the best things the city has to offer?
Here are some suggestions of places to go when in New Orleans:
Frenchmen Street: Located in the Faubourg Marigny, the original suburb of the French Quarter, Frenchmen street has all the ambiance of the French Quarter with much less hassle. If you are looking to hear live music, this is the place to be! You will find music in multiple locations any night of the week!
The Warehouse District: The Warehouse District is a newer, trendier part of town with a very active nightlife. Many young professionals live in condos in this area of town, making the neighboring bars the hot spots for weekend activity. The fact that it is walking distance to the French Quarter is all the more reason to venture out and explore!
The Garden District: The Garden District is a short streetcar ride from the French Quarter where you will find a gorgeous array of historic Southern Mansions. This is a great area to explore to satisfy your history craving! If you feel the need to channel Robert E. Lee, pop on into the Columns Hotel for a mint julep or pimms cup on the front porch of their mansion-house and watch the streetcars roll down St. Charles Ave.
Uptown: Hello University! If you are in college, uptown is where you want to be. Between the Maple Street bars (walking distance to both Tulane and Loyola), Fat Harry’s, Friar Tucks, and The Boot to name a few you are sure to run into other college co-eds (18 and up!) and find drink specials that are fit for a college budget.
Not in college? Uptown has a variety of establishments for you too! Check out Magazine street and you will find the Bulldog (as many beers as you could want on tap), St. Joes (best mojitos in the city and a funky atmosphere to boot!), or Le Bon Temps (a local bar with trivia night during the week and music on the weekend).
Don’t forget your shopping either! Magazine street is home to many of the local boutiques. Check out Dirty Coast and Fleurty Girl for some shops with local flavor!
Mid-City: Looking for a place to cool your heels in your t-shirt and blue jeans? Mid-City has a great choice of neighborhood bars for those low-key/dive bar type nights. Finn McCools, an Irish Pub, is one of the most popular with a huge football crowd and real Irish owners!
Oak Street: Though a small area of town, Oak Street has a little bit of everything. Oak Street Cafe for brunch, Squeal BBQ for lunch, Jacques-imo’s for dinner, the Maple Leaf for live music, and Oak wine bar for a cocktail (also, Plum Street snowballs and Camellia Grill are not far away either). If you want a sampling platter of New Orleans head down to Oak!