Archive for the ‘Sightseeing’ Category

Experience New Orleans Mardi Gras 2016 Like a Local

Posted on: January 18th, 2016 by French


If you’re a true Mardi Gras fan like us you started counting down the days until Carnival as the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve. While Mardi Gras 2016 is on February 9, the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, known as Carnival season, make Mardi Gras one of the best times to experience the Big Easy. Packed with parties, parades, King Cakes galore and fun for the entire family, Carnival season lasts more than a month and really ramps up on the Thursday before Mardi Gras. Start planning your New Orleans Mardi Gras trip now to make sure you don’t miss a thing during the 2016 Mardi Gras season.

Book a New Orleans Mardi Gras Hotel


When it comes to experiencing New Orleans Mardi Gras 2016 like a local it’s all about location. Since the majority of the action is just steps from the parade routes, the ideal New Orleans hotels are located in the French Quarter and Downtown. If you’re looking for historic French Quarter hotels that captures the timeless beauty of New Orleans and are located in the heart of Mardi Gras activities, Place d’Armes Hotel and Prince Conti Hotel are perfect places to stay. But you’ve got to plan ahead because the best Mardi Gras hotels book up quickly. So, make your New Orleans room reservations today to secure your spot in the middle of it all at a Mardi Gras parade route hotel like the Lafayette Hotel on St. Charles Avenue.

Create a Mardi Gras 2016 Parade Plan


With more than 50 parades on the Mardi Gras 2016 parade schedule, you’ll want to do a little research and plan ahead. There are many different types of parades, so find out about each Krewe and their theme before you make your list. Some of the “must-see” New Orleans Mardi Gras 2016 parades are Endymion and Bacchus which roll the Saturday and Sunday evenings before Fat Tuesday. If you’re looking for a more kid-friendly atmosphere, the Uptown area is a great place to set up camp. Catch family friendly Mardi Gras parades, such as Krewe of Barkus, a dog parade that comes down Congo Square through the French Quarter on January 31. Or check out the famous Zulu parade which rolls on Mardi Gras and throws coconuts that the kids will love. While the “official” Mardi Gras 2016 parade season begins on January 29, there are unofficial Mardi Gras parades that start as early as January 22. So, you won’t have any trouble finding excitement at various locations across New Orleans during Carnival time. And consider buying special access tickets to enjoy premium Mardi Gras parade route grandstand seating and amenities like restrooms.

Take New Orleans Cemetery Tour, Enjoy Unique New Orleans Restaurants

Mardi Gras 2016 parades and parties are undoubtedly the main event, but remember to check out other awesome New Orleans French Quarter attractions while you’re in town. Take a break from catching beads and take the family to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas or see the sights around historic Jackson Square, such as the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral. Indulge in a beignet at Cafe Du Monde or stroll along the Riverfront and pick up souvenirs at the Shops at Canal Place. If you want a behind the scenes look at the city’s culture, take a walking tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1 – one of the most popular New Orleans cemetery tours. Of course, you’ll want to enjoy the one-of-a-kind Louisiana cuisine at renowned French Quarter restaurants. Then, head over to to Bourbon Street to visit some of the top New Orleans Jazz clubs.

Grand Chorus Without End at the Old Cathedral in Jackson Square

Posted on: September 30th, 2015 by French No Comments
By: Sally Reeves

Every quarter-hour, the thin peal of bells at St. Louis Cathedral calls saints and sinners, mostly the latter. They clang out a slightly off-key sound, as if they well know the offbeat rhythms of the neighborhood below them. The pulse of a circus atmosphere around the church pounds from hour to hour, as if to compete with the timbre of the sounds from the tower. The church stands sentinel, nether judging nor joining.

Inside, the aroma of ancient brick masonry greets the visitor. One thinks at once of an old French monastery, although stone is nowhere. The darkened entry gives way to a bright interior with painted surfaces everywhere. The eye is drawn to the great high Rococo altar, where gilded and fluted columns of the Corinthian order support a busy entablature. Two rows of wooden columns divide the church into nave and side aisles, with a mute upper gallery where, one imagines, crowds overflowed before Vatican II put an end to crowded churches.

Along the walls, St. Louis lives through stages in multicolored shards of artist’s glass and lead. Here he receives a blessing from St Blanche, his mother; there he marries. He builds a chapel, receives the crown of France, and departs for his first crusade across a wooden plank. Further on he visits a leper with lesions of hollow glass, and in the great lunette over the high altar Louis announces the Seventh Crusade. Overhead, St. Peter receives his shepherd’s staff from the Savior, surrounded by apostles, as the Father oversees the mission.

St. Louis Cathedral Gallery

St. Louis Cathedral
St. Louis Cathedral
St. Louis Cathedral
St. Louis Cathedral
St. Louis Cathedral
St. Louis Cathedral

Pere Antoine, Bishops’ Bones, Unending Restoration

History, harmony, legend, and tradition preserve the mystique of this cathedral. By most counts it is the third substantial church of St. Louis on the square. The French built the first one in 1727, following the town plan. It stood, weathered, until the Great Fire of 1788, when Spanish dons were ruling. Rebuilt with funds from local notary and real estate developer Andres Almonester y Rojas, the second church barely escaped the flames of yet another general fire in 1794. It was mainly in that second church that the memorable Spanish Capuchin Pere Antonio of Sedella served from 1783 until his much-lamented death in 1829. Here lay the bones of old Don Almonster, and of the said Friar Antonio, for whom the people named Pere Antoine’s Alley alongside the church. Here was sung the Te Deum thanking God for the Victory of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

The Spanish church got its stripes when the city received its first bishop in 1793. Sixty years later, New Orleans became an archbishopric, elevating the cathedral further. The present building rose then, incorporating a few bricks and lines of mortar from its predecessor. The marguilliers or church wardens had it built from plans drawn in 1849 by French-born architect Jacques N. B. de Pouilly. Its iconic, multi-stage, tapering, slate-covered triple towers are better than any that preceded it.

Today the church contains the remains of eight New Orleans bishops. Their lives reflect the story of the Church and the city. Renovated, decorated and restored over and again, repainted inside and out, waterproofed, strengthened with steel, buttresses added, foundations fixed, the church stands. Today the St. Louis Cathedral is a symbol of New Orleans and a tribute to the people and clergy who have struggled to preserve it. Most of all it is a haven of serenity from the soul-splitting life of the world outside.

Sally Reeves is a noted writer and historian who co-authored the award winning series New Orleans Architecture. She also has written Jacques-Felix Lelièvre’s New Louisiana Gardener and Grand Isle of the Gulf – An Early History. She is currently working on a social and architectural history of New Orleans public markets and on a book on the contributions of free persons of color to vernacular architecture in antebellum New Orleans.

The Courts are Home Again on Royal Street

Posted on: September 30th, 2015 by French No Comments
By: Sally Reeves

It took two years to build and two decades to renovate. To some it was an elegant City Beautiful triumph of slum clearance, to others an out-of-scale offense to an historic neighborhood. Home to landmark legal decisions and antique documents, it gave way to stuffed birds, mounted fish and rock displays. Increasingly beleaguered, empty and abandoned, it fell “tumbling into ruin.” Proposed as an opera house, casino parlor, tourist center, movie set, or better yet, for demolition, it soon housed live birds and real animals, nesting in the nooks of its ornate spaces. But now–with restoration costs approaching forty million – the “New Court House” on Royal St. is new again.

New in 1910, abandoned in 1958 for more modern quarters

Opening in 1910, it was the “New Courthouse Building” for most of its life in the rousing world of jurisprudence. Its purpose was to “clear slums” while replacing the Cabildo and Presbytere as the seat of local justice. For fifty years the Louisiana Supreme Court and a spate of lower courts and offices drew swarms of glad-handed politicians, judges and lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants, juries and commissioners, clerks and secretaries, librarians, and even an occasional historian through its sculpted hallways. But in 1958 the Supreme Court departed for newer quarters and others soon followed. The halls that had rung with homegrown political wisdom, argument and judgment, now fell silent.

But today the courts are home again. Marble floors gleam again, plastered walls are clean again, and tech-savvy secretaries have settled in the nooks of its cavernous and newly scrubbed spaces. Meanwhile, residents, glad to see the courthouse live again, remember what was lost to history to accommodate its construction.

Built on two squares heavy with history

In 1831 the fourth block of Exchange Alley cut the site into two small squares with numerous stores and houses. A trim row of granite-columned stores lined the Alley from Canal to St. Louis Street. Cafés, studios, and the offices of architects and surveyors filled the row with conversation, art and engineering. At the end of the last block, facing the St. Louis Hotel, once stood the storied “Café des Colonnes,” planned by the talented architect de Pouilly. On Royal St. the “Grand Old Creole” Bernard Marigny had the polished Henry S. Bonneval Latrobe design a pair of elegant houses. On the same block General Jackson met with advisors to plan the Battle of New Orleans. Here later was the home of Mollie Moore Davis, wife of the Confederate president.

By the turn of the twentieth century this was all ancient history. To the business class, the deteriorated Quarter was a hopeless slum in need of general razing. Meanwhile, the political class saw the dawn of a new day in the demolitions needed for the brand new courthouse. But even with a blank slate, architects Brown, Brown and Marya faced a challenge in the heart of the Quarter. The Court’s mass and pristine white Beaux Arts exterior would contrast sharply with the small-scale buildings and unpainted surfaces around it. The complex building footprint they designed addressed this issue by diminishing the mass and allowing for considerable buffering in the landscaping. In plan, a rectangle on the Royal Street side diminishes to a narrower passage, and then spreads out expansively as it approaches Chartres Street, its arms ending in graceful semi-circular apses.

Overall, the Supreme Court has been a friend to the Quarter. Its findings in landmark cases like Mayer and Pergament have confirmed the regulatory power of the Vieux Carré Commission repeatedly. With the Courts now home again, judges will see first hand what coming years will plead for in the Old French Quarter.

Sally Reeves is a noted writer and historian who co-authored the award winning series New Orleans Architecture. She also has written Jacques-Felix Lelièvre’s New Louisiana Gardener and Grand Isle of the Gulf – An Early History. She is currently working on a social and architectural history of New Orleans public markets and on a book on the contributions of free persons of color to vernacular architecture in antebellum New Orleans.

Madame Pontalba’s Buildings

Posted on: September 30th, 2015 by French No Comments
By: Sally Reeves

Jackson Square, and the land around it, was always for the use of the public, or so it seemed. There was the church, and the priests’ house, and the town hall with the prison. There was the square itself, with its parade ground, and the view of the river. The idea of flanking the sides with important buildings was a natural one. The French put the governor’s house there, along with one for the top administrator, the intendant.

Today the church and the old government buildings are standing in their current incarnations, but flanked on the sides by the stately and privately-built Pontalba Buildings. In 1849 the Baroness Pontalba came home from France to her native city to build them on land she inherited. Somehow, years earlier, the Spanish crown had allowed her father, the notary Almonester, to acquire the lots where the governor’s house had once opened to French-style gardens. In later years, long rows of military barracks had succeeded them. But by 1780 Almonester had two rows of rental properties on them, the base of a fortune in real estate. When the town burned down some years later, he had the wealth to design and reconstruct the church and the Cabildo, especially after he raised rents in the fire-devastated section. After his death in 1798 his widow, reluctantly, made good on his earlier promise to rebuild the Presbytere also. And so it was that Madame Pontalba’s father before her had shaped the appearance of the public square. In her own time, she would meet the challenge of what was by then a family tradition.

Baroness a strong-willed designer and shrewd business woman

The Baroness was both designer and business woman. Would the council relinquish the sidewalk to erect colonnades to render that portion of our city pleasant in all seasons? The design is upon the Palais Royal and the Place des Vosges of Paris! And would the council agree to a tax break for twenty years in light of our expenses in this project, in which we beautify our city? In an age when houses took six months to complete, the Pontalba buildings were a dozen years in planning and two years in construction. Begun in the spring of 1849, they were not finally finished until the winter of 1851. The Baroness had hired and fired the finest architects of the community, used their plans, then altered the product to her liking. The result was an amalgam of Creole, Parisian, and Greek Revival tastes and uses. A mélange, perhaps, but a reflection of the sophisticated preferences of their creator.

Thirty-two stately row houses, sixteen to each side

The buildings are row houses, thirty-two of them, sixteen to the side, each with three stories and an attic. If the outsides with their cast iron galleries are French and American, the floor plans are Creole. There are stores downstairs and doors leading to passageways instead of stair halls. At the end of the strange dark passageways, stairs curve gently to the second and third floors and the privacy of residences. Downstairs a walkway shelters customers. It is that way because Creoles liked to live upstairs on the second and third floors–the premiere and deuxième étages–and because Madame the Baroness Pontalba wanted it that way.

Elegant Pontalbas spur development of Jackson Square

In response to her plans the council began its own building program. The Cabildo and Presbytere soon had third floor, French-style Mansard roofs like those in nineteenth century Paris. Church wardens let a major contract with the architect de Pouilly to rebuild the cathedral. The council then had the city surveyor design and build the iron fence around the square and redo the inside landscaping. The Andrew Jackson Monument Association gathered funds to erect an equestrian statue of their hero. By the middle 1850s Jackson Square was in the form it has had for parts of three centuries, substantially unchanged.

Today the Pontalba buildings are owned by the city and the state, gifts of citizens. There are still stores below and residences over them. And tenants carry groceries down the long narrow passageways to the gently curving staircases leading to the upper floors.

Sally Reeves is a noted writer and historian who co-authored the award winning series New Orleans Architecture. She also has written Jacques-Felix Lelièvre’s New Louisiana Gardener and Grand Isle of the Gulf – An Early History. She is currently working on a social and architectural history of New Orleans public markets and on a book on the contributions of free persons of color to vernacular architecture in antebellum New Orleans.

French Quarter Post-Katrina Photos

Posted on: September 30th, 2015 by French No Comments

By: Staff

The New Orleans French Quarter after Hurricane Katrina looks pretty much the way it did before. Thank goodness. And residents and shopowners have been busy cleaning, polishing and sprucing up the old city for company coming.’s been on the streets taking pictures of Second Lines, psychics, artists, street sweepers and assorted characters who give the French Quarter its unsinkable mojo!

If you’re visiting the French Quarter, check out all of your options – here’s the list of open restaurants, hotels and shops plus their Katrina hours of operation.

French Quarter One-of-a-Kind Series: Un-Common Scents

Posted on: September 30th, 2015 by French No Comments
By: Tara McLellan

Top to bottom: Hové Parfumeurs Owner Amy van Calsem Wendel, Perfumed strips each featuring hand-blended Hové scents, Hové room scents and scented candles.

When visiting Hové Parfumeurs in the heart of the French Quarter there are two things you can be sure of – the word “change” is spoken in hushed tones, and what’s old is always new again.

“This is a truly original New Orleans family business,” says Amy van Calsem Wendel, fourth generation owner of Hové. “We are not big on change around here. Of course we have grown with the times, such as installing computers and streamlining mail orders, but we like the way things have worked for the past seventy years.” At Hové, paperwork takes on new meaning. Van Calsem Wendel and her family have transferred decades of index cards with customers’ preferences and orders into their computer system. “We keep everything. We remember people and traditions,” she says, “And we think that is what keeps people coming back to us.”

History is important not only in the traditions the shop carries on but also in the fragrances Hové creates, and in the family business itself. “Hové has always been a part of my family, and now we are so proud to continue with that tradition,” says van Calsem Wendel. Located in the home of a family member since its opening, Hové Parfumeurs gives new meaning to bringing your work home with you. “We live above the shop, its third location, and now our children have the opportunity to grow up in the Hové tradition. We create all of our fragrances right here, and they can see it all happening first hand. It’s a wonderful experience.”

Classic scents with a personal touch keep customers coming back for more. Opened in 1931 by Mrs. Alvin Hovey-King, Hové Parfumeur focuses on providing the finest fragrances for men and women. Now offering more than 53 fragrances, van Calsem Wendel learned the trade secrets from watching and studying family traditions. “Learning this business is an ongoing process, because we are always creating new fragrances, improving old fragrances, and providing custom blends for customers,” she says. “It’s also very important to get those favorite old fragrances just right, the ones our customers remember from childhood.”

It’s those old favorites that continue to enchant New Orleanians and visitors alike. These traditional Creole concoctions, with names like tea olive, or sweet olive, spanish moss, and vetivert, have been used throughout New Orleans for generations. According to van Calsem Wendel the histories of each blend are unique. “Tea olive, for example, was used for its aromatic properties and was often steeped like black tea. Vetivert root, on the other hand, had a stronger quality that was used throughout the home, in armoirs and dresses, pillowcases and bedlinens, as well as a scent to be carried throughout town as a fan.” To many the unique woodsy and naturally sweet smells of vetivert and tea olive are as much a part of their own history and it is of the city of New Orleans. “These fragrances are a piece of history. Generations grew up with them in their home. It’s a unique gift from the past that we are fortunate to be able to pass on to the next generation.”

Stepping through the 18th century doors of Hové Parfumeur is at once a lesson in aromatherapy, New Orleans history, and French Quarter customs. “We often get asked, what’s unique about living and working in the French Quarter? There’s never one answer to that question,” says van Calsem Wendel. “It’s a truly unique experience, from the history to the beautiful courtyards, and of course, the food. We like to see ourselves as an integral part of that experience, right up there with Dixie Beer and the Central Grocery.” Around here, some things never change. And maybe, in Hové Parfumeur’s case, that’s a good thing.

Hové® Parfumeur, 824 Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 504-525-7827

Hours of Operation: Mon – Sat. 10AM- 5PM

Tara McLellan, a freelance writer, book author, and columnist, has been featured in Metropolitan Home Magazine, New Orleans Magazine, New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles, and St. Charles Avenue Magazine. She lives and works in the New Orleans area.

The Rise of the Walled French Quarter Courtyard

Posted on: September 30th, 2015 by French No Comments
By: Sally Reeves

Top to bottom: The French Style Par Terre Garden of the Beauregard-Keyes House; An Ornamental Garden Wall of the Place d’Armes Hotel

Ask Maria Stankus what she does for a living and she’ll tell you she does nothing. In a sense that’s true, but she does nothing so well that people want to pose with her for photos and fill her tip jar with cash all day long.

Tropical walled gardens. Banana trees and gingers in shady enclosures. Wisteria and bougainvillea spilling over brickwork. Colorful cannas in mass profusion. Fragrant sweet olives reaching higher. The very notion of the walled garden suggests two-fold values. Urban living with privacy. Enclosed but outdoor spaces. The works of nature, green and flexible, with the works of mankind, solid and mineral. “No garden should be without a wall,” says garden writer Mirabel Osler in The Garden Wall. This seems to be a given in the New Orleans French Quarter. What was indeed a calamity for the inhabitants, when the town burned down twice in the late eighteenth century, gave rise to walled courtyards, which lasted. In the earlier Colonial period, the old French lots were wide and spacious. Houses sat in mid lot, with flat and spreading par terre gardens around them. The sunny potager or kitchen garden was a necessity. But after the two great fires, houses rose with new and closer alignments on deep but narrower properties. Adjacent buildings rested on common side walls (carefully computed as to costs, of course), and along the street the fronts were continuous. This pushed open spaces rearward, giving rise to walled spaces with vertical accents.

Creole chickens, guinea hens and privies out back

Sometimes numerous dependencies made the courtyard irregular and complex. Early Creole houses had detached kitchens, placed not at the rear line, but along the sideline or in the middle. The arrangement broke up courtyards into working spaces with an observable hierarchy. At the bottom of the “pecking order” was the basse cour, the rearmost space behind the kitchen, devoted to chickens, guinea hens and other comestibles–along with the privy. More prominent sections contained cisterns, corners for clothes drying, a place for some cooking chores, perhaps a well or a fountain. The rise of public markets toward the end of the eighteenth century made the colonial potager unnecessary in these spaces.

Ornamental features competed for space in working courtyards of the antebellum period. Building contracts tell us that the yards were always paved for work and traffic. Small, rounded brick gulleys carried water to the street on an imperceptible decline. Sometimes, a modest flowerbed was included in the courtyard. It might hold shrubs of althea, camellia, or pomegranate. Ferns, jasmine, and Rosa Montana could grow along a sidewall, staying out of trouble politely. When an owner had the equivalent of two lots, everyday work could proceed in the rear of the main house, while a French-style par terre flourished near it. Visit Beauregard House on Chartres Street or the Hermann-Grima House and Gardens on St. Louis Street to note this phenomenon.

Decaying courtyards as bathhouse and outhouse

Courtyard gardens were less detectable after the Civil war in the Quarter when yards were dirty and the immigrant poor used courtyard wells and fountains for bodily washing. Old photograph collections document well the condition of houses, with tottering outdoor stairways, peeling paint, and dependencies sinking progressively lower than their main houses. A renaissance was long in coming, but it gathered steam in the 1920s with bohemian attractions, the founding of the Vieux Carré Commission and historic district, and the arrival of architecture-loving residents. The old courtyards were still waiting for their gardening heyday.

Today you may enjoy the colorful bromeliads in the patio of Broussard’s Restaurant, the bright mix of perennials against the pink walls of the Historic New Orleans Collection courtyard, or the deep greens of luxuriant trees comfortably ensconced at Brennan’s or the Court of Two Sisters. But remember that the lush, tropical patio of the French Quarter, which we take as normal, was largely an invention of the twentieth century.

Sally Reeves is a noted writer and historian who co-authored the award winning series New Orleans Architecture. She also has written Jacques-Felix Lelièvre’s New Louisiana Gardener and Grand Isle of the Gulf – An Early History. She is currently working on a social and architectural history of New Orleans public markets and on a book on the contributions of free persons of color to vernacular architecture in antebellum New Orleans.

Talking to Statues and Feeling the Blues: The Quarter’s Rich Street Performance Traditions

Posted on: September 30th, 2015 by French No Comments
By: Ian McNulty

French Quarter Street Performers & Artists

Ask Maria Stankus what she does for a living and she’ll tell you she does nothing. In a sense that’s true, but she does nothing so well that people want to pose with her for photos and fill her tip jar with cash all day long.

Maria is a street performer in the French Quarter and, as a human statue, part of her job is to stand completely still. She can usually be found on the edge of Jackson Square with her skin covered in metallic gold paint, dressed in a matching antique wedding gown with an eight-foot train spread over the paving stones. Some visitors have dubbed her the Jilted Bride, and set against the backdrop of Spanish colonial architecture and the spires of St. Louis Cathedral she presents a visage that is ghostly and atmospheric.

She may be motionless, but she’s hardly doing nothing. Rather, Maria and those who ply similar trades in New Orleans are vital components of what makes the French Quarter such an intriguing and colorful place.

The French Quarter is the outdoor workplace for artists and musicians, tarot-card readers and fortune tellers, clowns and tap dancers and many others. Next door to the Café du Monde coffee stand, a high-energy troupe of tumblers works through a sidewalk floor show to a thumping hip hop soundtrack, while across the street a lone young man wanders the Square offering on-the-spot jokes for donations. Wander down Royal Street and you may find an escape artist wrapped in chains, a puppeteer, magicians in top hats and a lady of a certain age – known as Big Mama – who wears a church dress and veil and bangs out honky tonk numbers on an electric keyboard.

Lose Your Blues

“People come up and say ‘we moved down here because of y’all’,” says the Royal Street blues musician known almost universally as Grandpa.

Repeat visitors certainly have no trouble recognizing the 60-year-old harmonica slinger, with his bushy, snow-white beard, trademark overalls and tenaciously defended spot at the intersection of Royal and Toulouse streets. Blind in one eye, he wears silver-framed glasses with no lenses on which he has secured a small round mirror in front of his good eye. “It helps you see who’s talking about you behind your back,” Grandpa says.

People come to New Orleans for music and culture, he says, and street performers are right there to provide it amid the shops, restaurants and other attractions of the Quarter.

“A lot of people have the blues, even if they don’t know it,” Grandpa explains. “People go on vacation because they have the blues. They’re tired of their boss, they’re tired of the same four walls. When you need to get away from something, that means you have the blues. People come by and hear us and they can relate.”

Spontaneous Manifestation of New Orleans Culture

The street performance scene is perhaps most highly concentrated at Jackson Square, which is home to its own vibrant and newly resurgent artist colony. Art in the Square has been a part of the French Quarter since Civil War days when war widows are said to have sold paintings here to support their families. Today, it is the outdoor marketplace for an array of artists with a wide range of styles and backgrounds.

There’s William Warren, for instance, who taught both high school and college art courses in Providence, R.I., before moving to New Orleans. He now displays his vividly colored, almost fluid contemporary artwork on the wrought iron fence surrounding Jackson Square in the shade of oak boughs. While many performers follow the seasons and travel to other tourist destinations during the very hot New Orleans summers, William says most of his fellow artists in the Square work and live in the city year-round. William himself runs his own gallery, called the Waiting Room, along with his partner Pati D’Amico in the nearby Bywater neighborhood.

Every Day You Wake Up Is a Vacation

Many visitors are drawn to Jackson Square by the sounds of traditional jazz provided daily by a “house band,” alternately called the Jackson Square Band or the Jackson Square All-Stars. This varying amalgamation of anywhere from nine to 14 musicians may appear ad hoc, but there is a structure and professionalism among the players that ensures entertainment for visitors in the square nearly everyday.

“I play every day, all year-round. Vacations? Every day you wake up is a vacation,” says Andy Kauffman, who has played the stand-up bass for the band since 1997. A native of Pennsylvania, Andy wears a distinctive turban fashioned from a T-shirt to shelter himself from the sun. His instrument, too, is wrapped in fabric to protect it from long hours of exposure in the square.

“I don’t ever expect to retire,” he says. “I don’t ever expect to not be playing the bass. Even if I win the lottery, I’ll be living better, but I’ll still get up the next day and play here because that’s what I do.”

Unlike the wandering entertainers provided at resorts and theme parks, the musicians and performers in the French Quarter are a spontaneous manifestation of New Orleans culture, and they rely on the generosity of their sidewalk audiences to make a living.

The bluesy-country duo David Leonard and Roselyn Lionhart – a husband-and-wife team better known as just David and Roselyn – have been at it in the streets of the Quarter since 1975, through a career that has spawned six albums and frequent tours to the West Coast and overseas. The couple has four grown children who they have put through school by performing in the French Quarter, including the singer Arlee Leonard, who is also a teacher and writer in New York. She says her parents’ Royal Street workplace has provided her with a unique way to keep in touch between visits home.

“I always tell my friends, when you go to New Orleans walk down Royal and say hi to my mom and dad for me,” says Arlee.

Ian McNulty is a freelance food writer and columnist, a frequent commentator on the New Orleans entertainment talk show “Steppin’ Out” and editor of the guidebook “Hungry? Thirsty? New Orleans.”

Streetcar Sense: St. Charles Line, Riverfront Line and the “New” Canal Street Line

Posted on: September 29th, 2015 by French No Comments
By: Jyl Benson

Top to bottom: St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line, Riverfront Streetcar Line, “New” Canal Streetcar Line

In 1947 Tennessee Williams penned “A Streetcar Named Desire,” effectively immortalizing the public transit line that, from the 1920s, served the rollicking French Quarter as well as the working class Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, located downriver. Sadly, the last car to serve the Desire line rattled through town in 1948, a victim of transportation “progress.” It was replaced by a choking diesel bus, which lacked the aesthetic value of the streetcars. Where 235 miles of streetcar tracks once formed a lace across the city’s streets most of the tracks were ultimately paved over, as noxious buses became the standard. Blessedly, even the Purveyors of Progress could not bear to dismantle the charming St. Charles Avenue streetcar line and its service has remained uninterrupted since its inception in 1893. Spacious olive green 900-class streetcars built by Perley A. Thomas Car Company in 1923-24 still serve the line today. These cultural icons were fully restored and refurbished between 1988 and 1994.

Historic St. Charles Avenue Line

The St. Charles Avenue Streetcar may very well be the nation’s most pleasant form of public conveyance existing today. The line was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. To maintain this stature, the Regional Transit Authority, which operates New Orleans’ streetcar system, has rejected adding air conditioning and making the streetcars wheelchair accessible. However, the 46 streetcars’ double-hung windows can easily be opened to emit the cooling breezes generated by the moving cars so it’s always a comfortable ride.

For a leisurely exploration of the Central Business District, the Garden District and Uptown, visitors staying in the French Quarter should board the St. Charles Avenue streetcar at the corner of Carondelet and Canal streets (Stop No. 0). Each car stop has a designated number and there are dozens of stops along the line. The line serves a 6 ½ mile run that stretches between Stop No. 0 at the edge of the French Quarter, down St. Charles Avenue to the Riverbend where it turns onto South Carrolton and continues to its terminus at South Carrollton and South Claiborne avenues. The cars turn around at the end of the line and head back in the opposite direction. A one-way trip along the line takes about 45 minutes.

Riverfront Line

In 1988 when city officials unveiled a new 1.9 mile Riverfront Streetcar Line they were amazed by the enthusiastic reception it received. What was originally planned as a novelty project to be rolled out in conjunction with that year’s National Republican Convention quickly became a favored means of transportation for both visitors and locals. It was the city’s first new streetcar line since 1926 and the Powers That Be quickly determined that with regard to public transit in New Orleans the old ways were, indeed, the best. Plans to re-invigorate streetcar service throughout key areas of New Orleans were soon underway. Seven bright red streetcars now service the Riverfront line, which includes 10 stops between Esplanade Avenue and the Morial Convention Center. The one car with its doors located at either end is a vintage Perley A. Thomas’ built in 1923-24, like the St. Charles cars. The remaining Riverfront cars were built by the RTA in partnership with local vendors and craftsmen. Though they are not air-conditioned, like the St. Charles cars the double-hung windows open to emit the river breeze. All of the cars are wheelchair accessible.

The “New” Canal Street Line

In the spring of 2004, streetcar service was joyously welcomed back to Canal Street after a 40-year absence. The new Canal Streetcar Line tied into the existing Riverfront Streetcar Line from Esplanade Avenue to Canal Street and along Canal Street from the Mississippi River to a streetcar terminal at City Park Avenue and the Cemeteries. A spur line along North Carrollton Avenue connects Canal Street to City Park at Beauregard Circle, making for easy access to the park and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Streetcars run in the neutral ground on Canal Street for the entire 4.13 miles. Tracks for the one-mile spur on North Carrollton Avenue run in the left traffic lane and terminate at Beauregard Circle opposite the New Orleans Museum of Art. Like the St. Charles Avenue Line, the Canal Line provides French Quarter visitors with easy access to some of the city’s other unique neighborhoods – in this case Mid City and the cemeteries.

Like the Riverfront cars, the 24 cherry red cars that service the Canal Line were locally built under the auspices of the RTA. All of them are air-conditioned and provide wheelchair access. Due to the space needed to accommodate wheelchairs, the Canal and Riverfront cars provide seating for 42 passengers, 18 fewer than the St. Charles Avenue cars.

All three of New Orleans’ streetcar lines provide service 24-hours a day with frequent service during the day and hourly appearances from midnight to 6 a.m. The fare for each is $1.25 per person. Transfers cost $.25. Exact change is required.

Jyl Benson is a New Orleans-based writer and publicist and frequent contributor to Time, New Orleans, St. Charles Avenue and the Times Picayune. She also regularly contributes to travel and guide books on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Sightseeing in the ‘Old Square’

Posted on: September 29th, 2015 by French No Comments
By: Jyl Benson

Artists, architecture & entertainers near Jackson Square

Before 1788, the French Quarter encompassed the entirety of New Orleans. Today the “old square “ (Vieux Carre), a six by twelve block parcel of land set on the inside of a bend in the Mississippi River, remains New Orleans’ most definitive area. While the city’s European heritage is readily discernible through its architecture, cuisine, social structure and the mannerisms of its people this holds true in the French Quarter more so than any other of the city’s neighborhoods. This small geographic space is personified by the diversity of interests and cultures represented here – now and historically. The French, Spanish, Anglo-Saxons, Italians, Germans, Irish, Africans, gay, straight, asexual, intellectuals, idiots, vagabonds, spinsters, debutantes, civilized, ribald, wealthy and penniless – they all have their marks on this place. A common trait shared by those who feel at home in this place is a longing to be free of the bonds of more ordinary, conservative societies. That yearning is the only cost of admission into what remains the most interesting of the world’s clubs.

The ideal time to visit the French Quarter is spring (early March – mid-May) when flowers, including brilliant multi-hued azaleas and fragrant wisteria, are in bloom. Days are generally warm, averaging 77F, and nights are cool, averaging 61F. The skies fairly sparkle and humidity is low. Festivals are numerous and include the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival and the French Quarter Festival.

Mid-October through mid-November are also highly desirable with highs of 72F and lows of 55F.

A car is unnecessary for exploring the French Quarter. The space is relatively compact and parking is a nuisance. Invest in a comfortable pair of shoes and wear lightweight clothing. Move at a leisurely pace. There is plenty to do and see and no reason to do it all in one day – if you can in any way avoid it.
People who live in the French Quarter – locals refer to them as “Quarterites”- are often content to sit upon their front “stoops” (steps) or balconies and simply watch the cast of characters go by or observe the play of dappled light and shadow upon the aged structures around them. These quiet activities are not to be overlooked by the visitor. Jackson Square, the benches outside of St. Louis Cathedral, Woldenburg Park and the Moonwalk are among the many public places where visitors can partake in simple, fulfilling observation. On weekends and most other days when fine weather prevails, the Square is a particularly popular spot for romantic couples and young parents and their children. Casual performance artists ply their crafts around the edges of the square. Mime artists, psychics, musicians, break dancers, jugglers, unicyclists, tap dancers and portrait artists can provide hours of fascinating entertainment.

Architectural styles within the French Quarter contribute greatly to the pleasures of simple observation. They are distinctive in that they are not wholly French or Spanish but an amalgamation of the two. Building types known as “Creole cottages,” “Creole townhouses,” and “shotguns” dominate the landscape. Many are embellished with trim and brackets from any number of styles popular during the Victorian era. As in old Europe, private residences are often housed directly above commercial spaces. The French Quarter’s famous, colorful “hanging gardens” can be seen flowing down from the lofty iron-laced balconies above the sidewalks. A leisurely stroll will reveal narrow, gated passages between buildings that lead to private tropical courtyards at the rear of many buildings.

As a general rule most of the French Quarter sights visitors will recognize from picture books are located “above” St. Peter street (The Upper French Quarter). The buildings are often three or four stories high and adorned with wrought iron. Popular bars, clubs and restaurants are located here, as are a number of historic homes, museums and the elegant antiques shops, boutiques and galleries of Royal and Chartres streets. Music pours fourth from doorways at all hours and a party can be unearthed with minimal effort.
Conversely, the area located “below” St. Ann street (The Lower French Quarter) offers a greater feel for what it is like to really live in the French Quarter. The buildings here are generally smaller and less ornate. Private homes and gardens are numerous. They share the blocks with eclectic shops, bars, and restaurants, which serve the neighborhood residents while also welcoming visitors in to experience this very enchanted little universe.

Jyl Benson is a New Orleans-based writer and publicist and frequent contributor to Time, New Orleans, St. Charles Avenue and the Times Picayune. She also regularly contributes to travel and guide books on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.