Archive for the ‘Sightseeing’ Category

New Orleans Streetcar Sense

Posted on: April 24th, 2017 by French No Comments
By: Jyl Benson

new orleans streetcar

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 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.

 

The Rampart/St. Claude Line

In 2016, the latest addition to the New Orleans streetcar network opened to the public: the Rampart/St Claude line. This fully air conditioned route skirts the edge of the French Quarter along Rampart St (once the literal walls of the city), running from Canal St past Armstrong Park and the Treme. At this stage, Rampart St splits off and the streetcar follows St Claude Avenue to its intersection with Elysian Fields Avenue. The line provides access to sites within the Treme like St Augustine Church, Armstrong Park, and the Backstreet Cultural Museum, and gives visitors a glimpse of the French Quarter that is often missed by many tourists.

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.

Meet the Mississippi: Exploring the New Orleans Riverfront

Posted on: April 24th, 2017 by French No Comments

New-Orleans-Riverfront

By: Ian McNulty


The Mississippi River looms large in the American identity, from the history and literature taught in schools to the nation’s modern economy.

In New Orleans, you can easily experience the river in all its bustling activity, natural splendor and historical significance via the riverfront area adjacent to the French Quarter. Sweeping vistas, public art, family activities and jumping-off points for riverboat tours are all clustered here along a linear park and walkways.

The Mississippi has always been a working river and for generations most New Orleanians were cut off from any access to it by floodwalls, warehouses and very busy wharves. That began to change in the 1970s through the 1980s, as underused industrial buildings near the French Quarter were razed and replaced by Woldenberg Park, a grassy open space named for local philanthropist Malcolm Woldenberg, and the Moonwalk, a walkway named for the former New Orleans mayor Maurice “Moon” Landrieu. Today the area attracts an estimated 7 million visitors annually, according to the Audubon Institute, the organization which runs it.

A great place for a picnic of po-boys or local seafood, a jog or just to catch a cooling breeze on a typically humid New Orleans day, this mile-long stretch of the riverfront is also the setting for many community celebrations and special events. For example, the largest stages for the annual French Quarter Festival (www.frenchquarterfestival.org) are set up here each spring and the park is prime real estate for viewing fireworks during the city’s Fourth of July activities, known collectively as Go Fourth on the River.

A bronze statue of Malcolm Woldenberg in the park that bears his name is one exhibit in what has grown into an informal sculpture garden along the riverfront. Near the philanthropist’s statue is a stainless steel sculpture called “Ocean Song.” Created by local artist John Scott, the piece depicts the motion of water in eight narrow pyramids, polished to a reflective gleam.



Further downriver is the elegant “Monument to the Immigrant,” crafted from white Carrara marble by sculptor Franco Allesandrini. The work faces the riverfront with a ship’s prow topped by a female figure reminiscent of Lady Liberty, while behind her stands a turn-of-the-century immigrant family looking toward the French Quarter. A few blocks downriver is Robert Schoen’s “Old Man River,” a stone human figure also made from Carrara marble. Weighing in at 17 tons and standing 18 feet high, the statue speaks to the river’s power and majesty in its rounded, circular body forms.

The most recent addition to this collection of public art is the city’s Holocaust Memorial, which was dedicated in 2003. Created by Israeli artist and sculptor Jacob Agam, the memorial is often described as a “living work” because its images and shapes change as a visitor walks around it.

Vestiges of the area’s industrial past remain, like the warehouses and wharves that begin behind the French Market and the freight trains that still rumble along a corridor between the river and the French Quarter. Much gentler rail traffic comes in the form of the city’s red Riverfront streetcars, built in 1988 with a vintage look and modern amenities to carry passengers from Canal Street to the lower end of the French Quarter.

Past the French Market, going along St Peters St, one can spy the latest pedestrian-friendly addition to the city’s riverfront real estate: the entrance to the Crescent Park, an unmissable pedestrian footbridge linked to the ground by an elevator and staircase. The Crescent Park plays with the city’s shipping heritage, drawing upon that legacy to create a severe, post-industrial aesthetic that includes open air pavilions, concrete buttresses, long walking and cycling paths, and rusted metal features like a pedestrian bridge, all laid out in a linear park that runs from Faubourg Marigny through the Bywater. Using the Crescent Park’s linear pathway, you can walk all the way from N Peters and Marigny St to Chartres and Bartholomew St.

Anywhere you go on the river, you’re likely to spot modern shipping traffic. The ports, refineries and terminals clustered between the mouth of the river and Baton Rouge to the north make the Mississippi one of the world’s busiest rivers, and from a bench along the riverfront visitors can watch as tugs, tankers, freighters, cruise ships and long strings of barges navigate its currents. Street musicians usually perform nearby for tips, adding to the ambiance with their saxophones or trumpets. Indeed, from the French Quarter, visitors can see with their own eyes how New Orleans earned the nickname the Crescent City as large vessels follow the dramatic turn in the river upon which the French Quarter is situated.



If all these maritime vistas give you the urge to use your sea legs, the Steamboat Natchez (504-569-1401) will take you out on the muddy Mississippi and offers tours of varying length and themes. Designed to resemble the old steamships that once brought cotton, gamblers and jazz up and down the river, this modern vessel gives today’s visitors a way to experience the Mississippi up close and view the city’s skyline and intricate French Quarter roof-scape from the river.

Back on dry land, the riverfront area is also home to two of the city’s most popular family attractions, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and the Entergy Imax Theater (both at 1 Canal St., 800-774-7394). The active area outside these facilities is filled with whimsical sculptures of marine life, well-shaded park benches and outdoor vendors serving light refreshments.

Just upriver from the aquarium area is the Spanish Plaza. Dedicated in 1976 during the U.S. bicentennial, the plaza was a gift from Spain in a gesture of friendship to its one-time colony. It features a large fountain ringed by tile mosaics of Spanish coats of arms representing that country’s provinces. Vendors in the plaza serve smoothies and snacks, while the Riverwalk Marketplace Mall is just next door for air-conditioned shopping.

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.”

Exploring the French Quarter with Kids

Posted on: April 21st, 2017 by FrenchQuarter

French Quarter with Kids Photo courtesy of French QuarTour Kids on Facebook

While “child-friendly” or “family-friendly” may not automatically come to mind when, say, Bourbon Street is mentioned, New Orleans is packed with things you can do as a family, for kids of all ages. Here are our favorite family-friendly destinations and things to do in the French Quarter. You can cover these in a day, on foot (or in a carriage!), and with kids in tow.

Food

Start off with a relaxing breakfast of crawfish frittata or boudin benedict at Vacherie Restaurant located inside Hotel St. Marie. Chef Jarred Zeringue concocts inventive Cajun and regional Louisiana dishes using local ingredients like Andouille sausage and Creole tomatoes. There are kid-friendly items on the menu too, such as omelets, oatmeal pancakes and house-made granola.

For an old-world French breakfast or lunch, head to Croissant D’Or. This intimate, Parisian-style patisserie tucked between Royal and Chartres on Ursulines Street will satisfy the whole family with its array of cakes, quiches, fruit tartes, and sweet and savory croissants. Everything is made daily and served fresh from the bakery. The cafe au lait and cappuccino are perfect, and there’s a magical little tiled courtyard.

Of course there is the classic local breakfast/snack option, the 24-hour Cafe du Monde on Decatur Street. Since 1862, this iconic cafe has been serving a simple menu of coffee and beignets. The cafe is open-air, so there’s a lot of room in which to navigate, no reservations necessary. Your visit will probably be accompanied by live music coming from any number of the street entertainers performing nearby. For a sneak-peak at how beignets are made to order, walk all the way back inside the cafe.

Another French Quarter gem, the gleaming and spacious Salon by Sucre at 622 Conti Street, serves a dizzying array of confections complemented by a state-of-the-art coffee bar. Try a macaron or artisanal chocolate. Upstairs, Salon Restaurant by Sucre serves full lunch and brunch menus with freshly baked pastries, desserts and sandwiches.

After a day of sightseeing, cool off with one of La Divina Gelateria‘s inventive gelatos or sorbets, made daily from scratch. La Divina also offers freshly baked pies, cakes, cookies, and cannoli, as well as a full lunch menu of panini, salads and soup.

Entertainment

While some tours are decidedly not for little ears because they focus on vampires and ghosts, French Quartour Kids caters to kids ages 4 to 18 with four 1-1.5 hour-long walking tours, all within a six-block radius ($20, chaperones required). There’s the Spooky Tour, a child-friendly version of the ghost tour. The teen tour (13-18) explores the history of French Creoles and the military and trade past of New Orleans. The Creole Kids tour (7-12) focuses on 19th-century life in New Orleans. The tour for the very little ones (4-7) keeps it simple and fun with a treasure hunt and dress-up.

Don’t feel like committing to a guided tour? The Cabildo and the Presbytere, two historic buildings flanking St. Louis cathedral on Jackson Square, are part of the Louisiana State Museum. Each offer excellent exhibits (admission to either is $6). The Cabildo houses such precious artifacts as a painting of Marie Laveau by Frank Schneider and a rare death mask of Napoleon.

On the other side of the cathedral, the Presbytere houses two permanent exhibits. The all-encompassing “Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana” tells the story of the Carnival traditions in Louisiana; the dazzling costumes alone are worth the visit. The “Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond” exhibit offers interactive displays and artifacts related to that disaster.

To give your feet a break, grab a mule-drawn carriage tour on Decatur Street right outside the Jackson Square gate. It’s first-come first-served, 8 a.m. through midnight daily ($40). The Dixie Bohemia tour is a good alternative to a daytime walking tour and covers the French Quarter and, depending on the time of day, either St. Louis Cemetery #1 or the Marigny. It’s perfect for families with small kids because it’s one hour long and can seat up to eight passengers.

If you want a quick respite from the crowds, Louis Armstrong Park just across Rampart Street in Treme is a 32-acre expanse of green and is excellent for a quiet walk and turtle-spotting. Or head to the Mississippi River boardwalk and watch the boats go by. New Orleans is still a busy port, and you can spot freighters, cruise ships, barges, tugboats, and the uniquely Twainesque Steamboat Natchez. Bring a po-boy or a muffuletta for a bench picnic, and walk the stretch of the riverfront dotted with public art and street performers.

If you have a few hours to spare, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, located on the riverfront, will keep your kids enthralled with its walk-through tunnel, otters, penguins, sea turtles, a stingray touch-pool, and an expansive replica of an offshore oil rig submerged in 400,000 gallons of water.

On the other side of the French Quarter, the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, located in the U.S. Custom House on Canal Street, is packed with bug-centric interactive exhibits and features a dreamy butterfly garden.

Shopping

Your kids will probably get a kick out of the Maskarade, 630 St. Ann Street, which features a selection of fabulous creations by local artists as well as high-end handmade Italian masks done in the Venetian style. Or visit Mask Factory, 515 Decatur Street, to get a souvenir to take home.

Also on Decatur, Shops at Jax Brewery is a four-story mall full of gift shops, boutiques, kiosks, and restaurants. Further down is the French Market, perfect for browsing, with its six-block-long stretch of the farmer’s market, flea market and food stalls. Vendors come from all over the world, and whether you are looking for a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce to bring home or spices or a Zydeco CD — you’ll find it there — along with raw oysters, po-boys, gourmet cheese, and pralines. Happy browsing and exploring, family-style!

Edible Homework: Cooking Schools Share the New Orleans Culinary Experience

Posted on: April 12th, 2017 by French No Comments
By: Ian McNulty

Visitors who think a clutch of plastic beads, a hurricane glass and an obscene T-shirt are the best they can bring back home from a trip to New Orleans clearly haven’t experienced one of the city’s distinctive cooking schools.

Anne Gormly has, and after a lunchtime class at the New Orleans School of Cooking (524 St. Louis St., 504-525-2665), the Georgia College and State University vice president was able to whip up a menu of Cajun dishes for a charity event when she returned home.

“We couldn’t find crawfish back home, but everything came out great anyway,” she says. “Everyone is still talking about that meal here.”

The Crescent City’s rich culinary culture is an essential part of the travel experience for many New Orleans visitors, and cooking schools in the French Quarter and elsewhere offer a unique way to tap in to that culture. If going to school isn’t quite your idea of a vacation activity, don’t be put off. These programs offer “students” a fun, interactive curriculum covering a few recipes in about the time it takes to watch a movie. The best part: participants get to dine on the multi-course meal they have just learned how to prepare.

Frank Leo, general manager of the New Orleans School of Cooking, says guests appreciate the value of a cooking class, which at his operation includes instruction, take-home recipes and a three- or four-course meal for $20 to $25. The school has been around for 25 years and holds three-hour or two-hour classes daily in a renovated 1830’s -era molasses warehouse, as well as hosting private classes for groups of 25 or more.

Returning visitors sometimes book a reservation months in advance, Leo says, while a rain squall or an especially hot day in the French Quarter will generate more spur- of-the-moment visitors looking for an interesting indoor activity.

Cooking Around Town

The continuing culinary culture of New Orleans relies as much on the skill and creativity of its chefs and food entrepreneurs as it does on the canon of Creole cookery, and those chefs and promoters are hardly hemmed in by tradition. In fact, a growing cadre of cooking schools and gourmet experiences are flourishing in the city post-Katrina and offering visitors and local foodies many delicious opportunities to expand their culinary horizons. Here are a few notable players operating not far from the French Quarter:

In the House on Bayou Road just outside the French Quarter, The New Orleans Cooking Experience (2285 Bayou Road, 504-945-9104)offers half-day classes, series classes and luxury cooking school vacations featuring traditional Creole recipes and menus taught by noted New Orleans chefs like Frank Brigsten and Gerard Maras.

Cookin’ Cajun Cooking School began as a praline stand in Jackson Square before evolving into a large theater-style cooking school and restaurant in the Riverwalk Mall (1 Poydras St., 504-586-8832) offering classes on weekends and by appointment. A view of the Mississippi River as well as the chef instructors is an added bonus here.

Savvy Gourmet hosts its classes, restaurant, catering kitchens and retail store in a trendy space on the Magazine Street corridor uptown (4519 Magazine, 504-895-2665) Local foodies have flocked to the classes and events promoted in Savvy Gourmet’s breezy irreverent style.

Culinaria (1519 Carondelet St., 504-561-8284) offers classes, demonstrations and culinary explorations in food, wine and spirits in a handsome restored mansion one block off St. Charles Avenue.

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.”

Bourbon Street: The Complete Block-by-Block Guide

Posted on: March 10th, 2017 by FrenchQuarter

Bourbon Street
These days, many guides to New Orleans will tell you to ‘get off of Bourbon Street’, the implication being that the 13 block strip of neon, bars, clubs, restaurants and more bars is too lowbrow for your time. To which we say: well, OK, when you’ve seen your tenth tourist sip out of a commemorative fishbowl, it’s hard to deny Bourbon can be pretty tacky. And it’s true that while there’s a lot to discover in New Orleans, there also tourists who sadly never leave the neon of Bourbon behind.

But with all of that said, while it’s silly to spend the entirety of your New Orleans trip on Bourbon, it’s equally silly to never experience the most visited location in the city. This street is a tourism destination for a reason. It’s a thoroughfare with an utterly fascinating history, home to some of the oldest bars, family-run restaurants and gay entertainment districts in the country. In short, while there’s plenty to discover off of Bourbon, there’s a lot to discover on the iconic street as well that may surprise those travelers who turn their nose up at all the flashing lights.

Let’s start, appropriately enough, with the history of one of the oldest streets in North America. First, despite popular rumor to the contrary, Bourbon was not named for bourbon. That particular iteration of brown liquor had not even been invented when the street was laid out in 1721 by Adrian de Pauger. The street, then located in the colony of New France, was named for the French royal House of Bourbon (which bourbon, the drink, was ultimately named for).

Like much of the French Quarter, Bourbon Street’s historic architecture owes far more to Spain than France; most of the street’s French buildings were destroyed in the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788, when the city was then a Spanish colony. For most of its history, Bourbon was a modest residential street, populated by a mix of Creoles (New Orleanians of Franco-Spanish descent) and the successive waves of immigrants who settled the French Quarter.

Bourbon began morphing into an entertainment strip in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the Red Light District of Storyville was established a few blocks away on Basin Street. Bleed over from the Red Light District begot a shift in the Quarter, which became less residential and more entertainment oriented. The earliest ‘jass’ (i.e. jazz) artists weren’t headlining festivals in Montreal or Switzerland – they played for customers who patronized Basin and Bourbon Street’s sweaty brothels and music halls (on a side note, those music venues stopped being quite as sweaty when they started installing round the clock air conditioning about half a century later – some of the first nightlife spots in the world to take that step).

Ironically, the shuttering of Storyville’s brothels in 1917 likely accelerated the French Quarter’s popularity as a place to party. At the time, Mayor Martin Behrman said, “You can make it illegal, but you can’t make it unpopular,” and while the ‘it’ he referred to was prostitution, the legal nightlife that surrounded that practice quickly filled the Red Light vacuum. In the Quarter, the entertainment focus shifted to live music, gambling, burlesque shows and drinking establishments, dozens of which opened on Bourbon. By the post World War II period, Bourbon Street was similar in character, if not appearance, to the Bourbon Street of today, although live music was more heavily emphasized back in the day. The Meters played here, as did Dr. John and Louis Prima, among dozens of other acts that defined successive generations of American music.

While there are still live music clubs on Bourbon, those venues have tended to spread into other parts of the city. On the other hand, Bourbon remains a nightlife epicenter for the New Orleans LGBTQ scene, which established a presence here in the early 20th century, when the area had (more of an) anything goes reputation. In the present day, while LGBTQ culture is thankfully accepted across the city, the ‘Lavender Line’ on Bourbon and St Ann Street still marks one of the country’s most fabled gay nightlife blocks.

The Geography of Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street runs 13 blocks through the heart of the French Quarter, from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue; it becomes Carondelet Street past Canal, and Pauger Street past Esplanade. If you were looking at a map, Bourbon runs along a diagonal; confusingly to visitors, the ‘southern’ part of Bourbon (near Canal Street) is Upper Bourbon, while the ‘northern’ end (near Esplanade) is Lower Bourbon. In New Orleans parlance, Upper and Lower and refer to the upriver and downriver flow of the Mississippi. If all of the above is confusing, don’t worry – it’s more interesting trivia than vital geographic knowledge.

Upper Bourbon is the area best known to tourists – the land of lots of neon, roaming bachelor and bachelorette parties, strip clubs, and enormous drinks served in souvenir cups. Lower Bourbon has most of the above, but not in such intense concentration; it includes the LGBTQ blocks of Bourbon. Some of our favorite hangouts on Bourbon Street, running from Canal to Esplanade, include:

Bourbon House (144 Bourbon Street)
The Bourbon House is one of the city’s grand dame old school seafood houses. Run by the Brennan family restaurant empire, they serve excellent raw oysters, decadent ‘swamp pig’ pasta (crawfish tails and smoked pork belly in white wine cream sauce) and one of the truly great iterations of barbeque shrimp; their version is cooked in a buttery sauce that is balanced by a generous helping of rosemary. It’s heavenly.

bourbon-street
Photo courtesey of Galatoire’s on Facebook

Galatoire’s (209 Bourbon Street)
Stepping into Galatoire’s is stepping back in time; the restaurant opened its doors in 1905, and not much seems to have changed since (our understanding is they only started accepting credit cards in the ‘90s). The cuisine is old school, heavy Creole classics – chicken clemenceau and crabmeat sardou – but folks come for the scene as much as the food. On Fridays, the oldest of old school New Orleans families line up around the block (or pay people to wait in line for them) and engage in day-long drinking and dining sessions. It’s a spectacle to be sure.

Old Absinthe House (240 Bourbon Street)
It’s always a good idea to sidle up to the classic copper bar, and you won’t be the first to do so: the Absinthe House dates to 1806, making it older than most American states, and has hosted Franklin Roosevelt and Oscar Wilde, among other patrons. It can get crowded, but when the bar is (relatively) quiet, we like to order the signature absinthe and dream of boozy days (and famous patrons) past.

The Jazz Playhouse (300 Bourbon Street)
Still popularly known as Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, this is a legitimately lovely music venue in the heart of Bourbon Street. The lineup is straight unadulterated jazz, and the Playhouse hosts some of the most talented and exciting acts in the country. Book preferred seating on the Playhouse website.

Musical Legends Park (311 Bourbon Street)
Life-size statues of local musical legends line this park, which is a (sort of) quiet respite from the noise and thrum that lines this portion of Bourbon.

The Tequila House (417 Bourbon Street)
On a street like Bourbon, you’d think a place called ‘The Tequila House’ would be a frat boy sort of spot. You’d be wrong – this Tequila House is laid back and has a deep reserve of excellent agave-derived spirits. Leave the lemon wedge and salt at home.

Chris Owens Club & Balcony (500 Bourbon Street)
Club owner, singer, burlesque dancer and all around iconic New Orleanian Chris Owens is still going strong. Her live revue is equal parts playfully naughty and a showcase of a living legend, is one of the longest-running established shows in New Orleans, and comes highly recommended.

Tropical Isle (600 Bourbon Street)
Besides the Hurricane, the Isle’s signature Hand Grenade is the most famous drink in the French Quarter. They taste like candy, they’re strong as Hercules, and all that sugar can make for a nasty hangover.

Old Opera House (601 Bourbon Street)
This is a pretty basic live music venue, but the address is notable because this really was a French-style opera house back in the day.

Maison Bourbon (641 Bourbon Street)
The sign outside the door says “Dedicated to the preservation of jazz,” and Maison Bourbon does not disappoint in this regard – it’s a good spot for a live show. Has a lovely courtyard and a big balcony, but we like to pop in for the music.

Cat's Meow Bourbon Street

Photo courtesey of Cat’s Meow on Facebook

The World Famous Cat’s Meow (701 Bourbon Street)
You’ve never heard “Sweet Home Alabama” until it’s belted out by a well sauced crowd at the Meow. We have to give this spot credit: it was an early adopter of karaoke, back when people sneered at the idea of a karaoke in a bar. The Meow’s enormous popularity is proof of the success of a then-risky business idea.

Bourbon “O” (730 Bourbon Street)
“Bourbon Street” and “quiet bar that serves craft cocktails” aren’t two concepts that seem to jive, but Bourbon “O” manages to pull it off. OK, maybe it’s not always quiet per se, but the drinks are gorgeous and well prepared, which is a welcome development at this stage during our Bourbon Street stroll.

Fritzel’s European Jazz Club (733 Bourbon Street)
Fritzel’s is a good spot for live jazz; they regularly feature plenty of old school Dixieland (which isn’t particularly European, but whatever). It’s calm and laid back in almost inverse proportion to much of the rest of Bourbon Street – a great stop if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the crowds, or if you just want to listen to some good music.

Oz (800 Bourbon Street)
The corner of Bourbon and St Ann Street is known as the Lavender Line, which marks the beginning of the LGBTQ section of Bourbon Street (you may also be subtly tipped off by the enormous rainbow flags). Oz is one of the more popular gay dance clubs in the city; expect drag queens, shirtless dancers, and all the rest.

Bourbon Pub & Parade (801 Bourbon Street)
A 24/7 nightclub with two balconies, dance floors, shirtless folks on the bar, drag queens and a lot of unsa-unsa.

Clover Grill (900 Bourbon Street)
The Clover is one of our favorite 24-hour diners in New Orleans (on a side note, there aren’t a ton of 24-hour diners in this city, which is a shame). The food is great, greasy spoon fare, but we really come for the atmosphere, a mix of drag queens, off work waiters, bartenders, hotel staff, tourists and musicians all hunkering down for burgers and scrambled eggs at three in the morning.

Cafe Lafitte in Exile (901 Bourbon Street)
The self proclaimed oldest gay bar in the country is open 24/7, and features karaoke nights, disco parties and a huge wrap around bar and balcony. It’s a little more laid back than Oz and the Pub & Parade.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (941 Bourbon Street)
One of our favorite Bourbon Street haunts, Lafitte’s (not to be confused with Lafitte in Exile, above) operates out of the oldest building that has served as a bar in the country. It looks the part, too; the walls are all mouldering stone and wood, although the scene is pretty modern: there’s a piano bar and ‘purple drank,’ a frozen daiquiri that can quickly end your night (or to be fair, get it started).

The Dark Side of the Quarter

Posted on: October 20th, 2016 by French No Comments
By: Jyl Benson

Throughout the course of its history the French Quarter has all but sounded a siren’s call to extreme personalities. Depending upon what drives them they may lob off the heads of chickens and invoke mysterious spirits while chanting and dancing around a burning fire, as did Marie Laveau, or brutally mutilate and torture those in their non-paid “employ,” as did Delphine LaLaurie.

Are the reports of the French Quarter’s “hauntings” merely attempts to re-invigorate these fascinating characters and make life more interesting, or were these personalities and their acts so morbidly compelling as to have somehow infused the present with vestiges of themselves?

Add physical drama in the form of elaborate above ground tombs, secret passageways and courtyards, and imposing aged mansions and you have the French Quarter’s Dark Side.

Haunted French Quarter
Photo provided by Reading Tom

Haunted French Quarter: LaLaurie Mansion

The story of Delphine LaLaurie and the heinous manner in which she tortured her slaves is probably the most widely known of the French Quarter’s macabre tales.

Madame LaLaurie, a respected socialite, hosted many a grand event at her opulent home 1140 Royal Street. Her lavish lifestyle was made possible by a troupe of slaves. Mistreatment of slaves was illegal and society began to shun LaLaurie after a neighbor witnessed the elegant woman chasing a young servant girl with a whip. The neighbor saw the girl leap to her death from the roof in her efforts to avoid LaLaurie. The neighbor summoned the authorities and that was the end of LaLaurie’s social career. She was shunned as a pariah.

Upon her arrest authorities removed the slaves from LaLaurie’s home. A short time later a fire broke out in the kitchen. In their efforts to thwart the fire neighbors and firefighters stumbled upon a grisly attic torture chamber. Nude slaves, most of them dead, were discovered. Some were chained to the walls, some were strapped to makeshift operating tables, and others were confined in cages made for animals. They had undergone various elaborate forms of torture and mutilation.

When news of the findings was published in the local newspaper an angry mob drove LaLaurie and her family from the city.

Reports that the house is haunted have been rampant ever since. Many have claimed to hear screams of agony coming from the empty house. Others have seen apparitions of slaves walking about the property. There are reports of having been attacked by an angry slave in chains.

Though the house has changed hands numerous times and has served as not only a private home but also a musical conservatory, a school for young women and a saloon, among other things, many of the building’s owners have experienced some form of misery or another associated with the house.

Clearly, New Orleans women aren’t necessarily ladies. The activities of Marie Laveau, another of the French Quarter’s well-known dark characters, underscores this.

French Quarter Cemeteries

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and Marie Laveau

Both her life and her burial place have long evoked interest in Marie Laveau, New Orleans’ undisputed Queen of Voodoo, who is buried in St. Louis No. 1 cemetery, the city’s oldest burial ground.

The water-logged, swampy soil upon which New Orleans is built makes digging more than a couple of feet impractical, especially if the reason for digging is burial of anything more substantial than a hamster. This gruesome revelation was made soon after the city’s first cemetery was established on St. Peter Street just inside the current French Quarter. Graves started popping to the surface with a grim “Hello” and bodies floated down the street when it flooded – which was often.

The solution was to avoid burial altogether and house the dead in aboveground tombs. In the mid-1800s the site of hundreds of little marble, granite or stone “houses” led to the coining of the term “cities of the dead.”

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 was established by the Spanish in 1789. In addition to Laveaux, many of the city’s first occupants and more notorious personalities are entombed here including Etienne de Bore, father of the sugar industry and Homer Plessy, of the Plessy v. Ferguson 1892 Supreme Court decision establishing separate but equal Jim Crow laws for African-Americans and whites in the South.

The tombs here are of whitewashed stucco-covered red brick and shine with their own eerie brilliance in the gloom of evening as well as the midday sun.

Marie Laveau Tomb French Quarter

It’s easy to find Laveau’s tomb. Many small red Xs cover its surface, signs that visitors have made a wish in hope of obtaining Laveau’s assistance. The faithful also leave behind offerings of coins, pieces of herb, beans, bones, bags, flowers and other tokens in hopes of invoking her good will.

Some believe Laveau materializes annually to lead the faithful in worship on St. John’s Eve. The ghost is always recognizable, they say, thanks to the knotted handkerchief she wears around her neck. A man once claimed to have been slapped by her while walking past her tomb. It is also said that Laveau’s former home at 1020 St. Ann Street is also among the French Quarter’s many haunted locales. Believers claim to have seen her spirit, accompanied by those of her followers, engaged in Voodoo ceremonies there.

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.

Experience New Orleans Mardi Gras Like a Local

Posted on: January 18th, 2016 by French
French-Quarter-Mardi-Gras

New Orleans Mardi Gras

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 is on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, 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 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 this Mardi Gras season.

Book a New Orleans Mardi Gras Hotel

New Orleans Mardi Gras

When it comes to experiencing New Orleans Mardi Gras 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 capture the timeless beauty of New Orleans and are located in the heart of Mardi Gras activities, Place d’Armes HotelPrince Conti Hotel, Hotel St. Marie, and French Market Inn 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 Parade Plan

New Orleans Mardi Gras

With more than 50 parades on the 2017 Mardi Gras parade schedule, you’ll want to plan ahead. There are many different types of parades, so find out about each krewe and their theme before you make your list.

Must-See New Orleans Mardi Gras Parades

While the “official” Mardi Gras parade season begins on February 11th, there are unofficial Mardi Gras parades that start as early as January 6. So, you won’t have any trouble finding excitement at various locations across New Orleans during Carnival time.

French Quarter Mardi Gras Parades

Download a 2017 Mardi Gras Parade Schedule.

How to Experience Mardi Gras

New Orleans Mardi Gras
Most people will likely be standing to see the parades, but there is an option for reserved seating. Companies offer grandstand seating on the parade route, some with amenities such as easy access to restrooms, nearby parking, food packages, and more. If you’ve never experienced Mardi Gras before, this could be a great option for you.

Many Mardi Gras goers with children and people who don’t want to or can’t stand for extended periods of time enjoy the comfort and convenience of Mardi Gras grandstand seating. You will have an excellent view of all of the Mardi Gras parades without having to lug around ladders and chairs. All you have to do is bring a “bead bag” for all of your beads and catches.

Grandstand seating is limited, so we recommend booking as soon as you’ve made your travel plans. On NewOrleansParadeTickets.com, choose between their Place St. Charles grandstand (located directly on St. Charles Avenue near Canal Street), and their Lafayette Hotel grandstand (located on the opposite side of St. Charles Avenue between Lee Circle and Poydras Street and adjacent to Lafayette Square). Either location will be great, and if you will be enjoying multiple parades, you might try switching up your location to experience different views.

More Activities to Enjoy During Mardi Gras Season

New Orleans Mardi Gras Food and Drink
Mardi Gras parades and parties are undoubtedly the main event, but remember to check out other fascinating attractions while you’re in the French Quarter. Take a break from catching beads and take the family to see the sights around historic Jackson Square, such as the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral. If you want a behind the scenes look at the city’s culture, stop by Basin St. Station and learn more about the different walking tours you can take, including the St. Louis Cemetery #1 Tour—one of the most popular New Orleans cemetery tours. Then, head over to Bourbon Street to visit some of the top New Orleans live music venues.

Tour the city in an open-top, double-decker bus when you hop-on a CitySightseeing Tour Buses. With 18 stops along the route and a new bus arriving every 30 minutes, this is the best way to explore New Orleans. Tickets are $39 for one day of sightseeing. And, for $49, you’ll get three days of unlimited sightseeing and two free guided walking tours of the French Quarter and Garden District. Children between the ages of 3-12, can enjoy any tour for $10.

What to Eat and Drink During Mardi Gras

New Orleans Mardi Gras Food and Drink
Beignets and Brunch 

Of course, you’ll want to indulge in the world-famous beignets at Cafe Du Monde and enjoy the one-of-a-kind Louisiana cuisine at renowned French Quarter restaurants. These sweet treats are perfect for breakfast, late night cravings, and basically any time of the day.

You’re on vacation, it’s Mardi Gras, and chances are you will be sleeping in. You might miss breakfast, but don’t fret, there are many brunch options to choose from when you’re in New Orleans. Try the Bacon, Brie, and Apricot Crepes or Shrimp and Grits from Cafe Conti (830 Conti Street).

Coffee and Cocktails

If you need coffee to start your day, delight your senses with a searing hot Macchiato or Americano from PJ’s Coffee (501 Decatur Street).

With a selection that features several types of whiskey, cognac, tequila, mezcal, rum, gin, and more, even the most discriminating drinker is bound to find something they will love at The Bombay Club (830 Conti Street).

Po-Boys

You’ll love the Barbeque Fried Oyster PoBoy topped with Bleu Cheese Crumbles and Pickled Onions served with Roasted Potatoes from Vacherie Restaurant (827 Toulouse Street).

Killer Poboys (219 Dauphine Street) pushes the envelope with some of its unique po-boys, and if you love shrimp and breaking from the traditional, you have to try their Seared Gulf Shrimp po-boy that features coriander lime spice, Sriracha aioli, herbs, daikon radish, carrot, and cucumber.

For more ideas on where to find the best po-boys in The Quarter, read New Orleans’ Po-Boy Is A Rich Food Tradition.

King Cake

Widely considered the official dessert of Mardi Gras, this is an absolute must-try if you’re in town for Carnival.

Choose from eight different types of king cake at ByWater Bakery (3624 Dauphine Street), including pecan praline, cream cheese, strawberry, custard, and cinnamon apple stuffed cakes.

Available in plain, traditional, filled with apple, raspberry, cream cheese, strawberry, or swirl, Wink’s Bakery & Bistro (1218 Decatur Street) serves its king cakes year-round.

Well-known for its Italian ice cream, gelato, and espresso, La Divina Gelateria (621 St. Peter Street) offers mini Nutella-filled king cakes.

Finished with a shimmering glaze and sweetened with raw cane sugar, king cakes from Sucré (622 Conti Street) are a bit of a visual departure from the traditional, but tasty nonetheless.

If you ask New Orleans natives and long-time transplants, a large percentage of them will count Manny Randazzo King Cakes (3515 N. Hullen Street, Metairie) on the top of their list, but you’ll have to trek outside of the French Quarter to get your hands on these cakes and there might be a bit of a wait.

Gardens of the French Quarter – St. Anthony’s Garden

Posted on: December 9th, 2015 by French
By: Sally Reeves
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Detail, Ignace Broutin, Plan de la Nouvelle Orléans telle qu’elle estoit le premier janvier mil sept cent trente-deux. French Centre des archives d’outre-mer 04DFC 90A. Broutin’s plan of the garden and the Capuchin complex in 1732. Several drainage features seem to be included. The potager was planted in rows. A decorative feature was at the center. The larger building in the courtyard was the kitchen and refectory. It had a door leading to the garden. One of the other structures was a poultry house. The small brick-between-posts building nearest to the church in the garden was the residence of the Capuchin superior. In later years, Pere Antoine would reside in a small house close to this location.

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Bourgerol’s 1838 plan of cathedral properties is the first known official plan showing Place St. Antoine in the center. Joseph Cuvillier, N. P., 10/9/1838, New Orleans Notarial Archives.

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St. Anthony’s Garden, August 30, 2005. Photograph by Judy Andry. Courtesy Judy Andry.

Secluded behind the stately towers of St. Louis Cathedral and enclosed by its sturdy old fence, St. Anthony’s Garden is a welcome oasis of calm amid the noisy surroundings of the French Quarter. It is named for St. Anthony but dedicated to the memory of his namesake, longtime Spanish curate Antonio de Sedella, also known as “Pere Antoine.” The melodic notes of the drab grey mockingbird and the clarion whistle of the red crested cardinal offer few interruptions to the garden’s monastic spirit. High above, the tower of the old cathedral shields the garden from the rays of the rising sun, the delicate clangs of its half-hour bells marking time faithfully. Alongside, a pair of strangely-allied alleys hems in the sidelines, one quite agreeably named for the saintly curate, and the other more curiously named for a band of pirates.

Early each morning, artists of the community arrive at the garden’s western exposure, easels and paints in hand. For nearly a century, they have had the privilege of the sturdy bars of the cast iron fence to display their portraits and landscapes in oils and watercolors for passers-by and shoppers. The scene is timeless, reminiscent of Old New Orleans.

Since the founding of the city, there has been a garden here in various forms. The open space is as old as Jackson Square, laid out by the French engineer de Pauger in 1721 as a permanent public plaza for the city. Like the square, the Cathedral garden, used for nearly a century as a potager or formal space for growing vegetables divided by walkways, has evolved over the years. It was initially situated directly behind an earlier version of the Presbytere adjacent to the Church of St. Louis. Formal but practical in purpose, it served the monks both as a place to supply the dinner table and for meditation and the recitation of prayers. After the city’s two disastrous fires of the later Eighteenth Century, the wardens of the cathedral partly filled the garden with rental property to cover the expenses of the parish.

After the death of the revered Pere Antoine in 1829, New Orleans officials moved to convert the old Capuchin space into a public garden for the city. At that time, the bed of Orleans Street entered the square from Royal, extending in to the rear of the old colonial cathedral.

During the 1830s the city closed the Orleans street bed in the square, purchased some land from the wardens, and shifted the garden to the center. The city then built a pavilion and green house, added a fountain, planted flower beds, and leased the space to a vendor. For thirty years in the ante bellum period, Place Antoine was a resort for lovers, the elderly, and families with children. From spring to fall, they repaired to the garden to promenade along its walkways while enjoying an ice cream or a lemonade under a canopy of flowering magnolias.

In 1849, the Wardens of St. Louis Cathedral commenced the building project that replaced the old Spanish cathedral with the present building and fence. Finished in the early 1850s, the cathedral now had a deeper footprint. This made the garden smaller but did not put it out of business. By 1860, it was operating as “Bellanger’s Garden,” open in the spring and summer.

The Civil War put an end to the economic viability of a public garden in the French Quarter. Abandoned, the space grew up into a jungle. Owned partly by the church and partly by the city, its legal status became cloudy. During the 1880s, the first known photographic evidence of St. Anthony’s Garden appeared as a print in a local guidebook. The garden was intact! A fountain splashed in the center. Banana trees and shrubbery flourished. A vine-covered arbor led somewhere, disappearing into the distance. Sinuous walkways led from the gate at Royal to the cathedral. They went perfectly with architect de Pouilly’s signature, scroll-shaped consoles and sightless arches on the rear of the cathedral. Fashionable ladies and gentlemen strolled on the Royal St. sidewalks. Alas, not a soul was inside the fencing. Was the garden public or private?

The first known positive evidence that the church owned the garden dates to the 1890s, when the cathedral budget provided for a gardener. For over a century after that, it has continued in use as a private green space, a visual oasis locked behind its fence. Even so, French Quarter residents and visitors have taken ownership of its presence, feeling entitled to the view. Just looking at the garden brings peace in a hurried atmosphere.

Hurricane Katrina did her best to destroy the tranquil space that had brought so much solace to residents and visitors. But the removal of trees by hurricane forces opened the space to redevelopment. With a newly-opened, sunny exposure, the garden could spring to life in a brand new fashion. Armed with a planning grant from the J. Paul Getty Foundation, the Archdiocesan Catholic Cultural Heritage Center brought in historians, archaeologists, landscape architects and administrators to map out a future for the garden. Funds must still be raised to implement a masterful plan by Parisian landscape architect Louis Benech and associates. Success will bring a certain future as the garden springs to life again in the 21st 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.Image credits: Donald T. Wright/Joseph Merrick Jones Steamboat Collection, Manuscripts Department, Tulane University Libraries Courtesy Tulane University Special Collections.

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.

Type Spotting: Historic Building Styles in the French Quarter

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

A keen eye and quick list can unveil the salient patterns of French Quarter building types. Most antebellum sorts come in “Creole,” “American,” and a mix of the two. Those built after the Civil War and later are generally “Eastlake,” or sometimes “Craftsman” cottages. There are subtle but fundamental differences among the types, and one must watch for variations not in “style” or décor, but in roof framing, massing, and floor plan. The entrance to a building is a clue to its original inside arrangement.

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Building Styles in the French Quarter
Building Styles in the French Quarter
Building Styles in the French Quarter
Building Styles in the French Quarter
Building Styles in the French Quarter
Building Styles in the French Quarter
Building Styles in the French Quarter

French & Spanish Influences

Public monuments on the Square include the Cabildo, begun in 1795 as a Spanish town hall in modified Baroque style. The Presbytere or priests’ home is similar but, not completed until 1813, it was used as a courthouse. Both were built with Renaissance-style roof balustrades, the Mansard roofs being added in 1847. St. Louis Cathedral, built to designs of French architect de Pouilly, was begun in 1849 and is the fourth church on the site. The flanking Pontalba Buildings consist of two long rows of Creole townhouses, built by the Baroness Pontalba in 1849 to embellish the square and increase her rents.

Glorious Creole Townhouses

The glory of the Quarter is its mass of Creole townhouses, with shops below and homes above. Of nearly equal significance is the distinctive Creole cottage, of squarish form, with side gables and steep, dormered half-story for children’s bedrooms. The walls are frequently built of French-style bricks-between-posts and the roof slants front-to-back or may be hipped at one or both ends. This salient feature contrasts sharply with the roof of the later “shotgun cottage,” where the roof slopes side-to-side and is too low to accommodate an upper level. This allows decorative jigsaw embellishments to dominate the façade of the “shotgun.”

The Creole townhouse took shape after fires of 1788 and 1794 removed the town’s freestanding French Colonial houses. These late Spanish years saw the rise of the tall, narrow, three-story brick house, set at the side walk or banquette, with three bays or openings, all doors. Inside the family entrance, but exterior to the shop, the house has a ground-level flagstone passageway leading to a loggia in the rear with curving stairway. This is sometimes reached with a porte-cochere or carriageway. Stairs are never in a hallway. Outside doors are tall and surmounted by arched and barred transoms. Above them one should note the narrow second-floor balcony, just two or three feet deep and supported by scrolling brackets of hand-wrought iron from the forge. The cast-iron “gallery” of later vintage is different–wide and supported on columns, all cast from molds in commercial foundries, not from mom-and-pop blacksmith shops. These were frequently added in the 1850s to houses first built with balconies in the 1830s.

Look for the “Entresol Houses”

One may occasionally find a balcony oddly high upon the façade, as at Bourbon and Bienville (Old Absinthe House) or Royal and St. Louis (Vieux Carré Restaurant), or Chartres and St. Louis (Maspero’s). These are examples of the enigmatic, interesting “entresol house,” special cases of the Creole townhouse. With a short middle level or “entresol” between the shop and the residence that was used for stock and storage, these mezzanine spaces get light and air from extra high, arched and barred, first-story transoms. They were an experiment with full-service vertical living in the growing 18th century city.

American Townhouses

The American townhouse looks like the Creole, but has an interior stair hall, post-and-lintel openings, and may have a five-bay center hall façade as at the Xiques House, 521 Dauphine. Dating from 1825 to the Civil War, they always have late Federal or Greek Revival ornament and are found in superb rows with cast iron galleries. The American-style store has heavy granite columns and lacks an upper residence and thus a family entrance. The “corner store-house,” whether cottage or townhouse, has a beveled corner doorway, but keep an eye for the subtle family entrance with molded door surrounds on a side wall.

Watching for these features will make Quarter sightseeing more readable for newcomers. The vigilant Vieux Carré Commission has jurisdiction over exterior walls, both front and rear, which preserves a fairly high level of historical accuracy in French Quarter streetscapes.

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.

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