Photograph by Kevin O'Mara
Indisputably, there’s a bond between New Orleans and Cincinnati. As river towns, we both heard the steamboat’s shriek. We’ve each got a regional protein: our boudin and your goetta. Our two urban canals became streets—only we, sentimentalists, kept the name. The Bengals are black and orange. The Saints are black and gold. Our balconies are lined with fancy filagreed railings courtesy of your Stewart Iron Works, while your Over-the-Rhine is defining itself as a Yankee French Quarter—brimming with history, buzz-worthy restaurants, and drunken tourists. And now, we’ve got streetcars in common, though we hear yours rumble politically while ours rumble for real. Hop on.
Why Airbnb when Maison de Macarty feels like home? The small Bywater inn is furnished with antiques, a swimming pool, and sassy, gracious hospitality. If a high-rise swankienda à la 21c is what you desire, bunk at the International House, located in the city’s central business district. Call it techno-meets-Miss Robichaux’s. (American Horror Story’s witches’ school is actually located at 1410 Jackson Avenue in the stroll-worthy Garden District.)
Food is all in New Orleans. Hell, we just built a museum devoted to it—the Southern Food and Beverage Museum on fast-reviving Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. So indulge. The world rightly celebrates Café du Monde and its beignets, but new arrival District is where locals now go for dough—gourmet doughnuts in flavors like Vietnamese coffee and maple sriracha.
Troll Lower Magazine Street (our version of Vine Street) for local boutiques and stores. There’s menswear boutique Friend and groom-ery Aidan Gill for Men. Gogo Borgerding’s jewelry is a local favorite for bracelets and other pieces, and Appartique furnishes antiques for everyone; owner John Grafe curates his store for a vintage, uniquely NOLA style.
Try a muffuleta. The Sicilian meat-and-cheese sandwich, served cold on a rounded loaf slathered with a marinated olive spread, is Skyline-chili-famous. Try the hot version at Napoleon House Bar and Café: Inside the Quarter, the worn, old bar and interior courtyard—in the house built for the French dictator’s exile—evoke nostalgie and romance.
No Midwest morality here, thank you very much. This is New Orleans. Drink all day if you like. No one will stop you. Neal Bodenheimer’s bar Cure put artisanal cocktail-making on the map here, and his newest Quarter venture, Cane & Table, specializes in rum. Thus fortified, wander to Jackson Square—NOLA’s Fountain Square, but without the water. (Why bother? You can almost spit into the Mississippi from Andrew Jackson’s statue). Facing St. Louis Cathedral is the Presbytere, one of the city’s great French colonial buildings, now housing the Louisiana State Museum; the ongoing Mardi Gras and Hurricane Katrina exhibits merit a visit. Upon exiting, walk down Chartres for sazeracs at Sylvain—the garden courtyard’s a perfect place to swig the signature New Orleans drink made with rye, absinthe, and Peychaud’s bitters. Beer is Cincinnati’s ambrosia; we like the suds, too. Visit The Avenue Pub to sample Louisiana’s craft lagers and ales.
Get fancy on Magazine Street at La Petite Grocery. Get stoked at Johnny Sánchez—chefs John Besh and Aaron Sanchez’s Mexican mash-up. Discover renovated Freret Street by way of Louisiana cuisine at High Hat Café or Sicilian pizza at Ancora. Cruise downriver to the Bywater for fresh Gulf fish at Elizabeth’s or street food from around the world at Booty’s.
While Tipitina’s and the Maple Leaf are well known uptown music establishments, musical notes hit highest down river, along Frenchmen Street in venues like d.b.a., Blue Nile, and the Spotted Cat Music Club—and increasingly, along St. Claude Avenue, where bars like Siberia and the AllWays Lounge and Theatre host bands, racy cabaret, and burlesque. We’re a long way from West Chester, I assure you.
Side Trip: Love the Cov
You have your Covington, and we have ours. Located on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, this set-decorator-pretty town of 8,000 is a 50-minute drive from downtown New Orleans and offers a glimpse into Deep Dixie, replete with Spanish moss and a Ronald Reagan statue at the trailhead of the Tammany Trace, a 31-mile-long hike and bike path on a former rail line. Now a well-to-do suburb, Covington began as a summer retreat for New Orleanians who would boat across the lake and up the Tchefuncte and Boguefalaya rivers. Covington’s resort status left it with a walkable downtown full of boutiques and art galleries centered around the new and elegantly restored Southern Hotel. Two places to try the cuisine: Lola, found in the old train station, features local ingredients cooked in a caboose, and Del Porto Ristorante cooks up a contemporary take on rustic Italian fare.
Originally published in the January 2015 issue