America only has three cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland. - Tennessee Williams.
I live in New York, I've been to San Franciso and Cleveland isn't on my bucket list so when I got invited to a friend's wedding in New Orleans, I jumped at the chance to check it out.
I booked a room at the charming Henry Howard Hotel in the Garden District. Built in 1867 this converted boutique hotel was once a pair of townhouses, and was designed by famed Louisiana architect Henry Howard. He designed so many homes in the neighborhood it could have been named after him. The location was ideal; just a short Uber ride away from the The French Quarter and relatively quiet in the evenings.
New Orleans or Nola is famous for vibrant live music, distinctive Creole and Cajun cuisine and for being a melting pot of French, African and American cultures. I was only here for a weekend so I needed to maximize my time in between wedding events.
On the top of my to do list was hitting some of the antique stores in the French Quarter. Antiquing in New Orleans is serious business and can easily take up a whole day. There are more shops on Magazine Street in the Garden District but I only had a few hours to spare so I hit a few reputable establishments to see the best of the best. My first stop was Keil's Antiques on Royal street. They have been a family run business since 1899 and were one of the only stores in the area when they opened. They have 3 sprawling floors filled with objets d'art, furniture, jewelry and chandeliers enough to fill a plantation mansion.
I have a weakness for anything blue and white so I was immediately drawn to the beautifully carved French cabinet displaying a selection of Chinese and Delft 18th and 19th century porcelain. I was tempted but I managed to resist the urge to splurge.
Further up the street I peered into M.S. Rau Antiques' window and a gorgeous set of Tiffany tableware caught my eye. Don't be fooled by the unassuming shopfront because inside is a treasure trove of fine art and antiques. Browse beyond the front of the shop and you'll be guided through a maze of rooms with exceptional pieces and curious objects that require deep pockets should you wish to indulge.
They have a private art gallery behind closed doors that houses museum worthy pieces showcased in a maze of several ante rooms and on different floors.
In a separate section of the store they had an exhibit about Napoleon comprised of paintings, furniture, sculpture and precious objects. It was a well curated show filled with rarely seen pieces.
Window shopping without any sustenance is no fun and fortunately for me, there is no shortage of good food in Nola. I had read rave reviews of Chef Nina Compton's Compere Lapin in the Warehouse District and I was desperate for a tasty meal. Set inside the Old 77 Hotel the restaurant is airy with lots of windows facing the street. For a brief moment while I sat in anticipation I felt like I was transported back in time when New Orleans was occupied by the French. Seated near me were a table of French speaking ladies having lunch; laughing and enjoying their lunch. It was tres charmant.
Nina is known for cooking her take on Creole classics while skillfully infusing flavors from her Caribbean heritage.
The Lower 9th Ward has become infamous due to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Walking around the partially rebuilt streets of the Lower 9th Ward it's hard to picture what the scene was like in the aftermath of the storm.
Two years after Katrina, Brad Pitt visited the 9th Ward and was saddened to see that no rebuilding was being done. He decided to spearhead a non profit foundation called Make It Right that would build sustainable and affordable housing for the people living there. He enlisted 21 world class architects like Hitoshi Abe, Frank Gehry, Shigeru Ban and Thomas Mayne to design homes that were Leed Certified, Cradle to Cradle inspired and could withstand the next hurricane. Today there are over 100 homes that have been completed and have earned LEED Platinum, the highest level of certification offered by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The St. Roch Market is right across from the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood and within walking distance from the French Quarter. There are over food vendors to choose from so that meant we would have to come back if we wanted to try more in which case we did the very next day.
St. Roch had one unusual vendor who wasn't selling anything you could digest but rather something that you would want to keep forever, a poem. Cubs the Poet will write a poem just for you armed based on a memory you'd like to share. Almost instantaneously he was in a zone typing away a poem just for me. I was so overwhelmed with joy that I'm having that poem framed.
You can't go to Nola and not sample one of the live jazz clubs that line Frenchmen Street. The Spotted Cat was packed when I walked in and the New Orleans Cottonmouth Kings had just started their first set. They played classics from Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Cole Porter. They were so good we stayed on for a second set.
I can't wait to come back next year for another wedding. And what about the wedding I attended? Well, that's another story.