A Weekend in the Big Easy

A Weekend in the Big Easy

Photo credit Paul Costello 

“America has only three cities,” Tennessee Williams was rumored to have declared in the midst of writing A Streetcar Named Desire. “New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” The fact that this sentiment was also attributed to Mark Twain doesn’t make it any less true. New Orleans holds its own —even as it stands apart — as one of the great American cities.

I’ve never been lucky enough to live in New Orleans, but like most everyone who has visited, I’ve had dreams of abandoning my New York Upper East Side apartment, or more recently, my Nashville Georgian, and moving into a perfectly-appointed Creole cottage somewhere in the Quarter or the Marigny. This dream is particularly strong when visiting in the dead of February when the Meyer lemons are in season while the rest of the country is enveloped in snow.

I’ve always envied my friends who’ve actually done what I’ve only dreamed of, and I decided here at the height of Mardi Gras to interview those adventurous souls about their favorite New Orleans haunts.

An aside: Julia, to me, will always be the original New Orleans transplant, so much so that I can hardly imagine her having lived anywhere else but New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta. She used to describe herself as “bi-coastal” — East Coast, Gulf Coast — when she divided her time between her New York apartment and a chic, moody Creole townhouse with a lush courtyard on the quieter end of Bourbon Street. I kick myself for not taking better notes on my million visits to stay with her, both in the Quarter and later when she moved uptown to a grand house on First Street and finally to her fabulous apartment down the street from Commander’s Palace. So many of the friends who’ve graciously shared their favorite places in New Orleans were introduced to me by Julia, so there is lots of overlap in their lists and hers. And of course, there’s a huge body of her work devoted to New Orleans that’s funny and evocative and never ages.

My Tour Guides

My first call when deciding to put together a New Orleans city guide was to my dear friends (and incredible decorators) Bill Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman, who picked up their lives and their business in New York and moved to New Orleans well before Covid made such a move commonplace. They still have offices in NYC, but their lives are mostly lived in the South these days. Their office on Magazine Street is one of my favorite places to visit, and it houses their decorating business as well as one of the city’s chicest antique and design stores, Sud, featuring beautiful furniture and objects imported from Sicily. Owned by Bill and his wonderful husband, Richard, Sud is on everyone’s list of favorite shopping destinations.

While my friend Bebe Howorth lives in Brooklyn these days and works in Manhattan as a senior editor at Elle Decor, her New Orleans roots run deep. She grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, the daughter of literary royalty Richard and Lisa Howorth, owners of Square Books, and spent her childhood entertaining leading lights of the Southern literary scene. She headed to Tulane for college, remained there long after graduation and became one of Julia’s most cherished friends. Now, she and her husband, Sam, spend plenty of time in New Orleans escaping the grey winters of New York. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they ended up spending winters in one of the Creole cottages I’ve dreamed of for so long. And if they do, I’ll sure hope to visit.

The Celestine; Photo credit: Paul Costello

Carter Dawson, a Nashville native and friend, also has deep NOLA roots, and recently she and her husband opened the most fabulous boutique hotel on Toulouse Street in the Quarter. The Celestine, housed in the building where Tennessee Williams began writing A Streetcar Named Desire, has all of the sultry beauty of the 1947 play but with a fresh updated design by Sarah Costello and fabulous management by hotelier LeBlanc+Smith. The Celestine was also once the residence of Antoine Amadée Peychaud, the creator of Peychaud’s famous bitters, and “Peychaud’s,” the hotel’s bar, is named in his memory.

Finally, my sister May Smythe, has been my steadfast New Orleans sherpa since she settled there after college in 1995. Before moving to New York in the wake of Katrina, she lived Uptown  in the most charming single shotgun house on Coliseum Street, and her frequent trips to visit friends in New Orleans have kept her list as current as the ones given to me by folks who were born there.

The Restaurants

Susan Spicer’s Rosedale for comfort food delight. “I don’t even speak to anyone else at the table when my “platonic” meatloaf sandwich arrives, which I order at least half the time, when I’m not ordering the Gulf fish of the day. I also love the gravel road location and eating under 1970s umbrellas on the big patio like a casual childhood dream dinner.” — Bill & Courtney

Nothing beats a boozy Friday lunch at Galatoire’swhere the locals are likely to allow lunch to spill into dinner. Make sure you ask to sit downstairs. — Carter

Lilette for long lunches sunlit through big corner windows  — Bill & Courtney, May, Bebe, Carter

Zasu for food by James Beard Award-winning Chef — Carter

N7 for French Japanese fusion in the Bywater —Bebe

Baracuda neighborhood taco stand — Bill & Courtney

Cochon Butcher, by chef Donald Link and a smaller more casual sister to Butcher — Bill & Courtney

Herbsaint & Peche both favorites from Donald Link — May, Carter

Miss River James Beard Award-winning chef Alon Shaya’s “love letter to Louisiana” — Bebe


The Bars

My favorite bar in the City has to be Peychaud’s in the French Quarter (Full Disclosure: this is shameless plug for our own bar at the Celestine Hotel, but it’s honest. Truly the best!) Exquisitely made classic cocktails in the most charming historic courtyard. — Carter

The Celestine; Photo credit: Paul Costello.

Bloody Marys at Lafitte’s Blacksmith, the oldest bar in New Orleans — May

A milk punch from Commander’s Palace or a margarita at the Saint Vincent. - Bebe

A French 75 at Bouligny Tavern (or any drink there really) is a must — Bebe & May

Spotted Cat in Frenchmen Street for great music and cocktails. — May

Jewel of the South for great drinks in a pretty room - Carter

Bacchanal Wine Bar for great vibe in back courtyard with live music and wine from the on-site store. Also has amazing food — May

Hot Tin at the Top of the Pontchartrain Hotel for a great view — Carter

For another great dive bar, I love the Bon Temps Roule Bar. It has the best Bloody Mary in town and the Soul Rebels brass band plays every Thursday. — Carter


Antique and Other Shops

Sud for the chicest Sicilian antiques and objects. Owned by Bill Brockschmidt and Richard Dragisic -  Bebe (and Bill)

Sud New Orleans

Lucullus, for eccentric style and antique pieces focused on grand culinary traditions. They have the coolest warehouse in the Bywater  - Bebe, Bill & Courtney

Uptowner is great for its sophisticated mix: Stylish mid-century Italian mixed with well-loved nice quality French - Bill & Courtney

The Sunday Shop for old and new. They partner with Baton Rouge-based Fireside Antiques which has great stuff - Bebe

Mac Maison has great lamps and chandeliers - Bill & Courtney

Off the Beaten Path

If I have time when I’m there I love to get a Pimm’s Cup at Napoleon House and stroll through the Quarter, always stopping to look at the Gallery for Fine Photography. - Bebe

Less obvious than strolling in the Quarter (which we love) is Bayou St John, where I could even imagine having a “country house.” Between the grand houses of Esplanade Avenue (including the haunting Lulling Mansion just off Esplanade near the Fairgrounds) and the actual bayou, there is every type of late 18th century plantation-type house to every style of 19th century suburban villa to glamorous Hollywood Mediterranean cottages with baroque staircases. Take a tour of the late 18th century Pitot House. We could move right in. And it’s all next to City Park with all of its beauty and attractions for an added bonus. - Bill & Courtney

Every visitor to New Orleans should ride the St. Charles Streetcar. For $1.50 each way, you get a front-row seat to the beautiful houses along St. Charles Avenue. It’s a wonderful way to spend an hour or two. - Carter

It may be touristy, but a stroll through Jackson Square and beignets at the original Café du Monde are a must for any visitor. Visit the Faulkner House bookstore just off the square. - May

Frenchmen Street in the Marigny is a great musical experience. This is the local’s version of Bourbon Street, with music available for all sorts of tastes without the sleeze of Bourbon Street. If you are dying to try Bourbon Street, Fritzel’s Jazz Club is a wonderful oasis in the madness - Carter

Historic Algiers Point is super charming, and it’s fun to take the ferry across the river to the quiet neighborhood. - Bill & Courtney 

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