So much of New Orleans’s charm comes from its atmosphere—more than the museums or activities or sights, the city’s allure is based on its friendly, funky attitude. While New Orleans definitely enjoys a rollicking Saturday night bacchanal, it also shows up to church on Sunday (or fully intends to). Locals dress in shorts and flip-flops one day and a seersucker suit or ironed sundress the next. They enjoy the finer things in life but are not too fancy to slog through the Jazz Fest mud to see a good act. Embrace the whimsy and culture of the city and recreate a day, hot, boozy, and fun, in your own home.
Let’s get in the mood with a few words from writer Flannery O’Connor:
“If I had to live in a city I think I would prefer New Orleans to any other—both Southern and Catholic and with indications that the Devil’s existence is freely recognized.” —Flannery O’Connor from a November 24, 1962, letter to John Hawkes
8:30 a.m. Make a delicious mess
Since you can’t stroll down to Café du Monde for breakfast right now, let’s make the beignets and coffee at home. Get ready for the inevitable powdered sugar facial when you bite into the hot, puffy square of fried dough. Make your regular coffee but add a mug to your collection that reminds you of early mornings (or late nights) spent fueling up at the open-air café at the edge of the Mississippi on Jackson Square.
Do not eat quickly. Put the beignet on a plate and sit down. It’s way too early to listen to anything Dixieland, but a little Allen Toussaint gets you in the mood and humming tunes that this homegrown genius wrote, like “Lipstick Traces,” “Southern Nights,” and “Brickyard Blues.”
9:30 a.m. Dress for the heat
Assume it’s going to be humid and dress accordingly. (Turn up the heat and run a steamy shower for atmosphere.)
The most iconic New Orleans item to wear, of course, is a string of Mardi Gras beads. If you’ve got some of the souvenir beads hanging from the knob of your closet door or the corner of a mirror, dust them off and pull them on.
If you don’t have any, don’t buy more plastic. Besides the carbon footprint associated with plastic, Mardi Gras beads aren’t great for the city. So forgo plastic and turn to a local company, Atlas Beads, instead. Atlas contracts with Ugandan makers to produce colorful Mardi Gras beads from recycled newspaper. The beads come in various designs and the signature gold, purple, and green colors, and you can don them every time you feel a party coming on.
Buy It: Mardi Gras beads made from newspaper, $12, atlasbeads.com
Gentlemen, pair your beads with a tee shirt and shorts. Dirty Coast, a cool little French Quarter shop that carries locally made products (like books, posters, coasters, hot sauces, and barware), has some ideas, including ones emblazoned with local messaging like Let’s Eat Lunch and Talk About Dinner and Yeah You Right.
Buy It: Dirty Coast T-shirts, $20–$28, dirtycoast.com
For the delicate flowers among us who want to embrace our inner Blanche DuBois, NOLA-based Trashy Diva has ladylike (and other decidedly less ladylike) things. Like a dreamy ’40s-style robe, made of pale georgette with a curve-flattering cut, just perfect for lounging and sipping cool drinks.
Buy It: 1940s long robe, $220, trashydiva.com
10 a.m. Meet the locals
Get to know the city a little better by browsing NOLAbeings on Instagram. Modeled after the wildly popular Humans of New York feed, each NOLAbeings post is a portrait of a local and a first-person snippet that reveals who they are. Look at those faces!
View this post on Instagram “It was a glorious day and I was sitting on the back porch. I think it was May 2006. A friend was walking by - he lived around the corner at the time - and we were chatting through the fence. I said, ‘Come in and have a glass of wine or something.’ And he did and I brought out some snacks. It was lovely - like maybe the gardenia bush in the back was blooming? I thought, this is a good idea! And that week two other friends asked, ‘Can we come over too next Thursday?’ I was like ‘Sure.’ That was fourteen years ago. Every Thursday night since then has been Neighbor Night. I’ve kept it up and it’s gotten bigger. It’s a dinner now. I cook. If I’m out of town someone else will host it, but just about 100% of the time it’s here and I cook. I love to cook. I love cooking for people. Sometimes I can’t believe these people are in my house. It’s all colors, it’s all straight, it’s all gay. It’s movie stars and retired waitresses. And I don’t use paper plates for anything. I use china because people need to eat off of china. It’s been an amazing thing. Babies have been born, people have died. Of the Thursday night people, the people who come... a couple had twins after trying for ever and ever. Another woman - someone said ‘I’ll get you a plate...’ and she said ‘You know what, my stomach [hurts]’ - and within three weeks she was dead of stomach cancer. My younger brother hanged himself in June of 2013, a Saturday. I did Neighbor Night that Thursday, and hate to think what would have happened if I hadn’t. That’s Neighbor Night. We’re family now. We all would take a bullet for one another. And people have - they’ve done above and beyond for other people. The people that come have the kindest hearts. I’m lucky. I’m most looking forward to Neighbor Night when this is all over. [Normally] this porch is never empty. And I don’t have any small pots... I can’t cook for one person!” #nolabeings #neworleans #neighbornight A post shared by NOLAbeings (@nolabeings) on Apr 13, 2020 at 11:46am PDT
All-day soundtrack: Live music is an unalienable right for any visitor to New Orleans. During the lockdown, local radio station WWOZ has been serving up the best music all day every day, including eight days of programming that it called Jazz Festing in Place during which it broadcast live performances from previous Jazz Fests.
Right now the station has settled into a daily schedule with timed slots for live virtual performances from a variety of local musicians, complete with a virtual tip jar. Tune in and enjoy the local talent all day long.
12 p.m. Open wide
A favorite New Orleans lunch is a drippy wedge of a muffuletta sandwich from Central Grocery. For the uninitiated, a muffuletta is a BIG cold cut (salami, prosciutto, mortadella) and mozzarella sandwich on a round loaf of sesame-seed bread, spread with a magical olive relish that really makes the separate ingredients sing. No one can eat a whole one. Central Grocery will happily send you a sandwich but it feeds 6 to 8 people, so unless you’re quarantining with a crowd, that’s probably not ideal. A less over-the-top option would be to follow Emeril Lagasse’s recipe on Foodandwine.com, which spells out how to achieve the magic yourself. (Another evil shortcut is to make or obtain some good olive relish and put that on any meat and/or cheese sandwich and call it a muffuletta. To quote Emeril: Bam.)
1 p.m. See the sights/sites
The Historic New Orleans Collection has put some of its venerable and extensive archives online.
Swing by and watch:
- A flavorful 2015 oral history from the late, great chef Leah Chase about moving to the French Quarter at 16 years old and starting work at restaurants, making her way from an ambitious teenage waitress (“I was there with two other girls. . . . We ran that floor, you hear me?”) to world-renowned chef and restaurateur.
- A seven-minute YouTube clip of a Mardi Gras Indian parade on St. Joseph’s Night, 1970, full of images of ersatz war bonnets with sequins, raucous music, ’70s fashions on the bystanders. The nighttime footage, with march participants and viewers moving in and out of the camera’s spotlight, has a dreamlike feeling.
3 p.m. Break it up
Do you like sweet or salty snacks? For the tribe that prefers salty and greasy (and doesn’t mind a kick of pepper), the snack of choice is the New Orleans–made Zapp’s Voodoo Chips. Allegedly, the recipe was born when the spices of all the other Zapps potato chip flavors accidentally mixed together, so the Voodoo chips have a smoky sweet barbecue taste with tart vinegar and salt flavor, finished with a slow burn of jalapeño.
Buy It: Zapp’s Voodoo Chips, 5 oz. bag from $3, cajungrocer.com
Of course, others can’t get enough sweet, and pralines could not technically get sweeter. Loretta’s isn’t open, but it will ship you a dozen. (And for the record, they’re pronounced PRAH-leens.)
Buy It: A dozen Loretta’s pralines, $32, lorettaspralines.com
3:30 p.m. Put on your funky walking shoes
WWOZ’s fantastic digital project, A Closer Walk, has mapped the city’s deep connection to music. Choose a neighborhood and get a “curated tour” of the significant sites, taking in murals, juke joints, Masonic lodges, parks, historic houses, museums, and record shops. Or begin with a deep dive on a specific place—a mural you remember, or Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge or a cemetery—and its connection to the city’s history is revealed, including video and song clips. Prepare to walk many miles on this mesmerizing map-based site.
5:30 p.m. Make your first cocktail a doozy
Alex Utter, head bartender at the aptly named Jewel of the South, a divine cocktail bar on St. Louis Street (currently shuttered, of course, but still there in “spirit”), says, “New Orleanians love blended drinks” so she was inspired to share a recipe for an Herbsaint Frappé.
Blended Herbsaint Frappé
Whenever absinthe was banned in the United States, the overwhelming French influence in New Orleans led its citizens to seek a way to fill the void that absinthe left in its absence. This led to the invention of Herbsaint, and New Orleans still uses the liqueur prolifically to this day. The original Herbsaint Frappé was a mixture of simple syrup and Herbsaint, swizzled with cracked ice in order to create an opalescent effect in the liqueur and an icy film on the outside of the glass. When I was working at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, I learned the modern method for an Herbsaint Frappé, which is a mixture of orgeat (an almond-based sweet syrup) and Herbsaint over crushed ice, and topped with a few dashes of Peychaud’s bitters. And now for the cocktail . . .
- 1.5 oz. Herbsaint (or any other pastis/anisette)
- 3 oz. or 1/3 cup pistachio ice cream
- 8 oz. ice (the smaller the ice, the better)
- Peychaud’s bitters
Put all the ingredients into a blender and blend on high until smooth. Pour into a double rocks glass. Top with 6 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters and swirl into the drink.
6:30 p.m. Make yourself a Creole feast
To be honest, if you were actually in New Orleans, you’d probably just order another boozy milkshake, or rather, cultural heritage in a glass, instead of dinner. The city’s food, though, is a tremendous source of local pride and one of the main reasons most people visit, so let’s forgo the hooch for now and get cooking.
Louisiana native Simone Reggie, responsible for tasty New Orleans ventures like Simone’s Market, and Cleaver and Company butcher shop, has an idea: “My favorite recipe from Isaac Toups’s book, Chasing the Gator: Isaac Toups and the New Cajun Cooking, is the Dirty Rice. It takes time, and the flavor is unreal. I made it for Christmas and it blew everyone away . . . and now, I want it again.”
For dessert, Reggie recommends this Bananas Foster recipe from Brennan’s, a landmark French Quarter restaurant. “Lately we all have excess bananas and this is a fun option, outside of banana bread, which I’m frankly sick of.”
(If the taste of Creole cooking made you miss the city even more, you can help it a little, through food. Toups Meatery, Isaac Toups’s restaurant, is serving a daily free Family Meal to anyone in need, but especially to hospitality workers. You can find information about donating to this worthy cause so that the city’s food scene can bounce back from the shutdown when the time is right.)
8 p.m. Depend, this evening, on the kindness of strangers
Queue up Streetcar Named Desire (1951). Everyone remembers Brando’s tight T-shirt and his repeated bellowing of “Stella!” but when was the last time you watched this Tennessee Williams play about sex, stress, mental health issues, sex, hot weather, death, and New Orleans? The acting is top-notch (Karl Malden!) and Williams—who wrote the play that inspired the movie while living on St. Peter Street in the Quarter—juxtaposes poetry with blunt force in a powerful way.
10 p.m. Wind down, New Orleans style
Time for a book and some music. Sarah Broom, a favorite around our offices, wrote The Yellow House, a memoir of growing up in New Orleans, which won the 2019 National Book Award. It’s a fantastic read, a local’s experience of the city that most visitors will never see. The New York Times called it “forceful, rolling, and many-chambered,” and Vanity Fair praised it for showing “the reality behind the touristy facade.”
New Orleans music cannot be defined as one style: The city has spawned innovators in Dixieland, straight-up jazz, old-style rhythm and blues, heartfelt soul, and sublime funk. One family has been part of the city’s music scene in one way or another over the past 40 or so years: the Neville Brothers. Playing together (and with other solid musicians) under that name or as the Meters, they’ve provided a backbeat to the city. From the 1980s until 2013, the brothers played the closing set at Jazz Fest (they passed the torch on to Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue).
In 2002, brother Aaron Neville put out Love Songs, a soulful (and sometimes corny—hit the Next button judiciously) collection of romantic soul songs he recorded solo and with his siblings. It’s a chill way to end your day in the Crescent City.