Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest are over and the weather is heating up, which means that things slow down a bit in the streets of New Orleans. But as temperatures rise and event season passes, airfares and room rates tend to ease up. That’s right, more money in your pocket to spend on food, drink, and fun.
As you can probably guess, New Orleans—a town pretty comfortable with feather boas—throws one of the most fun and best attended Pride weekends around. The weekend is so inclusive of all the colors that make up the rainbow, in fact, that it kicks off on Friday night with sports—the city’s minor league Baby Cakes baseball team play a game benefiting CresentCare, a healthcare group that focuses on HIV/AIDS treatment.
Saturday wakes up at noon with a block party outside the New Orleans Phoenix Bar and picks up steam in the evening with a march through the French Quarter with more than 4,000 participants and almost as many sequins and feathers as a Mardi Gras parade. Join the marchers, the rowdy crowd on the sidewalk, or find a perch at a balcony rail, but don’t miss the celebration. On Sunday, the weekend wraps with a dance party at Oz New Orleans. June 7–9, various locations. togetherwenola.com/pride
It takes a very particular kind of city to claim several cocktails as its signature drink. New Orleans, that sort of city, has the Hurricane, the Sazerac, and the Brandy Crusta. The Brandy Crusta (a variation on a brandy sour, with maraschino liqueur, Curaçao, and lemon) was a drink created and popularized by a 19th-century bartender at a little bar in the French Quarter called the Jewel of the South. Two local bartenders (veterans of Arnaud’s French 75 and Cane & Table) have revived the recipe and renovated a darling old Creole cottage on St. Louis Street as a new Jewel of the South which opened in March. The space is charming (that wallpaper!) but small, with additional seating on a brick patio. Jewel of the South doesn’t take reservations at present, so come very early, very late, or be prepared to wait a while. 1026 St. Louis St., French Quarter. jewelnola.com
Take an Ace Hotel, turn down the noise and turn up the luxury, and what you get may be something close to Maison de la Luz, a 67-room property that recently opened on Carondelet Street right across from big sister Ace. Although it benefits from access to its sibling’s restaurants, bars, and amenities, Maison de la Luz prefers a lower profile. For instance, the hotel's Bar Marilou, located in the building next door, is open to the public, but its back room is designated as exclusively for hotel guests who access it by a secret door that looks like a bookcase. (In this speakeasy-like back room, cocktails are served through a sliding panel hidden behind a painting). Finishing touches are still being made on the public spaces (a Chinese red lacquered lobby) but guest rooms are already busy. 546 Carondelet St., Central Business District. maisondelaluz.com
The Historic New Orleans Collection was originally founded in 1966 to protect and preserve the city’s cultural legacy. On April 6, the collection, called THNOC, opened a new $38 million expansion across the street from the original location, the Williams Residence, a 1899 townhouse. (THNOC also owns two clusters of historic buildings on Royal and Chartres streets that can be toured.)
The new 35,000-square-foot expansion, a renovation of the 1816 Seignouret-Brulatour Building with a new purpose-built structure behind, offers the kind of technology that charges history with new energy. An interactive touchscreen map of the French Quarter allows visitors to pinpoint local buildings on the chart to follow their history from construction through uses by subsequent tenants.
In addition to a VR experience and a theater experience, the building also has artifacts from different layers of its own past that were uncovered during the meticulous restoration. Permanent exhibits include a tribute to Tipitina’s, the bar made famous by Professor Longhair, and a show devoted to New Orleans’s distinctive musical history. In a gallery space that will host changing shows, the inaugural exhibit, “Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina,” displays 75 works that reflect the enduring spirit of the city, created by contemporary artists. It runs through October 6. Free admission; 520 Royal St., French Quarter. hnoc.org
On May 15, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art reopens after 17 months of construction and landscaping. The new garden expands the outdoor exhibit space from five acres to 11.5 acres and from 64 sculptures to 90. The expansion has been designed around specific sculptures in the collection, instead of simply being the backdrop for them.
Natural as well as artificial elements make up the new landscape, with native plants and live-oak trees, a lagoon crossed by a low modern bridge, works placed on islands in the water, and a network of paths. A 5,000-square-foot indoor sculpture pavilion will display additional work, and a 300-seat amphitheater will permit the museum to host film, music, and dance performances. The 26 new sculptures on display include works by Beverly Pepper, Robert Longo, Frank Stella, Sean Scully, and Frank Gehry, as well as others, and will be joined by some site-specific works that have been commissioned. City Park; Garden admission is free; museum admission, $15. noma.org
We are not going to lie: New Orleans will be hot. But staying hydrated (water, Sazerac, Hurricane, Brandy Crusta . . . ), wearing a hat and light clothing, and avoiding outside activity midday all go a long way to making a spring visit the best idea you’ve had this year.
>>Next: Plan Your Visit With AFAR’s New Orleans Travel Guide