New Orleans. N’awlins — however you say it, the mere name evokes thoughts of Mardi Gras.  But New Orleans is a year-round party town so if hanging with hordes of happy party-goers is not your idea of a fun vacation, avoid Mardi Gras and travel outside those times — you’ll still be treated to New Orleans’ year-round festive mood!

New Orleans’s frat party atmosphere is enhanced by the “as-long-as-it’s-in-a-plastic-cup-you-can-drink-it-on-the-streets” laws.  You’ve probably heard of some of the more common NOLA libations like the Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s.  While it will be unavoidable to taste at least one while you are there, (and you know, it’s perhaps best to keep it to just one — take it from me, I did the research so you don’t have to!), if you are seeking a more refined atmosphere, you should head to the Napoleon House.

(The classic Pimm’s Cup; interiors of Napoleon House)

A 200 year-old New Orleans landmark, this place feels like it’s from another, more genteel era.  Inside, it’s an oasis of calm as the party rages on outside. First occupied by Nicholas Girod, the mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815, this building was offered to Napoleon in 1821 as a refuge during his exile.  Even though Napoleon never made it, the name stuck, and it’s now one of the most famous bars in America.  It’s known for the Pimm’s Cup — a refreshing combination of Pimm’s, lemonade and ice, topped off with 7-Up (apparently, since we tasted no fizz in our drinks) garnished with a cucumber slice.  Stop by for a drink, stay for the atmosphere. It’s a nice respite from the non-stop party.

The Napoleon House
500 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70130-2110, United States
(504) 524-9752

(Shot of The Roosevelt Hotel; Gin Fizz and Classic Sazerac (in the background) at the hotel’s Sazerac Bar)

If you’re interested in the history of alcoholic drinks (and I mean, who isn’t?), you will definitely want to stop by The Sazerac Bar, located in The Roosevelt Hotel.  Named after the drink of the same name, the Sazerac Bar is a sumptuously decorated lounge where you can kick back and enjoy a fancy mixed drink (in a real glass!) and pretend as though you’re a guest of the gorgeous hotel!

The Sazerac is considered by some to be the world’s first cocktail, and although many dispute this claim, it IS a quintessentially New Orleans drink.  A mix of cognac, rye whiskey, absinthe (or Herbsaint) and bitters, this drink really is an acquired taste. In the name of research, you probably owe it to yourself to try one.  Another signature drink of the Sazerac Bar is the Ramos Gin Fizz –another NOLA specialty. It contains gin, simple syrup, egg white (traditionally fresh though these days, most likely powdered), lemon and lime juice, soda water and – cream – and it’s definitely… interesting. Like a very alcoholic smoothie.  Gin and cream (with egg white) is not something I would normally consider ordering but hey, when in NOLA, right?

The Sazerac Bar in The Roosevelt
123 Baronne Street
New Orleans, LA 70112-2303, United States
(504) 529-4733

(The queue at Mother’s; interior shot)

All that drinking makes one hungry, right? Well, again, you are in the right town.  If you need something to soak up all that alcohol, look no further than Mother’s to try a N’awlins specialty — Po’Boys. There are varying accounts of the history of this baguette sandwich filled with any number of delicious things like roast beef, shrimp, oysters and the famous “debris” — the crunchy parts of the roast beef that fall into the gravy and are served slathered on the bread with said gravy! Some say the name comes from the 1929 streetcar strike when the submarine-style sandwiches were served to strikers.  The “poor boys” – in Louisiana dialect, became “po’boy”.  No matter the origin of the name, they’re cheap, filling and, most importantly, delicious.  You can get Po’Boys all over the city but I highly recommend Mother’s for an authentic experience.  It’s not fancy but it serves mighty fine food.

(The Ferdi Special po’boy at Mother’s)

401 Poydras Street
New Orleans, LA 70130-3207, United States
(504) 523-9656

(Pretty chocolates, stunning Cakes at Sucré)

If all those savoury Po’Boys have you craving something sweet, be sure to check out Sucré.  A wondrous fantasyland of pastries, cakes, chocolates and even gelato, it’s tucked away in the garden district, but it’s well worth the trip on the historic St Charles streetcar line.  There really is something for everyone, including gorgeous macarons, seasonal treats, chocolate bark and handmade marshmallows.  You can eat your treats there or take them away to enjoy in your hotel room. They even have travel-friendly packaging so you have no excuse not to bring some back for your friends (of course, you don’t have to tell them that).

3025 Magazine Street,
New Orleans, LA, United States?
(504) 520-8311?

(The ultimate breakfast: chicory café au lait and beignets at Café du Monde)

Finally, you can’t go to New Orleans and NOT visit Café du Monde, the quintessential NOLA breakfast (or anytime) spot.  Serving chicory café au lait and beignets generously covered in powdered sugar 24 hours a day since 1864. They are open every day except Christmas day and, according to the website, “on the day an occasional Hurricane passes too close to New Orleans.”

The queue for this place looks intimidatingly long at all hours of the day so if you don’t feel like waiting or if you are in a hurry, head around to the “takeaway” line located around the right-hand side of the building. Don’t be discouraged by the sight of another queue, what you can do is get the attention of one of the moving at 100mph waiters and place your order. They will bring your order to you and it’s even quicker than waiting in the actual line for takeout. We hung around and watched people for a while to figure out how it works.  Other important things to know — a single order of beignets is actually three. Our first trip there, I made the mistake of ordering two beignets and we received six.  So just order “one beignet” if you don’t want them to go to waste.  The locals might be surprised but you want to save room for everything NOLA has to offer.

Café du Monde
1400 Poydras Street
New Orleans, LA 70112, United States
(504) 525-4544


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Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher and part-time food blogger based in Toronto.  Her blog,  focuses on culinary adventures both near and far because she travels as often as she can!