Renowned as the birthplace of jazz and distinctive Caribbean-meets-the-South style, New Orleans has never needed trendy hot spots to attract travellers. If anything, the trendy spots needed New Orleans. Yes, there are hip hotels and artisanal coffee shops, but there are also stalwart jazz clubs, graveyard tours and dingy dive bars. In New Orleans, Louisiana (or NOLA for short), you can have both your craft coffee and your authentic jazz experience – with a side of cheap beer to boot.
Occupying a restored Art Deco building, the Ace Hotel’s entrance is flanked by lush plants – a sure sign that it is an oasis in the city. Inside, there are 234 rooms designed by famed New York decorators Roman and Williams, a lobby bar dotted with vintage furniture and rugs, and an adjoining coffee shop, Stumptown Coffee Roasters. The adjacent hotel restaurant, Josephine Estelle, serves excellent Italian-meets-NOLA dishes and the rooftop (with a pool and bar) offers 360-degree views over the city. The clincher is Three Keys, an intimate events space that showcases live music.
Henry Howard Hotel
A glimmering white townhouse with an ornate facade and a big ol’ porch, it’s likely this would be your fantasy hotel when visiting the South. Henry Howard Hotel is located in the peaceful, historic Garden District and boasts 18 classic rooms decorated with antique pieces as well as a beautifully restored parlour that’s perfect for a bourbon-fuelled afternoon.
There are a number of foods you shouldn’t leave NOLA without eating, and biscuits (baked goods that are basically like large scones) are among them. Local favourite Willa Jean is so serious about biscuits, it has an entire menu section dedicated to them. The modern Southern restaurant does breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the most unforgettable meal is weekend brunch, which has a menu peppered with comfort food such as crawfish and grits, BBQ shrimp, cornbread, fried chicken – and biscuits, of course.
A collaboration between Ace Hotel and New York’s Grand Banks (a floating oyster bar on the Hudson River), Seaworthy was bound to be a success. While the setting is old – it’s housed in a 19th-century Creole cottage – the stylish interior and refined food are anything but. Downstairs you’ll find a raw bar that shakes up craft cocktails and offers daily oyster specials. In the cosy upstairs dining room, expect distinctly Cajun dishes by chefs Kerry Heffernan and Daniel Causgrove that make use of the city’s abundance of fresh seafood.
drink and listen
The Spotted Cat Music Club
Heard of Bourbon Street? Skip it. It’s iconic, but today you’ll find more drunk students than authentic music venues there. Rather head to Frenchman Street, the less touristy version, where locals will tell you to visit The Spotted Cat Music Club. At first glance, it looks like a ’90s dive bar, and inside you’ll find a host of excellent musicians playing everything from blues to funk and modern jazz.
Founded in 1961, Preservation Hall is a NOLA icon. It has a well-founded reputation as one of the best jazz venues in the city, and it hasn’t lost its edge. The space remains small, hosting intimate performances by some of the city’s best jazz musicians. To secure a seat, you can book tickets online, but if you’re willing to wait in line, entrance is cheaper at the door.