When my boyfriend Matt invited me to his brother's wedding in New Orleans, I was thrilled at the opportunity to join in the celebration as well as travel to a city I've always wanted to visit. The music, food, and architecture of NOLA are world famous, so we headed off to spend six days in the "Big Easy."
Landing, I could see the winding Mississippi River (for the first time in my life) and the many barges slowly inching along. The cab driver passed by the Superdome, and I thought of the thousands of displaced Katrina survivors living inside a football stadium. For the most part, the city looked as if it had completely recovered in the 10 years since the storm, but from talking to the locals I discovered that there was a lot that still had yet to heal.
We stayed in the Hotel Monteleone, a beautiful old building in the heart of the French Quarter that used to be the stomping grounds of literary legends such as Ernest Hemingway. The lobby bar, called the Carousel, has a slowly rotating circular counter covered in mirrors and animal paintings. In the center of the spinning bar stand the bartenders, who have to literally jump over the counter to get out at the end of the shift. For dinner the first night, Matt's parents took us out to a New Orleans legend: Brennan's. We had oysters, grilled octopus, crab ravioli, and blackened redfish. Everything was absolutely perfect. Even though we were stuffed, we felt compelled to order the Bananas Foster for dessert, as it was invented by the very restaurant in which we were dining. A chef wheeled a metal cart over to our table, where he heated an obscene amount of brown sugar over a flame and stirred in slices of banana. When everything was combined and hot, he added in liquor and set the whole dish on fire. He served the concoction over vanilla ice cream, and I promptly decided that it may be the sweetest, most delicious dessert ever invented.
Later we joined the wedding party and their friends to venture over to the Frenchmen district, which is famous for its music clubs and less touristy atmosphere. Even though it was after midnight, a craft market was open and bustling in an alley lit by strings of tiny light bulbs. Moving in and out of different bars to get a taste for the music along the street, we also developed a taste for the local beer: Abita Amber. Some of the bands were slow and jazzy, some featured blaring trumpet, and one even described themselves as "rasta-funk." The music was as varied as the people dancing to it.
In the morning we strolled to Café du Monde, a famous 24-hour cafe featuring cafe au lait and beignets: french donuts that consist of fried dough loaded with powdered sugar. By the end of the plate I was on a sugar high and I had white powder dusting my chin. Matt and I took a walk with his parents through the French Market, a long open-air craft market with uniquely New Orleans souvenirs and clothing. Among the strange objects that the vendors were selling, we found at least three tables full of alligator heads, alligator paws, and alligator kebabs.
The rehearsal dinner that night took place at Muriel's on Jackson square. Our party reserved the second floor banquet hall as well as an eerie, eccentrically-decorated area called the Seance Room. It was lit with red lamps, filled with mismatched overstuffed sofas, and feathered masks covered the walls. A creepy voodoo music played in the background. The tables were decorated beautifully, and the best men (Matt and his brother TJ) stood up to say a really touching toast. The entire dinner was full of laughter and happy chatter.
After dinner we walked around the corner to Pat O'Brien's, the home of the original Hurricane cocktail. We mingled around the fountain in the courtyard, and listened to dueling pianos do covers of Taylor Swift and Billy Joel. After Pat O'Brien's we stood on the balcony of a bar called the Cat's Meow, where we could people-watch the crowds on Bourbon Street.
On Saturday we watched college football in the Carousel lobby bar, and some other girls and I spent a few hours up at the rooftop pool reading and relaxing while the wedding party took photos. After a heart-stoppingly close Notre Dame win, the wedding ceremony began at Rosy's Jazz Hall in western New Orleans. The entire ceremony was gorgeous and the reception was tons of fun. They had a cajun food buffet, a beautiful bride and groom, an amazing band and lots of dancing.
Around 10:30 buses took us from the Jazz Hall back to the French Quarter, where we processed through the streets behind a brass band in a traditional "Second Line". We shook white handkerchiefs in the air and wore Mardi Gras colored feather boas. This tradition comes from New Orleans funerals, where the band led the mourners in a parade down the streets to celebrate the life of the deceased. The people cleared the streets and cheered for us as we marched by. It was a unique and unforgettable experience.
On Sunday we had a lazy breakfast in the Hotel Monteleone restaurant with the new bride and groom. We spent the morning looking at street art in Jackson Square with Matt's brother TJ and his girlfriend, then walked along the Mississippi in the sun. We had dinner with Matt's parents on a balcony overlooking the French Market, and tasted some traditional New Orleans dishes: alligator bites, maque choux, fried catfish, and jambalaya. Later Matt and I stumbled upon a park off Bourbon Street where a band called Steamboat Willie was playing jazz and some older couples were dancing around a fountain. We ordered a few Abita Ambers and enjoyed the music, which I thought was absolutely outstanding. It was a fitting last night for our stay in the Big Easy, which was filled with good food, great music, and happy celebration.